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Ofcom publishes guidance on references to providers of technical information in sports television broadcasting

By Jonathan Salt

Ofcom has published guidance on the established industry practice of broadcasting on-screen references to providers of technical information in sports programming.

Rule 9.5 of The Ofcom Broadcasting Code (the “Code”) requires broadcasters to ensure that “no undue prominence may be given in programming to a product, service or trade mark. Undue prominence may result from: (i) the presence of, or reference to, a product, service or trade mark in programming where there is no editorial justification; or (ii) the manner in which a product, service or trade mark appears or is referred to in programming“.

Although the Code does not specifically reference sports television broadcasting, Ofcom’s previous finding following a complaint against Sky Sports’ use of Specsavers’ sponsorship of “Hawk-Eye” technology during coverage of Ashes cricket in 2009 confirmed that circumstances exist where there is sufficient editorial justification to include a brief on-screen acknowledgment of a provider of technical information during broadcast coverage of sporting events.

Whilst Ofcom have indicated that they will continue to make judgments under the Code on a case-by-case basis, the new guidance does provide broadcasters with the following important information on factors that are likely to be considered by Ofcom in such cases:

  • technical information should enhance the viewing experience either providing viewers with a broader understanding of the event they are watching (e.g. match statistics) or providing information which is integral to viewers’ understanding or enjoyment of the event (e.g. lap times in athletics);
  • the principal purpose of including technical information should not be to promote the information provider and “any credit should be brief and secondary“;
  • matters of objective fact concerning the sports event which in theory could be provided by a number of companies (e.g. scoreboards) are permitted whereas products from specific providers available and targeted for sale at viewers are unlikely to be a legitimate form of technical information (e.g. betting odds). However, there may be limited circumstances where betting odds within a programme may be justified (e.g. where there exists a close association between a sporting event and betting which is longstanding and uncontroversial (i.e. horseracing)); and
  • broadcasters are advised to take particular care when crediting providers of technical information with whom they have entered into sponsorship, product placement or commercial arrangements for the same programmes especially if there is the potential for such commercial arrangements to engage the product placement rules.

The full guidance published in Ofcom Broadcast and On-Demand Bulletin, Issue 321 (23 January 2017) can be found here.

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