Rules around weekend alcohol ads on TV altered paving way for new revenues for broadcasters

ACMA chair Chris Chapman

ACMA chair Chris Chapman

The communications watchdog has lifted some restrictions around weekend and public holiday daytime alcohol advertising on TV, which has been restricted to live sporting events, opening a new channel for free-to-air networks to drive revenue.

Changes which come into effect on December 1 mean booze ads can now be shown around other sports programs on weekends, extending the potential of sponsorship partnerships for broadcasters.

The announcement of a revised Commercial Television Industry Code of Practice by the Australian Communications and Media Authority also brings forward the watershed for M-Rated programs on free-to-air networks by an hour to 7:30pm. The shift is expected to have a significant knock on effect for the networks enabling them to bring more edgy programming on earlier in the evening.

The changes have been brought in to deal with shifts in the media landscape since they were last reviewed in 2009.

The code, drafted by Free TV and approved by ACMA, aims to account for the much freer access consumers have to TV content through both platforms and delivery methods that has rendered timezones for programming less relevant.

ACMA chairman Chris Chapman said the code had been designed to give consumers a greater role in choosing what they wanted to watch and when.

“The digital era has also brought challenges for viewers, and the new code is designed to assist them to better manage their own viewing in an environment in which responsibility will be increasingly shared between government, industry and, importantly, viewers (citizens),” said Chapman in a statement.

In bringing the watershed for M-classified programs forward from 8.30pm to 7.30pm broadcasters will have greater freedom in the programs they schedule and the advertisers they can attract.

However gambling ads have been hit, and cannot now be shown on TV in G-rated programs between 6am and 8.30am and 4pm and 7pm, and in any show aimed at children until 8.30pm.

The new code has opened up the free-to-air networks to bring in more alcohol advertising using sports shows on weekends and public holidays, ending their reliance on live sport to sell to the lucrative group of advertisers before 8.30pm.

Free TV has endorsed the codes it drew up, saying it reflects the changing media environment while at the same time removing some of the complexity of the previous codes.

Chairman Harold Mitchell said: “It has resulted in a Code which reflects commercial television’s place in Australia’s modern, diversified media economy, where viewers can access content at any time on any number of devices and platforms.”

Sources at ACMA have described the latest version of the codes as the beginning of making them more reactive to the swiftly changing nature of the media market.

Even as the codes were being finalised last week, a new era in free-to-air broadcasting was beginning with the live streaming of terrestrial channels.

While ACMA said it consulted widely with interest groups, lobbyists have been quick to slam the new codes for the earlier watershed, opening up daytime viewing to PG programming rather than restricting it to G, and allowing more daytime and early evening alcohol advertising on weekends and public holidays  through the use of non-live sports programming.

Barbara Biggins, a long term advocate for restrictions on alcohol advertising and founder of the Australian Council on Children and the Media, said the relaxing of programming restrictions would see children exposed to a wide range of inappropriate content. ”

“The revised code views the world through the eyes of the industry and regulators, not through the eyes of parents concerned for their children,” said Biggins.

“There are real risks posed to children through exposure to age-inappropriate content.”

Biggins warned that parents would now have to be on permanent watch to make sure their children were not exposed to inappropriate content and said she also feared a new onslaught of alcohol advertising taking advantage of the loosening in rules on live sports.

The new Commercial Television Code of Practice comes into effect on December 1.

Simon Canning


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