Rule 32.2.1 of The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (The BCAP Code) states that alcohol ads should not be shown in or around programmes commissioned for, principally targeted at or likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18 years.
In practice, programmes commissioned for or principally targeted at under-18s are identifiable by their content. Programmes likely to appeal particularly to under-18s are not so easy to identify.
Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) guidance recommends the use of audience indexing, a statistical tool, to determine the representation of children in relation to the audience as a whole. BCAP guidance states that an alcohol restriction should be applied in programmes where the 10- to 15-year-olds audience, indexed against the total audience of all individuals over four years old, produces an index of 120 or more. An index of 120 would mean that 10- to 15-year-olds are 20% over-represented in the programme audience compared to the audience as a whole.
Audience indexing can be used as a tool for forecasting prospective audiences using historical data. An index over 120, when looked at retrospectively, is not necessarily indicative of a breach of the Code. The test is whether the broadcaster used the predictive tools available to schedule advertising with reasonable thoroughness and care.
The ASA Compliance team received research data from Ofcom about television programmes that contained centre-break alcohol advertisements in Q4 2012. This research was based on Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) data for this period and showed ads where the 10- to 15-year-olds audience, indexed against the audience of individuals over four years old, produced an index of 120 or higher.
Ofcom commissioned this research as part of a review into children's exposure to alcohol advertising on television. Ofcom passed this information to the ASA to assess whether the data indicated breaches of Rule 32.2.1 of the BCAP Code. The ASA commissioned further data for February, March and April 2013.
Episodes of The Big Bang Theory programme were broadcast on E4 in the 8pm to 8.59pm time slot throughout Q4 2012 and February, March, April 2013.
The data indicated that the audience index for alcohol ads in these programmes exceeded the 120 limit in 15 episodes in Q4 2012 and 13 episodes in February, March, April 2013.
The ASA Compliance team challenged whether it was appropriate to schedule alcohol ads in The Big Bang Theory in the 8pm to 8.59pm time slot because the data indicated it was a programme likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18 years.
Channel Four Television Corporation (E4) said that the programme had been regularly scheduled at 8pm on E4 since November 2011.
On initial viewing E4 decided it was not likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18 years.
E4 said they monitored the programme and provided a table showing that the monthly average index did not exceed 120 at any point in the first six months. They said their usual working process was to review the series on a quarterly basis and act upon any audience changes.
They said that unfortunately the process was not followed on this occasion so they were unable to respond to the change in the audience profile. E4 provided a table showing that after the first six months, the monthly average index exceeded 120 in nine out of 12 months from May 2012 to April 2013.
E4 said they had now restricted alcohol ads in all programmes in the 8pm to 8.59pm time slot on the E4 channel.
The ASA considered that The Big Bang Theory, a programme described on the Channel 4 website as a “US comedy about a group of highly intelligent but socially clueless scientists and their savvy neighbour Penny”, could appeal to under-18s. We therefore considered that forecasting using audience indexing was the appropriate means for E4 to determine whether the programme was likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18.
The ASA noted that E4 had a process to review The Big Bang Theory's monthly average index on a quarterly basis after the first six months of transmission and act upon audience changes. We were concerned, however, that this process was not followed and E4 did not notice that the monthly average index for the programme exceeded 120 in nine out of 12 months after the first six months. This resulted in a number of alcohol ads being broadcast to audiences where the 10- to 15-year-olds audience index exceeded 120.
Furthermore, we considered that even if the process was followed, a quarterly review period would not have been sufficient to comply with the Code. A quarterly review period could result in a situation where a programme consistently exceeded the 120 index for three months before action was taken, which should not be possible in a compliant forecasting process.
We also considered that although the use of a monthly period to determine the series index for a particular time-slot could be a useful tool in the forecasting process, it may still result in unreasonable delays when responding to audience changes unless the data was looked at on a more regular basis, especially if the series in question was predicted to index close to 120.
Although we acknowledged that action was taken and alcohol ads had been restricted in all programmes in the 8pm to 8.59pm time slot on E4, we considered the failure to monitor and act upon changes in audience indices resulted in the scheduling of alcohol ads in breach of the BCAP Code.
The scheduling breached BCAP Code rule 32.2.1 32.2.1 alcoholic drinks containing 1.2% alcohol or more by volume (see rule 32.4.7) (Scheduling of Television and Radio Advertisements, Under-18s).
We told E4 to ensure they review the series on a more regular basis and act upon changes in the index.