Friday, January 08, 2010

WGGB response to product placement consultation

Today is the closing date for the Departmet for Culture Media and Sport consultation on product placement on television. You can read the Guild's response to the consultation here (pdf). It has been written by Edel Brosnan on behalf of the Guild's TV Committee.

The introduction reads:
In an ideal world, the Writers’ Guild of Great Britain would retain the ban on product placement (PP). However, the Guild recognises that income from traditional advertising revenue and programme sponsorship is in a state of flux. Scripted drama and comedy is being squeezed from the schedules by reality television formats, including shows like the X Factor, which is in practice an advertorial for artists on a particular record label. Viewers are already exposed to PP in shows imported from the United States, in feature films (including British-made films) and in numerous boxed and online videogames. PP is also permitted on online drama: this anomaly will become more apparent as online and digital content platforms converge.

British television is hugely important, not just as a commercial enterprise, but as a vibrant and vital part of British life and culture. We do not foresee any circumstances where PP aimed at children would be acceptable and we welcome the decision to retain the ban on PP in children’s television.

But television production in this country is facing an unprecedented funding crisis; writers, producers and writer-producers are forced to compete on an unlevel playing field with overseas and online competitors. In this climate, the option of product placement in programmes for adults needs to be considered pragmatically. To quote Gail Renard, former chair of the WGGB and a BAFTA-winning screenwriter: “I'm not against product placement under carefully considered and controlled circumstances… but it can neither be a knee-jerk reaction nor miracle cure for poor network management and/or programming.”

In principle, the WGGB remains cautious about the advisability and workability of PP. In practice, we hope that clear guidelines and robust regulation will ensure that the benefits of PP outweigh the disadvantages.


  1. This is an attitude I've come across from a lot of other writers: "well I don't like it, but where else is the money coming from?"

    Here's the problem: lessening the restrictions on product placement will not make up for the current lack of advertising revenue, mainly because it's simply another form of advertising revenue.

    Neither is there anything to stop production companies simply taking this 'extra' cash and simply holding on to it, making producers find other ways of making up the gap in the production budget, which means we all lose out.

    Lessening the restrictions also means writers handing over authority over characters and storylines, not just to script editors, producers and execs, but now to executives from fast food companies, car makers and numerous other companies who will all want their products displayed as visually as possible, with those products' 'brand values' figuring in the show whenever possible.

    If writers don't fight this, I honestly think we will look back and realise we all sold our souls, without getting a thing in return.

  2. Anonymous6:32 pm

    I think this applies to product placement.

    "You do a commercial - you're off the artistic roll call, forever. End of story. Okay? You're another whore at the capitalist gang bang and if you do a commercial, there's a price on your head. Everything you say is suspect and every word that comes out of your mouth is now like a turd falling into my drink." -- Bill Hicks.

  3. Anon: The incredible Bill Hicks sadly died in 1994 and the world has changed many times since then. I wish he was here to give us his opinion (and comedy) today but he's not.

    James Henry: The WGGB is not supporting lessening restrictions but putting all the legal safeguards into place so if the system comes in it's not abused.

    There's a huge difference between Product Placement (which is what the consultation paper is about) and Product Intergration, which we fight with tooth and nail.

    Yes sponsors might prefer PP instead of commercials because who amongst us doesn't fast forward each and every one that comes in our path? But like everything in the digital world, we have to make sure all the legal gatekeepers... which we approve of... are in place and functioning.

    On another note, I want to thank Edel for her superb piece of work on behalf of the TV Committee and the WGGB. This is a good time to remind everyone that our Guild is member-led and no one on any of our hard-working committees (film, TV, games et al) is paid a penny. That's something else Westminster could use a paper about.

  4. Anonymous2:41 pm

    I'm perfectly aware Bill Hicks died in 1994, thank you. And it certainly doesn't detract from the sentiments he expressed. Neither does the world "changing." An interesting syllogism but as a dead Irish writer once said, there is no present or future, just the past repeating itself.

  5. Gail: a fair point, and I agree with most of the points made in the response itself, but I'd like to have seen a much stronger stance against PP itself. This does seem like the virgin trying to dictate terms to Dracula, when she should at least have tried hanging some garlic and a cross up at the window first...

    On the other hand, I'm not a member of the WG, so you've let me go on about it enough. Thanks for your time.

  6. I promise you, James, that the Guild has protested against PP and actually got Culture Secretary Andy Burnham on side. Then in one fell swoop, there was a reshuffle, Ben Bradshaw became Chief Poobah of Culture and immediately reversed the decision.

    We're into a Canut-type scenario. America has PP; so do on-line shows. If the inevitable is to happen, the WGGB has to make sure writers are protected. New ideas are always welcome, so why not join the Guild, James? United we stand...


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