Today sees the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling’s fifth edition of the Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising (the Industry Code) come into force. The aim of the new measures, is to drastically reduce the amount of gambling advertising on television – of course, the aim is to create a safer gambling environment but this voluntary move by the industry has been driven by public demand, increased political scrutiny and, ultimately, by a desire to preserve the future of the industry.
After the introduction of the Gambling Act 2005, the first Industry Code set out that new gambling products (i.e. not those such as bingo, that were permissible prior to 1 September 2007), should not be advertised on television before 9pm. The exception to this watershed requirement was the advertising of sports betting around televised sporting events. Whilst other iterations of the Industry Code introduced further restrictions on the content of the gambling advertising that could feature within this commercial airtime, such as prohibiting sign-up offers and references to any prohibited (i.e non-sports betting) products, this exception to the watershed restriction effectively ring-fenced the most desirable advertising inventory for sports betting operators on UK television services.
The latest edition of the Industry Code introduces the concept of a ‘whistle-to-whistle’ ban, to limit the watershed exception further. Now, not even sports betting advertising can be shown around sports events on television during the period from 5 minutes before and 5 minutes after kick-off (or first tee/bowl etc. in multi-day events), including in breaks of play – importantly this also applies to a betting operator’s sponsorship of the programme during this period (and, in case you were wondering, this also applies to any internet stream of the sports coverage).
Perhaps the less well-publicised part of the whistle-to-whistle ban is that the programmes that qualify for the exception in the first place have been amended by this edition of the Industry Code. Instead of ‘televised sporting events‘, the exception is now limited to the ‘televised broadcast of live sports events‘. This means that highlights programmes shown before or after the live match coverage, for example, will no longer qualify as programming for the exception.
Whilst the impact might be more visible within the big-ticket, live, sports matches, the application of the Industry Code exception to live coverage only will certainly play a huge part in reducing the amount of sports betting ads on TV. What will be particularly interesting to see, is what impact this might have on: (a) the broadcaster’s scheduling of advertising breaks (within the confines of existing regulations); and (b) the operators’ re-distribution of advertising spend.
Perhaps there needs to be much more ‘outside the box’ thinking about the advertising of gambling in connection with sports. Paddy Power’s recent #saveourshirt campaign is a great example of this – positive brand association in a way that appeals to parents, consumers and regulators alike. That’s one way to respond to increasing pressure to reduce the visibility of gambling advertising and sponsorship – what’s next?