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By | February 14, 2001

      “Interactivity, for example, changes the content which appears on the screen….”, thus does the UK television regulator ITC help explain what interactivity is all about. The phrase appears within the ITC’s newly published Guidance to broadcasters on the regulation of interactive television services (February 12) document, which contains some handy hints for broadcasters on how to avoid confusing the public.

      However, one of its rules (Annex A, Rule 8) states, “Within any programme enhancement, advertising which is not specifically selected by the viewer must not predominate over programme material.” The ITC suggests that commercial messages should not fill more than one third of the screen. This might cause broadcasters some problems.

      Last week at the Sky presentation, demonstrations were given where the broadcast screen image was shrunk to about one third, while the rest of the screen was given over to interactive content/t-shopping during The Simpsons and Temptation Island shows.

      Another (Rule 10) states that no direct offers for sale may be provided on an enhancement screen to a news or current affairs programme, or during children’s viewing.

      Perhaps even more worrying for broadcasters who have long wanted the “select” or “OK” button to be used on an impulse basis, the ITC is banning the direct purchase of products or purchases during a programme which includes “reviews or advice on [those] products or services.” The ITC magnanimously says that viewers can request extra information on a product, or advice about a company.

      The ITC again makes it clear that it has no intention of legislating on Internet access or reception. But as for interactive TV – there are 11 pages of guidance, rules and regulations. The key points on interactive/enhanced services are:

      • The distinction between programmes and advertising must be safeguarded.
      • Viewers must not be misled over interactive content, and advertisements must be clearly distinguishable as such, and recognisably separate.
      • Content transmitted within electronic shopping malls will be regarded as ‘broadcast’.
      • The ITC is “concerned” about viewers who interact within a programme, and will expect broadcasters to maintain full editorial responsibility.
      • No icon present during a programme may be commercially branded.
      • No direct sale during a news or current affairs programme.
      • No direct selling during a review or advice programme.
      • No advertisement or commercial content during kids programmes that would be forbidden if broadcast conventionally within such a programme.

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