Junk food ad ban ‘aids web giants’
THE Government has been warned that plans for a ban on junk food advertising before the watershed risk permanent damage to British broadcasters and will divert as much as £250m a year into the pockets of unregulated tech giants Facebook and Google.
A coalition of television companies including ITV, Sky and Viacom, the owner of Channel 5, is frantically battling moves by Number 10 and Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, to outlaw advertising for products that are high in fat, sugar or salt before 9pm. Proposals are being prepared for publication before MPS break for summer in July.
The plans are causing rising alarm in a commercial television industry already in fear of Silicon Valley and facing a decline in younger audiences for traditional broadcasts.
ITV is in line to bear the brunt of a crackdown on junk food advertising, which is being advocated by celebrity chefs Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnleywhittingstall. Its Saturday night slate of family entertainment such as Britain’s Got Talent would be hardest hit. The potential financial blow threatens to overshadow efforts by ITV’S new chief executive Carolyn Mccall to reset the broadcaster’s strategy. She aims to respond better to the challenge from the internet and further reduce ITV’S reliance on traditional advertising.
Supporters of a ban claim that television advertising of unhealthy foods is a major contributor to rising childhood obesity, despite a rapid decline in traditional viewing by young people.
Data from the media regulator Ofcom shows four to 15-year-olds are spending 43pc less time watching broadcast television than in 2010, while obesity has continued to increase.
Meanwhile, internet usage has increased 44pc to 4.7 hours per week, as social media and Youtube have accounted for a rising share of children’s entertainment.
Broadcasters fear that they are an easy target for campaigners and the Government when compared with Facebook and Google, which also carry advertising for junk food.
A pre-watershed ban could be achieved through changes to existing rules that would not require new laws. By contrast, the internet is unregulated and change would need legislation.
Senior television executives are furious about the disparity. Sky boss Jeremy Darroch has accused tech giants of operating with “no regulation, no accountability and little transparency”.
Now commercial broadcasters are battling a Whitehall ban with claims it will further enrich internet players.
Downing Street has been warned that big food brands are likely to transfer budgets that would have backed British television to websites and apps where there is no watershed and little control over what children see.
An industry source said: “It would be like squeezing a balloon. No air comes out, it just goes somewhere else.”
The row has been simmering behind closed doors and is poised to go public as concern mounts over funding for public service broadcasting.
It is understood that Ofcom, which has highlighted the threat to traditional business models, offered to review the existing junk food advertising regime but was rebuffed by the Government.