What are some of the potential legal issues with funding television content in the UAE?

13 November 2014

Sponsorship, product placement and advertising are all ways to generate revenue from television content. Reportedly TV advertising revenues in the GCC hit USD $693 million last year, 14% of the overall GCC spend on advertising.  

tview, the UAE’s official television audience measurement system, was launched in October 2012 and is tasked with collating UAE TV viewership data. Accurate viewer data is key in driving advertising revenues by enabling both the advertisers and the content producers/broadcasters to better assess the popularity, and therefore value, of funding a particular piece of content.

Funding, defined

There are three main types of television funding: advertising, sponsorship and product placement.  Advertising is the promotion of products, services or ideas, usually taking the form of spot advertising, occupying breaks during or between programmes.  

Sponsorship is a commercial arrangement that promotes the sponsor’s goods or services by associating the sponsor with a piece of content. In September, Emirates recognized the power of its brand’s association with the hugely popular reality TV show, Arab Idol, announcing its sponsorship of the show’s third season.

Product placement is the deliberate inclusion of (or reference to) the sponsor’s product, services or trade mark in editorial content. Products should be incorporated subtly and in the appropriate context to ensure that this revenue-generating exercise does not compromise the editorial content. Examples range from Will Smith’s Ray Bans in the 1997 film Men in Black to the Defender provided by Land Rover for the opening car chase in 2012’s James Bond installment, Skyfall.

UAE advertising law 101

Advertising is content. This means that the regional religious, cultural and social sensitivities must be taken into account when producing/broadcasting advertising content. In fact, as the audience does not usually have a choice as to the advertising content they are subjected to, particular care should be taken to ensure the content is appropriate.

The National Media Council, the UAE Federal media regulator, issued specific advertising standards in 2012.   All adverts, whether produced, broadcast or distributed in the UAE must comply with these rules. There are clear penalties for breach of the standards including fines and suspension/revocation of licenses. 

It is also noteworthy that advertising campaigns aimed at international or overseas audiences, but published or broadcast in the UAE, are caught by the rules. This emphasizes the need for ensuring that all advertising with UAE exposure, regardless of origin, is appropriately tailored to comply with the local rules. It is, therefore, important to obtain legal advice to ensure localization is compliant.

Prohibited products

There are strict prohibitions on the direct or indirect advertising or promotion of alcohol and tobacco.  So, for example, an advert stating that a bar is running a promotion on “Russian Standard” (a brand of alcohol) would breach these rules by directly advertising that drink.  There is some uncertainty, however, over whether the use of substitute words for (usually alcoholic) drinks, such as “bubbles”, “grape” and “hops”, constitutes indirect advertising of alcohol. Your legal advisor will be able to offer specific guidance on these issues.

Sponsorship and product placement, effectively indirect promotion of goods, should not be used to attempt to circumvent rules prohibiting the marketing of certain products. So, for example, prominently displaying the trademark colours or packaging of a well-known cigarette brand in a TV show would likely be considered promotion of tobacco products and therefore in breach of the rules. It is also noteworthy that there is specific UAE Federal legislation that bans any form of publicity, advertising or promotion of tobacco products or related goods in any type of media.

Children’s content

Special care should be taken with promotions in or around content aimed at children due to the vulnerability of the audience. As children are easily influenced, content aimed at this audience should not contain anything that may cause harm, include hidden messages or promote products that are internationally accepted as being harmful to children (such as foods high in fat, salt or sugar).    

Lastly, remember that advertising is a tricky, locally regulated area and so it is important to ensure that you have consulted a legal advisor on all of the potential issues.

This article was originally featured on page 16 of the November edition of Digital Studio magazine, which focuses on TV and film production in the Middle East.