Children’s exposure to age-restricted TV ads (including gambling ads)

The Advertising Standards Authority has published a report entitled “Children’s exposure to age-restricted TV ads” that looks at children’s exposure, over a number of years, to TV ads for alcohol, gambling and food and soft drink products high in fat, salt or sugar (“HFSS products”). These are considered by the ASA to be “products that attract public policy considerations, including because of the products’ potential impact on children and young people”.

The data set out within the report indicates that children’s exposure to TV ads for alcohol, gambling and food and soft drink products is trending downward in recent years.

The key findings in relation to gambling ads are:

  • Between 2008 and 2017, children’s exposure to gambling ads increased by 25% from an average in 2008 of 2.2 ads per week (the first full year in which ads for gaming and betting were allowed on TV) to 2.8 ads per week in 2017.
  • In 2013, children’s exposure to gambling ads peaked at an average of 4.5 ads per week.
  • Children’s exposure to gambling ads, relative to adults’, has fallen year-on-year from 38.6% in 2008 to 19.6% in 2017. That means children see, on average, about one TV ad for gambling for every five seen by adults in 2017.
  • Gambling ads made up less than 2% of all the TV ads that children saw on average every year between 2008 and 2017.
  • The majority of TV ads for gambling that children have seen since 2011 (the first year when the ASA can be confident about product breakdown information for gambling ads) are ads for bingo, lottery and scratchcards. Children saw, on average:
    • a peak of 1.9 ads per week for bingo in 2013, decreasing to 0.8 ads per week in 2017, and
    • a peak of 1.3 ads per week for lottery and scratchcards in 2012, decreasing to 0.9 ads per week in 2017.
  • Children’s exposure to ads for sports-betting has decreased from an average of one ad per week in 2011 to 0.4 ads per week in 2017.
  • Children’s exposure to all TV ads reduced by 29.7% from a peak of 229.3 ads per week in 2013 to a low of 161.2 ads in 2017. Over the same period, children’s exposure to gambling ads decreased by 37.3%. This suggests that the decline in children’s exposure to all TV ads might account for over three-quarters of the reduction in children’s exposure to TV ads for gambling products.

The ASA states that “by setting out the actual level of children’s exposure to TV ads for alcohol, gambling and HFSS products, the ASA seeks to better inform the debate about the effectiveness and the proportionality of the rules that currently restrict their advertising”.

SBC News wonders whether “given that the level of exposure of gambling ads to children has been falling (particularly for sports betting), it could be questioned whether the ‘whistle to whistle’ voluntary ad ban coming in next season is necessary”. 

We wonder whether the decline in children’s exposure to TV ads for gambling products is attributable to children’s increasing shift from TV to online video watching platforms. We suggest this, bearing in mind that an Ofcom report entitled “Life on the small screen: What children are watching and why”, published as recently as 29 January 2019, reveals that brand awareness of Netflix and YouTube among 12-15-year olds is now higher than that for the BBC.

This raises its own questions with new financial analysis by Regulus Partners for GambleAware showing that gambling companies spend £1.2 billion marketing online, five times more than they do on television ads, prompting Marc Etches, CEO of GambleAware to say:

Children are growing up in a very different world than their parents. The Gambling Commission reports that 59% of 11-16 year olds have seen gambling advertisements on social media, compared to 66% on television. One in eight 11 to 16 year olds follow gambling companies on social media, and they are three times more likely to spend money on gambling. Of those who have ever played online gambling-style games, 24% follow gambling companies online.

Compared to other potentially harmful activities, the rate of gambling in the past week among young people is higher than the rates of drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes and taking illegal drugs. This underlines the need to treat gambling as a public health issue.

The Regulus analysis shows that much more attention needs to be payed to the extent of gambling-related marketing online, and that internet companies and social media platforms must share in the responsibility to protect children, and to generally raise awareness of the nature of gambling, associated risks of harm, and where to go for help and advice if it is needed.

These latest developments will feature in the annual Gaming Regulators European Forum (“GREF”) lecture being delivered by David Clifton at 5pm on Tuesday 5 February 2019 at ExCel to an audience of gambling regulators from Europe and beyond. David’s lecture is entitled “Gambling advertising – Turn down the volume or turn it off?”. More details can be found here.

Both the ASA and Ofcom reports mentioned above can be downloaded below.