ITC sets the standards for interactive TV

The commission aims to adopt a “light touch” approach, to avoid creating obstacles for the commercial interests which will fund the development of the new services.  At the same time it needs to ensure that existing public expectations about the distinction between editorial and advertising content are preserved, along with viewers’ trust of the medium.

The key points in the ITC’s approach are as follows:

  • Viewers need to be clear when they are being sold to, and TV programmes should be free of commercial interference.
  • “Dedicated interactive services”, such as electronic shopping malls, betting and gaming, need only be subject to minimal ITC regulation.
  • “Enhanced programme services”, where viewers interact with a linear programme, will be subject to a more detailed set of rules based on existing ITC codes.
  • The ITC will not attempt to regulate the Internet, however viewers gain access to it.

DEDICATED INTERACTIVE SERVICES may operate entirely within a “walled garden” controlled by the broadcaster, or may be linked to a form of full Internet access.  In either case the ITC sees little role for itself.  It will only set two rules:

  1. Where broadcasters provide content of their own, for example as part of a portal to an Electronic High Street, such content will be expected to comply with ITC content rules and will have to be removed if the ITC considers it misleading, offensive or harmful.
  2. Viewers must not be misled about the regulatory regime that applies to content within shopping malls and suchlike.  They must not believe it is subject to ITC codes when it is not.

ENHANCED PROGRAMME SERVICES come in three main forms: editorial enhancements to programmes (eg background to news or sports events); advertising enhancements to programmes (eg advertisements for products related to the editorial content of linear programmes); and advertising enhancements to advertising (eg information about a product accessed through an advertisement or sponsorship credit).  The ITC believes that greater regulation is required in these areas in order to protect programme integrity.  The new rules published yesterday include the following:

  • Existing ITC codes will apply to these services.
  • Viewers must not be able to proceed straight from a programme to a single advertisement.  An intermediate “first click” screen must offer at least some non-commercial material.
  • Advertising material must be clearly distinguishable as such.
  • Licensees will not be expected to take responsibility for material over which they have no editorial control, but differences of status must be transparent to viewers.  For example, viewers must be told any costs of choosing to interact, for example telephone calls.
  • Interactive icons displayed during editorial programming must not be commercially branded.
  • Licensees will be expected to ensure that commercial messages not specifically selected by viewers do not fill more than one third of the screen within programme enhancements.
  • No interactive advertisements should be provided for products or services referred to in the relevant section of a news or current affairs programme, and there should be no interactive advertisements of any kind providing offers for sale.
  • No direct offers for sale may be made for products or services reviewed in a consumer advice programme.
  • Existing restrictions on advertising within children’s programmes in the linear environment (eg advertisements for alcohol, slimming products, medicines or adult films and offers for sale of any kind) will also apply in the interactive environment.

The new rules can be downloaded from the ITC’s web site at www.itc.org.uk.  They are inevitably somewhat experimental in feel, given the novelty of the services to which they apply.  Not many people are actually viewing these services yet and “enhanced programme services” are still in their infancy.  New guidelines and rules will no doubt follow before long as the take up increases and the ITC gets more research data on viewers’ experiences and opinions.

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