ITC Guidelines

March 1, 2001

On 12 February the ITC published its new Guidance to Broadcasters on the Regulation of Interactive Television Services. With the emphasis on the separation of advertising from editorial content and the protection of children, this document is designed to provide guidance to licensees to be read alongside the ITC’s existing rules for the regulation of content, in particular the Programme Code, the Advertising Code and the Rules on the Amount and Scheduling of Advertising.

The ITC distinguishes two main categories of interactive services: dedicated services (such as shopping malls and betting and gaming services) and enhanced programming (such as editorial and advertising enhanced programmes and advertisements). The fundamental differences between these two types of service raise separate regulatory concerns. These are reflected in the emphasis in the Guidance on the regulation of enhanced programme services. Pure Internet via-TV services lie outside the scope of the document.

Dedicated interactive services

These include electronic shopping malls and entertainment services, usually reached by the viewer through an electronic programme guide rather than a programme. The services are mostly stand-alone and their content is not usually linked to specific programmes. They often operate within a “walled garden” controlled by the broadcaster although others may be linked to a form of full Internet access. Given the newness and non-universality of dedicated services, and given the level of deliberate choice required to use them, the ITC regards its regulatory role in this area as very limited, focusing only on broadcasters’ own content and transparency of different types of content. The provision of content by broadcasters themselves, for instance as part of a portal to an electronic high street, falls within the scope of an ITC licence and as such must conform to ITC content rules. Whilst pre-vetting may not be appropriate or practicable, the ITC will still require any material considered misleading, offensive or harmful to be removed on notice.

As to transparency, viewers must not be misled about the regulatory regime that applies to any interactive/Internet content they may access. For example they must not believe content is subject to ITC Codes when it is not. Additionally, there may be circumstances where a content provider on a dedicated service provides programming. The example given in the Guidance is that of a supermarket chain providing a cookery programme for users of an electronic shopping mall. Such content providers would be licensees in the same way as conventional TV companies, and would therefore be subject to ITC’s licensing requirements. Beyond these requirements, the ITC does not intend to set any standards for content or dedicated services, including “walled gardens”.

Enhanced programme services

Enhanced programme services are services which provide for interaction with the linear programme. The ITC identifies three main types: editorial enhancements to programmes; advertising enhancements to programmes; and advertising enhancements to advertisements. Because these enhancements start from conventional linear programmes, viewer expectations are likely to differ from those applying to dedicated services. Not only will the viewer tend to regard the interactivity as an extension of the programme, but accessing that interactivity is likely to involve fewer viewer deliberate choices. The ITC Guidance tries to balance concerns over the possible impact of interactive services on the integrity of linear programmes and the degree of commercial exploitation of links with programmes which will be needed if the costs of providing interactive enhancements are to be met.

The ITC has come up with a solution in the form a set of simplified ground rules based on elements of its existing Codes. These rules are set out in full in an annex to the Guidance. First of all, the requirements of the ITC Codes will extend to all enhancements over which the licensee exercises control, and to any interactive icons present in a programme or advertisement. “First click” content will be subject to the same compliance requirements as advertisements in normal linear programme breaks. However, this would not apply to content beyond the “first click” and outside the licensee’s control. Nevertheless differences of status between types of content must be transparent to viewers. For example, viewers must be told any costs of choosing to interact, such as telephone charges.

The ITC has also decided that viewers should not be directed straight from a programme to a single advertisement and the Guidance stipulates that an intermediate “first click” screen should offer at least some non-commercial material. Moreover advertising material must be distinguishable from other content. The ITC also emphasises the distinction between specific categories of programmes and specific advertisements. The ITC rules that apply to linear programming limit, for example, the appearance of programme presenters in advertisements adjacent to the programme concerned. These restrictions will equally apply to interactive advertising content accessed through such programmes.

Sensitive programme categories

Finally the ITC has set more specific requirements for interactive enhancements to three especially sensitive categories of programme – news and current affairs, consumer advice programmes and children’s programmes. No interactive advertisements will be allowed for products or services referred to in the relevant section of the news or current affairs programme, and there will be no interactive ads of any kind providing offers for sale. No direct offers for sale will be allowed for products or services reviewed in a consumer advice programme and existing restrictions on advertising with insurance programmes will also apply to interactive services.