The Communications Authority has launched a month-long consultation on loosening regulations governing product placement advertisements on free-to-air TV.

The Authority suggested lifting the current prohibition on indirect advertising on free TV services except in current affairs and news programming, children’s shows, educational programming, and religious or other devotional programming.

Product placement in current affairs programmes will be allowed on the condition that licensees must exercise care in the choice of sponsors to safeguard the credibility and integrity of such programmes.

fried chicken segment
The segment involving fried chicken om TVB. Photo: TVB screenshot.

TV companies will be required to make an oral and visual statement at the start of a programme to clearly inform viewers of the inclusion of product placement. Product placement in programmes acquired from overseas will be exempted from the rules.

‘In context’

However, the exposure or use of products or services within a programme must be presented in a natural and unobtrusive manner having regard to the programme context and genres.

“For instance, at a glamorous occasion, if there is suddenly an advertisement for cleaning utilities – I would say it is an example of being unnatural and obtrusive,” said Winnie Tam, the new chair of the Authority. “Examples are unlimited, but we will listen to the industry.”

Tam said free-to-air television and online television were under different regulations.

“We already know that the public do not oppose product placement very strongly; a lot of media they watch already contains product placement,” she said. “We already know that the public has a certain level of acceptance towards product placement. But of course the role of free-to-air television is very different from that of online television.”

Major free-to-air stations have said they welcomed looser regulations and will study the consultation papers carefully.

ViuTV was given a warning for product placement in an acquired Korean drama not produced by the channel. Photo: Screenshot.

TVB was previously fined HK$350,000 in total for two product placement ads it aired for fried chicken and its myTV SUPER portal. The channel filed judicial reviews and the hearings are yet to finish.

Tam said the consultation does not have retroactive power and will not affect the cases.

Meanwhile, the Authority also proposed relaxing regulations over advertisements for undertakers or others associated with death or burial, except for advertisements for columbaria in compliance with the relevant presentation and scheduling requirements.

The Authority said it had received views from the public that the restriction could be relaxed provided that they do not make reference to death and terror, and it should be lifted so that the public could be better informed of the services relating to after-death arrangements.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.