Summary of Council decision:
Eight issues were investigated, all of which were Upheld.
Rule 32.2.1 of the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising (BCAP Code) states that alcohol ads should not be shown in or around programmes commissioned for, principally directed 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 identified through audience indexing.
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-old 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.
In 2013, the ASA Compliance team received research data from Ofcom that indicated that alcohol ads had been broadcast on a number of channels in programmes that indexed over 120 for viewers aged 10 to 15. In response to this research, the ASA Compliance team launched a project that resulted in ten rulings that were published on the ASA website; nine of which recorded breaches of the BCAP Code.
In order to test the response of broadcasters to BCAP’s guidance, the ASA is now conducting a further monitoring and enforcement exercise and commissioned data for the period Q4 2014. The Compliance team has identified challenges for investigation, including alcohol ads broadcast in eight episodes of Geordie Shore on MTV.
Episodes of Geordie Shore were broadcast regularly on MTV in the 9 pm to 9.59 pm time slot in December 2014. The data indicated that 22 alcohol ads appeared in eight programmes where the audience index exceeded 120.
1. Two alcohol ads on 1 December 2014.
2. One alcohol ad on 2 December 2014.
3. Six alcohol ads on 4 December 2014.
4. Four alcohol ads on 8 December 2014.
5. One alcohol ad on 9 December 2014.
6. Four alcohol ads on 11 December 2014.
7. Three alcohol ads on 13 December 2014.
8. One alcohol ad on 29 December 2014.
The ASA Compliance team challenged whether it was appropriate to schedule alcohol ads in these episodes of Geordie Shore because the data indicated that they were programmes likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18 years.
MTV said that Geordie Shore was a reality show with extreme content and no attempt had ever been made to make the programme appeal to under-18s. It was in its tenth series on MTV and its mature tone and content meant that Geordie Shore was firmly recognised as an adult show. They said they took their responsibility to ensure that children were not overly exposed to alcohol advertising extremely seriously and maintained a level of compliance beyond the standard of the BCAP Code. Alcohol ads were not scheduled before 9 pm and there was a content warning before the start of Geordie Shore and after each break that advised that the show was unsuitable for children. They also said that the cast's behaviour and storylines were not relatable or inspirational to children and felt very strongly that they could not be held accountable for the age of viewers post watershed.
MTV said that ads on their channels were sold and scheduled by a third-party company. The third party had several safeguards and automatic procedures built into their airtime system and monitored a consistent analysis of the 10−15 index throughout their booking and scheduling processes. The airtime sales system automatically recorded break indexing data for the previous four weeks' performance and restricted alcohol ads if the break indexing was predicted to exceed the 120 index. The third party also used a programme analysis tool that tracked 90-day data to highlight if a break was likely to index over 100, and restricted alcohol ads in breaks predicted to index over 100, which was beyond the industry standard. They said that because the audiences for Geordie Shore were low and volatile it was prudent to assess at break rather than programme level to cover the transient nature of viewing patterns. In addition to these safeguards, data from the previous series was also taken into account. The average index from series nine was 89; well below the 120 limit. They said that episodes of Geordie Shore in this time slot were not sequential and were a mix of the ten series of the programme, so viewer trends were not consistent across the week for the 9 pm to 9.59 pm slot.
MTV said that their scheduling processes had resulted in fewer alcohol ads appearing in Geordie Shore in the 9 pm to 9.59 pm slot in 2014 than in the 9 pm to 9.59 pm time slot as a whole in 2014, with 5.5% of breaks in Geordie Shore containing alcohol ads, as opposed to 21.1% of breaks in the 9 pm to 9.59 pm slot as a whole. They provided the previous four-weeks' break indexing data for the periods in question and data for the three previous series of Geordie Shore on MTV.
1, 2, 4, 5 and 8. The previous four-weeks' data for the breaks in these programmes did not average over 120. The 90-day break performance and previous series performance were also under 120 so they made a reasonable prediction that the programmes would not index over 120.
3. The previous four-weeks' data for all three breaks in this slot averaged over 120. In one of the previous four weeks in this slot, all three breaks indexed over 120. In two of the weeks, one break indexed over 120. In the other week, no breaks indexed over 120. MTV said that there were a number of 0 rated breaks in the previous four weeks so they compared these breaks against the previous 90-day break performance and the recalibrated data indexed over 100 but under 120. They monitored this programme but made a decision not to restrict alcohol ads in the breaks.
6. The previous four weeks' index for both breaks in this programme averaged over 120. MTV compared this data against the previous 90-day break performance and the recalibrated data indexed over 100 but under 120. They monitored this programme but made a decision not to restrict alcohol ads in the breaks. When the breaks in this programme indexed over 120, they restricted alcohol ads for the following week.
7. The previous four-weeks' data showed that one break in this programme averaged over 120 and the other break averaged under 120. The break that averaged over 120 was compared with the previous 90-day break performance and the recalibrated data indexed over 100 but under 120. The programme was monitored, but alcohol ads were not restricted so appeared in both breaks. Because one break in this programme indexed over 120, alcohol ads were restricted in this break for the following week.
The ASA acknowledged that Geordie Shore was not principally directed at under-18s and contained adult themes and content, which was made clear in the content warning at the start of each programme and after each break. We considered, however, that a reality show featuring cast members in their late teens and early twenties could appeal to under-18s, particularly when broadcast in the 9 pm to 9.59 pm time slot, so forecasting using audience indexing was the appropriate means for MTV to determine whether a programme was likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18.
We noted that MTV had a scheduling process in place, using break indexing data for the previous four weeks' alongside 90-day and previous series' break data. Although MTV said they decided to assess at break rather than programme level because the audiences were low and volatile, we considered that Geordie Shore was an established programme on MTV and there was enough available data using the same programme in the same time slot on the same channel to create robust four-weekly programme data for scheduling purposes.
Alongside the use of a four-weekly period to lessen the impact of audience volatility, we considered that four-weekly programme data for previous transmissions of all broadcasts throughout the week in this time slot would have broadened and strengthened the data, making programme data the best available data for making scheduling decisions for ads in this programme. Although we noted that episodes were not sequential and could come from different series, we considered that episodes of Geordie Shore that appeared on the same channel in the same time slot could provide relevant audience data for scheduling purposes.
Although the use of four-weekly break data, 90-day break data and previous series data could be taken into account in scheduling decisions, we considered that broadcasters should use the best available data to determine if a programme was likely to appeal particularly to audiences below the age of 18.
The ASA checked the previous four weeks' programme data for each of the programmes in question.
The previous four-weeks' average programme index was 115 and the percentage of programmes indexing over 120 was 29%.
Although the index was under 120, we considered that MTV should have taken into account the number of programmes that exceeded 120 as well as the average index. If recent data showed that a number of programmes indexed over 120, MTV should have restricted the programme even if the recent series average index was less than 120 because a number of high indexing programmes was indicative that the series was of particular appeal to under-18s.
Taking the data as a whole, we considered that a situation where 29% of programmes indexed over 120 with an average index of 115 as one where an alcohol restriction should have been applied, even though the average index was less than 120.
We therefore considered that action should have been taken to restrict alcohol ads in the programme when recent data indicated it was likely to appeal particularly to under-18s on a regular basis.
The scheduling of two alcohol advertisements in Geordie Shore on 1 December 2014 in the 9 pm to 9.59 pm time slot 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).
2.− 8. Upheld
For each of these programmes, the previous four-weeks' average programme index was over 120 and the percentage of programmes indexing over 120 was at least 33%.
We therefore considered that action should have been taken to restrict alcohol ads in the programmes when recent data indicated they were likely to appeal particularly to under-18s.
The scheduling of 20 alcohol advertisements in episodes of Geordie Shore on 2, 4, 8, 9, 11, 13 and 29 December 2014 in the 9 pm to 9.59 pm time slot 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 MTV to ensure they used the best available data in their scheduling decisions and to act upon changes in the index.