Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Because the problems television has won't be solved by product placement.

Less than a month to go until the government ends its consultation period on whether to lift restrictions on product placement on television (consultation ends January 8th).

The junk food aspect of product placement (big companies hoping to use shows like X-Factor to push their wares to child viewers in a way that would be forbidden on shows aimed specifically for kids, for example) is something I've become increasingly concerned about - there's an article about it on Comment Is Free here

I've already stated my objections to the idea, and have now placed those objections, in writing, to the address below. I would urge anyone who agrees to do the same, if they have even the slightest concern about UK television getting even worse, while people like Peter Bazalgette find new and imaginative ways to trouser even more cash off its rotting cadaver than was ever thought possible.

Stewart Gandy
Product Placement Consultation
5th Floor
Department for Culture Media and Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street

Dear Sirs,
I am a television scriptwriter, with about ten years of experience writing for such shows as Green Wing, Bob The Builder, Shaun The Sheep, Smack The Pony and others, with a number of other projects currently in development.

Like any industry, one always hears about the Golden Age that apparently ended just moments after one entered it, but times in the television industry have become noticeably harder of late, with the drop in advertising revenue being a genuine problem.

So please don’t think I take the matter lightly when I say that loosening restrictions on product placement in british television is a terrible idea that will serve only to enrich a few individuals, at the expense of a general lessening in quality of output, which will impoverish viewer and creator alike.

Here are my central objections to loosening restrictions on product placement:

1. Product placement is a very effective way for manufacturers to get round restrictions stopping them marketing directly to young children, who would normally be protected from aggressive promotion of unhealthy items such as high-sugared drinks, or salty snacks during child-centred programming. By pushing these products on shows such as Britain’s Got Talent, or Coronation Street, which have many young children amongst their viewers, manufacturers can easily circumvent these restrictions.

2. There is currently a clear line drawn between advertising, and programming. As a scriptwriter, I am free to mention a particular brand name if I wish to do so, but neither myself or the production company will receive any financial benefit for doing so, and great care will be taken that if I mention a particular brand of chocolate bar, for example, rival brands will be depicted at other points in the program, so no bias has been shown. Without this, the lines will begin to blur, breaking the contract of trust between the creators of a program and that program’s viewers.

3. If restrictions on product placement are lifted, the amount of pressure that will be put on scriptwriters and lower-level producers to depict promoted brands as having certain values or characteristics will be immense, to the detriment of our integrity as writers and creators. In America, for example, particulars makes of car are often inserted into shows, and depicted as highly desirable items, by characters who in real life would never be able to afford such items. As a writer, it's bad enough having to run storylines and dialogue past script editors, producers, lawyers, broadcast company (or network) executives and legal departments. But having to also run them past PR departments and advertisers is a very different matter indeed.

4. There is some question as to whether the ‘extra’ income from product placement could go anywhere near making up for lost advertising revenue - bearing in mind this money would have to come from advertising budgets, which are already moving away from television altogether.

5. There appears to be no guarantee that this ‘extra’ money will actually make its way into production budgets. Without careful safeguards, there is nothing to stop producers moving this money into the production company’s (and shareholder’s) own coffers, leaving the production budget to now make up an extra shortcut, through even further cuts.
These are just some of the issues I, and many other television writers have with the idea of loosening the restrictions upon product placement in British television.

I am, of course, available for further discussion of these and other points, if the Committee feels they would value the input of someone from the creative side of the industry.*

Sincerely yours,

James Henry

*I'm worried this bit sounds either sarcastic or pompous, but there we go.


nanga parbat said...

You sound neither sarcastic nor pompous; if i were you I'd be worried that someone *would* actually call me and expect me to opine in a non-wibbly manner whilst standing in the kitchen in my pj's eating Cheerios out of the packet.

If they don't quail before the cool logic of your bullet points then they're just a bunch of soul-less capitalist lick-spittles.

By the way, word verification = corsa!

It's already started!!!

Jayne said...

I just got the below so am obviously now on a list somewhere as a lefty troublemaker. I will write, just so that I can have a justifiable whinge when they ignore me...

Thank you for your recent letter about the Government’s consultation on television product placement.

This is an important issue on which the Government is keen to hear peoples’ views, and we are grateful to you for taking the trouble to write. Our consultation closes on 8 January 2010 and we plan to make an announcement as soon as possible after that. We will give very careful consideration to your comments before we do so.

Gordon Howell
Public Engagement and Recognition Unit
Department for Culture, Media & Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street | London | SW1Y 5DH

James Henry said...

I WANT THEM TO CALL ME. It would be like 'Twelve Angry Men', only it would be 'One Angry Shaun The Sheep Writer'.

Pah, I haven't had any response to my letter yet! Thanks for writing, Jayne.

Anyone else who writes to them will be on my 'I owe you one' list, so THINK ON'T.

Eleanor said...

I sent in the form letter that was highlighted a while back, and got the same reply as Jane.

I then sent Gordon a reply including my worries about the potential impact on quality story telling. - Although your letter says it far more effectively and consisely.

I hope they listen.

Michael Cook said...

I like the fact that, when you list your credits, it sounds like you've written episodes about a builder called Bob, a sheep called Shaun and a pony called Smack.

James Henry said...

Ha, I hadn't noticed that! Basically, three-word-title shows with 'the' in the middle, I'm the man.

Ellie said...

Who're the blokes you're writing to?

Jayne said...

I did a follow up to ol' Gordon as well so we'll see.

Does this mean you now owe me two? I'll take mine in beer or chocolate thankyouverymuch.

Jackie said...

What a great letter! Let's hope Mr Gandy get's lots more.

I went to the stakeholders consultation meeting today. My Andy Burnham quotes about "contamination" did not go down well!

Eleanor said...

This is the chap who replied to the form letter application I sent in:

Gordon Howell
Public Engagement and Recognition Unit
Department for Culture, Media & Sport
2-4 Cockspur Street | London | SW1Y 5DH

Gordon.Howell (at)

I trust that he won't mind me putting his details here, since he seems to be the person who is responding to replies on behalf of the consultation.

Tim Footman said...

An object lesson: had product placement been in operation during your ep of Shaun the Sheep, the lady would probably have been forced to enjoy the dessert that splattered her face like strawberry-flavour bukakke - cue pack shot of Angel Delight.

(This is a none-too-subtle way of proving that I did watch it, honest I did.)

Imo said...

You could also have had references to organic veg - Delivered to your door by Sheep Inc, and picnic hampers - provided by Barrods.

Have just watched your Shaun Episode today. I liked Timmy being used as a decoy, and the farmer having a breakdown by the fridge - very good.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.