Junk food ad ban ‘aids web gi­ants’

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Front page - By Christo­pher Wil­liams

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.

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