Insights Ofcom publishes research on viewers’ attitudes towards commercial references in TV programmes


In addition to income from adverts in commercial breaks, broadcasters generate revenue from references in programmes. These commercial arrangements allow brands, products and services to feature in and around TV programmes, e.g. through product placement or in sponsorship credits.

Ofcom’s rules in this area protect audiences from excessive advertising and ensure that viewers can distinguish between advertising and programmes.

To help Ofcom understand more fully how viewers think and feel about these commercial references, it commissioned research, finding that:

  • participants generally accept commercial references as an established part of the TV landscape, although, beyond product placement and sponsorship, awareness of the variety of such references in programming is low, as is participants’ understanding of whether they are paid for or not;
  • participants want to be able to distinguish clearly advertising from programming so they can make informed decisions on how they engage with the content;
  • participants do not want commercial references to interrupt their viewing; e.g. they are less tolerant of commercial references that “break the flow” of a programme, are irrelevant to its theme or are overly prominent;
  • there were concerns that commercial references should be suitable for those watching, particularly younger audiences, and participants want those most at risk of being influenced by a commercial reference to be safeguarded from potential harm; and
  • many participants consider it important that the brands whose commercial references appear in programming are ethical and their values and practices are not considered harmful to society or vulnerable audiences.

Ofcom says that it will use these findings to help it consider whether to update its guidance to these rules. Given the economic pressures broadcasters currently face, the regulator will explore what flexibility it might be able to provide around the commercial arrangements they use to fund their programmes, while ensuring that viewers’ interests remain protected. To access the research, click here.