Sky introduces TV gambling ad limit and adblock measures to protect addicts

Sky Bet, sold earlier this year

Sky has proposed a restriction on TV gambling ads broadcast by its network.

The proposal, according to its UK and Ireland chief executive, Stephen van Rooyen, aims to ensure that TV remains a “safe space” – especially for vulnerable people. It comes after the company earlier this year distanced itself from the gambling sector, keeping only a minor stake in Sky Bet following its sale.

Stephen van Rooyen proposed that the network will accept fewer gambling ads from the first half of 2019. It will introduce a cap of a single gambling ad per commercial break to reduce the impact of the creative on addicts and children with an aim to have the policy in place for the start of the 19/20 Premier League season.

Van Rooyen added: "Our customers are worried about gambling ads on TV – and we understand their concerns. That’s why we’ve committed to limiting the amount of gambling ads on Sky and better protecting those vulnerable to problem gambling.

“Thanks to regulation TV has long been a safe space, and these changes will make it even safer."

Following the group's concessions, which will likely reduce Sky's bookmaker income, Van Rooyen then pointed beyond TV and his network to the internet's own gambling problem. "But there is still a real danger online – and there will be until online platforms are regulated as tightly as TV.”

A further measure will also see Sky viewers able to block all gambling ads across its channels from June 2020. It touts this as a positive feature delivered by its Adsmart martech that selects relevant creative for viewers.

Sky's Sports programming has been particularly saturated with gambling ads. Grant Feller, director of GF Media, wrote in Campaign in 2017 that during a five-hour viewing session of Sky Sports, he counted a total of 64 gambling ads – which he likened to an “epidemic”. Additionally, Sky's own bookmaker, Sky Bet, was heavily integrated with its sporting brands before its sale to PokerStars owner for £3.4bn in 2018. Sky retained a 20% stake in the company.

The UK gambling industry grossed £13.9bn in profit in the year following October 2017 according to research from the Gambling Commission but the role of advertising, and particularly its saturation in sport is a common concern. Sky worked with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute to understand the effect gambling advertising had on Sky viewers. Research reportedly found that those who are vulnerable to problem gambling, and those with mental health, were more likely to be influenced by these ads.

Further outlining the problem, in 2017, BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire Show studied the ad breaks of 25 live broadcast football matches broadcast across BT Sport, Sky Sports and ITV. It found that 95% of TV ad breaks during featured at least one gambling ad. However, the gambling lobby claimed ads only have a "limited impact" on gambling rates.

The Money and Mental Health Policy Institute recommended that the broadcaster made it easier to opt out of ads from the sector. The group's director, Helen Undy, said: “If you’re struggling with mental health problems, it can be very hard to manage your spending on gambling, and our supporters tell us that advertising plays a big part in compounding those difficulties."

She added: "This is a really welcome step from Sky to empower customers who struggle with gambling by enabling them to opt out of gambling ads, and will no doubt be popular among other people too. It adds to the momentum across industries to tackle problem gambling.”

Stephen Woodford, chief executive of the Advertising Association (AA) told The Drum: “The government gambling review recognised the strong protections already in place for gamblers. It also welcomed the development of industry initiatives, such as the responsible gambling campaign – led by GambleAware and supported by broadcasters including Sky – demonstrating how our industry will take further positive action.

“Where individual companies can take additional steps to tackle such an important issue, it is only right to do so and is in line with the responsibilities incumbent on all of the advertising industry.”

The industry is moving against harmful gambling ads. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and CAP clamped down on select gambling ads in April, chiefly those with an “inappropriate sense of urgency like those including ‘Bet Now!’, spots that trivalise gambling, reduce risk perception or emphasis the financial benefits of gambling.

The announcement comes days after MP Tracey Crouch resigned as sports minister in protest against the staggered implementation of a bill clamping down on fixed odds betting terminals. She claimed gambling addictions see two people each day take their life and questioned the reason behind the delay.

Back in September, Sky (UK and European entities) was sold to Comcast for £30bn. With this deal, Comcast snatched the European pay-TV and broadband firm from the clutches of rival Fox, while doubling its customer base and establishing a sizeable operation in Europe. Furthermore epitomising a new direction from the broadcaster, Sky recently tapped creative agency Mother to take the lead on its TV account.

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