Sky CEO renews calls for industry to limit online ads

13 December 2018

Stephen van Rooyen, chief executive of broadcaster Sky for the UK and Ireland, has used confirmation of the betting industry’s voluntary restrictions on TV advertising to again call for action to limit the sector’s online marketing.

With the so-called 'whistle-to-whistle' ban on betting ads around live sport to be implemented in mid-2019, van Rooyen (pictured) has called for a “proportionate and responsible” limit to industry advertising against all channels to be brought in.

“Yet again, the gambling industry are ignoring the fact they spend five times more on online marketing than they do on TV,” van Rooyen said. “By cutting TV ads, they’ll simply spend more online, bombarding people’s smartphones, tablets and social media feeds with even more gambling ads.”

Earlier this week he claimed in an op-ed for The Times newspaper that a shift online would result in fewer safeguards for customers. Van Rooyen argued that there were less regulation governing online advertising, and pointed out that the industry’s investment in advertising via that channel dwarfs TV ad spend.

However, UK advertising watchdog the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) described the CEO’s claims as inaccurate. It noted that the CAP and BCAP Codes govern both channels, and that it has regularly issued guidance regarding age-sensitive online advertising that applies to the iGaming sector.

The ban, announced earlier today by the Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG), will see no betting adverts shown five minutes before the start of a sporting broadcast begins and five minutes after the event ends.

It will be supported by the industry committing not to broadcast betting ads around highlights shows, and an end to bookmakers sponsoring sports programmes that are broadcast before the 9pm watershed. The new measures are to be added to the IGRG’s Gambling Industry Code for Socially Responsible Advertising in January, then brought into force six months later.

Despite some critics arguing that the ban will have little effect unless operators also agree to end sponsorship and marketing deals with sports teams in addition to the advertising controls, it has been warmly welcomed in other quarters.

“For many people gambling is not a harmful activity, but for some it can become a serious problem,” GamCare chief executive Anna Hemmings said. “Many of our service users have told us that the volume of gambling advertisements on television and elsewhere is not helpful to them in maintaining their recovery, so the news that gambling advertising during live sporting events will be reduced is welcome.

“We would also welcome more research and discussion around the potential impacts gambling advertising can have on vulnerable people so that safeguards can continue to develop and protect people from future harms.”

Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson, meanwhile, hailed the move, but said it would have to be followed by action tackling online advertising.

Tom Watson, who has previously called for a complete ban on partnerships between betting operators and sports teams, described the move as an important first step in recognising that the proliferation of gambling ads had “got completely out of hand”.

“It was imperative for the industry to accept there is a problem and they have done that today,” Watson said. “The next step will have to be addressing the gambling adverts that children and vulnerable problem gamblers see online.”

With news of the ban leaking last week, leading UK operators’ share prices have not been affected by its confirmation. Shares in William Hill are currently trading up 1.21% at 159.15 pence per share, while GVC Holdings, which owns the Ladbrokes and Coral brands, are up 0.22% at 671.50 pence per share. Paddy Power Betfair, meanwhile, has seen its shares rise 1.70% to 71.85 pence per share today (December 13).

“As I have commented previously, I am concerned about the volume and tone of gambling advertising and its potential impact on a generation of young people who are being exposed in a way that didn’t happen previously," William Hill chief executive Philip Bowcock told iGamingBusiness.com. "As a company, we are taking positive steps through our Nobody Harmed ambition, and we are actively involved in and deeply supportive of industry efforts to collaborate to respond directly to public concerns on this issue.”