24 sponsorship deal spells trouble for BBC

An unprecedented sponsorship deal between the US maker of cult TV thriller 24 and Ford could mean major chunks of the first episode of the second series are cut when it appears on UK screens.

Car giant Ford has paid over £1m to sponsor the first episode of the second series of 24, which will air in the US tonight.

The episode will run without commercial breaks and it will begin and end with two three-minute films made specially for the show by Ford’s advertising agency, J Walter Thompson.

In an unprecedented move, the star of 24, Kiefer Sutherland, has recorded a 10-second message, in which he thanks Ford for its support, which will be screened before the show begins.

There will also be a long-running plug for the car brand as special agent Jack Bauer – Sutherland’s character – will drive a Ford Expedition four-wheel drive model.

Rick Novak, the car advertising manager at Ford in the US, said the company would also advertise heavily in future episodes of the show.

“We’re trying to be a little more cutting edge and to generate a lot of buzz and interest,” he told US trade magazine Advertising Age.

However, the deal may cause problems for the BBC, which bought the UK rights to the series before Fox, which produces 24, signed up Ford as its sponsor.

Product placement is commonplace in the US media, particularly in Hollywood where corporations pay millions to be associated with movie stars.

Luxury car brand Lexus and jewellery and watch company Bulgari featured heavily in this summers’s Tom Cruise blockbuster, Minority Report.

Sales of Jaguar’s XK8 model doubled after the car appeared in the latest Austin Powers film.

However, any form of sponsorship – including product placement – is strictly banned on the BBC.

The corporation has managed to bypass its own ban in areas such as football by claiming sponsorship deals were in place before it bought the television rights.

A BBC spokesman said the corporation would not screen Sutherland’s 10-second speech but would not make any further editing decisions before seeing the show, which is scheduled to be broadcast in the UK next year.

Ford has sealed similar promotional deals in the past.

In 1997 it paid £3m to be the sole sponsor of the US television premiere of Schindler’s List on NBC. It was the first time the broadcasting network had run a film uninterrupted by ad breaks.

Source: Guardian