Analysis: What does the ASA’s TV ad exposure data really tell us?

By Owain Flanders

Today, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) released data from its 2019 survey on children’s exposure to age-restricted TV ads.

The annual report assesses how much children (those aged between 4-15 years old) are exposed to age-restricted TV advertisements in the UK – namely alcohol and gambling.

So overall, what does the data tell us?

Well, according to the ASA’s findings, there isn’t a lot to tell. Children’s exposure to gambling advertising on TV remains at almost identical levels to those found when the regulatory body’s records first began in 2008.

On average, children saw 2.5 gambling ads per week in 2019, meaning that, despite exposure levels increasing slightly in 2018, the numbers have remained reasonably unchanged during the past six years.

Relative to adults’ exposure to TV gambling ads, children’s exposure was at an all-time-low of 17.2%, with children seeing just under one ad for every five seen by an adult.

In the 12 years since the ASA’s records began, exposure levels peaked in 2013, when children were exposed to an average of 4.4 ads every week, and have steadily declined since this point.

While the UK industry might come under a lot of pressure from those entrenched in the anti-gambling camp, it is clear to see that efforts to limit underage exposure to gambling are working – and in fact, have been working for some time.

In January this year, I wrote an article condemning the most recent of the industry’s big-name transgressors when a Betway advert was found to be in conflict with the Committees of Advertising Practice code.

The lack of transgressions since January however, demonstrates that the industry is working well to abide by advertising regulation – even more significant during the current pandemic while online operators have a new homebound customer base to capitalise on.

However, what is interesting to note in the exposure report, is the ASA’s research into TV consumption as a whole.

“The continuation of the downward trend in children’s exposure to TV ads is, in the main, likely to be driven by their increasing consumption of online media, such as on-demand and online video use, as well as social media engagement,” the report reads.

“In 2019, children aged 4-15 watched, on average, 7.5 hours of television per week, down by 1.5 hours from 2018 and less than half the viewing levels in 2010.

“Children’s exposure to all TV ads decreased from an average of 141.9 ads per week in 2018 to 115.9 ads per week in 2019.  The downward trend has continued at a steady rate since the peak in children’s exposure in 2013.”  

While children’s exposure to TV gambling ads may be at the same level as it was in 2008, it is also very clear that the world has evolved from a technological perspective.

Now, rather than wasting their time tuning in to live TV, children will spend hours flicking through apps on iPads, scrolling through facebook or watching videos on YouTube.

The industry can pat itself on the back for the work it has done to protect children from its TV advertisements over the past 12 years, but now we have entered the digital age, and attentions have to shift to protect those same children while they surf the internet.

When it regained power in 2019, the Conservative Party vowed to review the “outdated” Gambling Act 2005, and although the current pandemic has taken the limelight for the time being, this review is certainly on the horizon.

Online advertisements are an important way for any operator to generate brand exposure, but if the industry aims to avoid government intervention then the same level of attention should be applied to minimising children’s exposure online as that achieved in TV.

However, this aim is certainly not out of reach. More than anything the ASA data demonstrates all that can be achieved in protection with the commitment of the entire industry.


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