A TV ad for Amazon Prime promoting a horror drama series called “Fear the Walking Dead”, broadcast on Channel Four on Sunday 10 April during the film Rango at 5.35pm and 6.40pm.
The ad included a voice-over taken from the drama, which stated, “Good morning Los Angeles. Hope you got your flu shot. Reports that a strange virus is going around. If you’re not feeling well go home and take care of yourself.”
The ad showed scenes taken from the drama series, which included posters of a missing woman, a shadowed figure, an unwell man falling down, people running in distress, police and ambulance sirens, people in bio-hazard suits and a frightened woman in a plantation field holding onto a fence. During these scenes, one of the female characters from the drama stated, “What the hell is happening?”
The ad also featured on-screen text that stated “EVERY HORROR … HAS A BEGINNING FEAR THE WALKING DEAD SEASON 1 FEAR BEGINS HERE …”. Towards the end of the ad was a male voice-over that stated, “Fear the walking dead season one. Watch and download with Amazon Prime and take the fear with you.”
Three complainants, one of whom reported that their child was distressed by the ad, objected that it had been inappropriately scheduled during a children’s film.
Channel Four Television Corporation stated that they recognised Rango as a film that would appeal to children and as such restricted the advertising shown in and around it to that suitable for children.
When Channel 4 noted that the ad had no timing restriction that would prevent it from being shown in or around programmes made for, or specifically targeted at, children, they discussed the matter with Clearcast and were told that whilst it had a dramatic tone and imagery, there was no graphic content and did not warrant any such restriction. However, they recommended a “presentation code 32”, advising broadcasters that they might want to view the ad to determine its acceptability for transmission in programmes appealing to children under 9 years of age. Channel 4 stated that their internal system should have applied an appropriate flag for the ad, which would have automatically identified the presentation code requiring a member of staff to manually apply the appropriate restriction. Channel 4 apologised for any distress this error may have caused and stated that they took their responsibilities as a broadcaster very seriously and were taking steps to improve how the application of timing restrictions were managed.
Clearcast stated that they had given much consideration to the ad, as it was for a horror drama and scenes of gore or terror were unsuitable for broadcast at times when children were likely to be watching television. Clearcast stated that although the ad came across as slightly menacing, it featured no zombies, injuries, violence or people in distress. On that basis, they believed the most appropriate action was to apply a “presentation code 32”.
The ASA understood that the ad complained about was for a horror drama series based on a zombie apocalypse. It featured a voice-over that referred repeatedly to the title of the programme and scenes of social disorder and people in distress. The sound effects and music became louder and more intense throughout the ad.
We considered that the overall content of the ad created a build-up of suspense that could be distressing to younger children, but that would not be unsuitable for older children to see. The ad therefore needed to be sensitively scheduled, as required by the BCAP Code.
The ad had been cleared by Clearcast with no timing restriction that prevented it from being shown in or around programmes made for, or specifically targeted at, children. They had, however, applied a code that advised broadcasters that they might want to view the ad to determine its acceptability for transmission in programmes appealing to children under 9 years of age. We noted that Channel 4 stated that their internal system should have automatically flagged up the presentation code and that a member of staff would then have manually applied the appropriate timing restriction. We acknowledged that Channel 4 was now taking steps to improve how they applied timing restrictions and such advice in their future scheduling of ads.
However, broadcasters had a general responsibility to ensure that they exercised responsible judgement on the scheduling of ads. Also they should operate internal systems capable of identifying and avoiding unsuitable juxtapositions between advertising material and programmes, especially those that could distress or offend viewers.
We noted that the ad was shown during an animated film that would have strong appeal to young children. Furthermore, it was scheduled on a Sunday afternoon, which we considered was likely to be seen as family viewing time. Viewers would have expected ads to be scheduled with the family audience in mind and were unlikely to expect to see ads that would be frightening to younger children. The BARB data showed that children made up 218,000 of the 927,000 viewers and that the majority (150,000) were between 4 and 9 years of age. As outlined above, we considered that the ad could be distressing to younger children and concluded that it had been inappropriately scheduled.
The scheduling of the ad breached BCAP Code rules
Advertisements that are suitable for older children but could distress younger children must be sensitively scheduled (see Section 32: Scheduling).
(Children) and 32.1 32.1 Broadcasters must exercise responsible judgement on the scheduling of advertisements and operate internal systems capable of identifying and avoiding unsuitable juxtapositions between advertising material and programmes, especially those that could distress or offend viewers or listeners. (Scheduling of television and radio advertisements).
We told Channel Four Television Corporation to ensure that ads which were suitable for older children, but could distress younger children, were sensitively scheduled in future.