A TV ad for a Sky Living drama – The Enfield Haunting – was broadcast on ITV at 8.45pm on Saturday 25 April during an episode of Britain’s Got Talent. On-screen text at the beginning of the ad stated, "Based on real life events" and a man was then pictured pulling up in a car outside a house and a girl was seen at the window. The girl asked, “Mr Gross can I ask you something? How many poltergeists have you actually dealt with?” and the girl was then shown in various scenes, including walking slowly towards the camera and looking at something out of shot in the bathroom mirror. Her mother was shown saying, “This is a house of death, for you”. A person in bed was shown on CCTV which then went fuzzy and light bulbs were then shown exploding in the living room. Two girls were then shown in bed together holding bedcovers close to their faces and one said, “It’s inside the room”.
The ad was cleared by Clearcast with an ex-kids restriction, which meant it should not be shown in or around programmes made for, specifically targeted, or likely to be of particular appeal to children.
Thirty-seven viewers, some of whose children were distressed by the ad, objected that the ad had been inappropriately scheduled during a family programme when younger children were likely to see it.
ITV Broadcasting Ltd said that they believed the ad had been appropriately scheduled and that they had made a considered judgement based on the Clearcast restriction and audience index data across all child demographics. They said that the relevant Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) data for the programme showed that it was not of particular appeal to children, as a proportion of the viewing audience. Britain’s Got Talent was not a programme that was commissioned for or principally directed at children, but was a programme with a broad audience and demographic profile. They did not consider that the number of children watching (as opposed to the proportion of the overall audience) was relevant. They said that the ad was broadcast at 8.45pm when young children were likely to be in bed, and that the BARB data showed that fewer younger children (aged 4 to 9 years) than older children (aged 10 to 15 years) were watching. They also did not believe the ad was particularly frightening.
Clearcast said they had given the ad an ex-kids restriction on the basis that the ad featured eerie music and included mention of death and poltergeists, but that the content was not violent or very frightening. The ad included a light which shattered and children were featured, including pulling a blanket over themselves and looking a little scared. Overall they considered the ad to be mildly frightening and therefore it warranted a timing restriction away from children’s programmes.
Sky said that as per their standard procedure they sent the ad to Clearcast for approval and it had been given an ex-kids restriction. They said that they ran the same content on their own Sky channels and used the same ex-kids restriction without issue.
The ad complained about was for a drama about supposedly real-life events connected to a poltergeist. It featured children in a number of scenes, all of which were inside the home, including at the end in which the two girls were shown in bed together, clearly frightened, with one saying, “It’s inside the room”. It also featured eerie music and the dialogue referred to poltergeists and a “house of death”. The ASA considered that the ad could be distressing to younger children, particularly because it featured children and they were shown being frightened inside the home (including in bed), but that it would be suitable for older children to see. The ad therefore needed to be sensitively scheduled.
The ad had been cleared by Clearcast with an ex-kids timing restriction, which meant it should not be shown in or around programmes made for, or specifically targeted at, children. We considered that in general the ad was likely to be suitable to be shown around programmes which were not made for, or specifically targeted at, children and on that basis the timing restriction applied was appropriate. However, broadcasters had a general responsibility to ensure that they exercised responsible judgement on the scheduling of ads and that they operated internal systems capable of identifying and avoiding unsuitable juxtapositions between advertising material and programmes, especially those that could distress or offend viewers. The Code also stated that ads which were suitable for older children, but could distress younger children, must be sensitively scheduled.
The ad had been scheduled at 8.45pm on a Saturday night during Britain’s Got Talent, which we considered was likely to be seen as family viewing and that younger children might therefore stay up to watch it with their families. Although the BARB data showed that children made up a relatively small proportion of the programme’s audience, it was nonetheless seen by approximately 1.6 million children, 745,000 of whom were aged between 4 and 9 years. Viewers would therefore expect 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. As outlined above we considered that the ad could be distressing to younger children. We also noted that the ad was shown at a time which was likely to be close to the bedtime of the younger children watching, and that a number of the complainants had referred to their children having difficulty sleeping because they were frightened. We therefore concluded that the ad 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 ITV Broadcasting Ltd to ensure that ads which were suitable for older children, but could distress younger children, were sensitively scheduled in future.