Channel 4’s website, www.channel4.com, seen in January 2021, featured an ad for All 4+; the paid-for tier of its All 4 streaming service. It included the headline claim “Stream 1500 shows ad-free*” and the claim “Watch your favourites without the ads*. Start your 14-day free trial now”. A link to “Start your free trial” was placed underneath followed by text which stated “£3.99 per month. Cancel anytime.” and a clickable link to “See Terms”. Smaller text underneath stated “*For contractual reasons some programmes will contain ads or promotional trails for other programmes. Watch live is excluded”.
IssueFive complainants challenged whether the claims “Stream 1500 shows ad-free” and “Watch your favourites without the ads” were misleading because they saw ads frequently when streaming on All 4+.
Channel 4 said that at the time the ad was seen there were 1,606 shows available on All 4+, and that this number available generally varied between 1,550 and 1,650. The shows available were made up of material commissioned directly by Channel 4 from production companies and material acquired from external TV studios.
Channel 4’s contract with one studio stipulated that shows licenced from that studio could only be published if they included one third-party commercial ad within each ad break on All 4+. The contract affected ten shows: ‘Justified’, ‘Dawson’s Creek’, ‘Community’, ‘The Reckoning’, ‘Damages’, ‘The Shield’, ‘Schooled’, ‘The Goldbergs’, ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘The Tudors’. They made up 0.6% of the total shows available on All 4+ at the time the complaints were made. They said that the claim “Watch your favourites without the ads” was not shown in isolation and was accompanied by the claim “Stream 1500 shows ad-free” and both claims were always shown alongside the qualification, “*For contractual reasons some programmes will contain ads or promotional trails for other programmes. Watch live is excluded.” A voiceover made clear if ads were included, before a show started. They said that the headline claim that a consumer could access 1,500 shows ad free was accurate, as the small number that showed ads were not included in that figure. The claim, “Watch your favourites ad free” was made alongside the headline claim and qualification and it was also supported by viewing data that showed that none of the 20 most-viewed shows on All 4+ in 2020 included ads.
Channel 4 said that a 14-day free trial period was offered to enable consumers to explore the service and decide whether it was right for them. If a consumer found that the specific programme they wanted to view was not available ad free, they would not have to continue with their All 4+ subscription beyond the free trial. Consumers were aware of the type of advertising that appeared on Channel 4, on VOD services generally and on All 4 specifically. For those reasons, Channel 4 maintained that the ad did not mislead the average consumer materially.
The ad stated “Watch 1500 shows ad-free*” and “Watch your favourites without the ads*”. The asterisk placed after those claims linked to a nearby and prominent qualification at the bottom of the graphic in which the headline claims appeared that stated “*For contractual reasons some programmes will contain ads or promotional trails for other programmes. Watch live is excluded”. We noted that the ad did not state whether the 1,500 shows referenced represented the full catalogue or just the number that would be free of ads. We therefore considered that consumers would understand from the ad as a whole that there were approximately 1,500 shows available (and that number would fluctuate) on All 4+ in total and that, of those, a small proportion would contain commercial spot ads.
We considered that consumers were likely to distinguish between commercial ads and promotional trails for other programmes on the platform, which were still present in paid-for VOD content on some other platforms that were free from commercial ads. We considered that they were more likely to expect “ad-free”, in the context of the webpage, to refer to commercial ads. We understood that the overall catalogue of shows was 1,606 at the time the ad was seen and that of those only 0.6% contained ads. We considered this was a very small proportion and was likely to be in line with the expectations the average consumer would have when viewing the ad as a whole. Because the qualification clearly and prominently clarified that there would be a small number of shows which contained ads we concluded that the ad was not misleading.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify.
Qualifications must be presented clearly.
CAP has published Advertising Guidance on Misleading advertising: use of qualifications. (Qualification), but did not find it in breach.
No further action required.