Clearcast is an NGO which pre-approves most British television advertising. It came into being on 1 January 2008 and took over the responsibilities of the Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre. Clearcast is now owned by six UK commercial broadcasters: ITV, ITV Breakfast Ltd., Channel 4, Channel Five (UK), British Sky Broadcasting and Turner.
Clearcast approval is applied both to scripts and to the final commercials. Clearcast has to check that commercials comply with the BCAP code (rules) that applies to television advertising. These include both good taste and decency criteria, and also a variety of technical and even medical constraints (advertisements may not, for example, contain flashing which would set off attacks of photosensitive epilepsy).
The Managing Director of Clearcast is Chris Mundy. The current Chairman is Mark White.
The Copy Clearance Process
Advertising agencies submit pre-production scripts before any significant expense is incurred in the production of a TV commercial to Clearcast. Once submitted the agencies allocated Copy Group Executive will give initial comments on the script detailing broadcast timing restrictions, advice on appropriate use of specific shots or imagery and requesting substantiation. Substantiation must be submitted where a claim is made in a Broadcast commercial. An agency will then either adapt the script (because it does not comply or contains a claim which cannot be 'backed up') and submit relevant substantiation documents to the Clearcast executive.
A process of second-reading then takes place whereby the executive may request further information or approve the script.
The process of script submissions is to reduce the risk of agencies spending a significant outlay on a TV commercial which is later rejected because it is unacceptable.
Once a script submission is accepted an agency will produce a final (or 'clocked') TV commercial which also needs to be submitted for approval to Clearcast. The agency must submit the 'clocked' ad digitally via FTP using the digital copy clearance system.
Once received and ingested into the Clearcast system the ad is first checked for supers, a process which measures the height (in television lines) of required legal text ('the small print') to ensure it complies. The legal text height is 16 TV lines, measured on a flat topped, lower case letter and anything less will be rejected. Legal text is also timed to ensure it is legible to the viewer.
Some ads fail at this point and the agency is forced to change the legal text to ensure it complies in terms of line height and duration on screen. After this stage the ad is subjected to a Hardings or 'flash' test which ensures it will not cause sufferers of photosensitive epilepsy to have seizures.
After this stage the commercial is screened by a Traffic Assistant who checks the ad and accompanying post-production script and relevant consignment details are full, valid and correct. Consignment details include relevant music, artists names and voice-over names.
Once this process is complete the ad is allocated to the relevant Copy Group Executive where it is viewed and placed 'on the reel' for the following day's morning meeting. The term 'on the reel' relates to a viewing which takes place every morning at 10am where a group of executives view each commercial and pass comments on whether it complies with the BCAP code. Most ads comply (because they are as per the initial script) but this viewing serves as a point of spotting otherwise unforeseen problems such as music which is not permitted or a style of cutting which does not show the product in an accurate light. It is at this point that any relevant restrictions, for example timing restrictions, are applied to the commercial.
After the morning meeting, usually at 11:30am the copy group return to their desks and pass on feedback to the agencies and approve compliant commercials.
Clearcast also have several other responsibilities on behalf of commercial TV broadcasters:
Working with IMD, they manage the Attribution service which links advertiser, agency and product category metadata with Broadcasters' Audience Research Board (BARB) data on brands advertised on TV.
They also commission the CARIA service from IMD Optimad, part of Group IMD. CARIA is a system developed by Group IMD on which airtime bookings are confirmed to Sales Houses by advertising agencies and on which copy to be used for each booking is specified - it is widely used across UK & Ireland. The commission to work on both CARIA & the Attribution service was extended by 6 years back in 2010
In 2010, Clearcast also launched an online flash test in partnership with Cambridge Research Systems who develop the Hardings flash testing technology.
Legal Status for Judicial Review
Clearcast is a privately owned company however there has been speculation that its decisions may be subject to Judicial Review. This was tested in a case brought to the High Court by Diomed Direct Ltd.. The Court ruled in April 2016 that Clearcast does not exercise functions of a public nature. Broadcasters make private arrangements through Clearcast to secure public law objectives (compliance with the BCAP Code) but this isn’t sufficient. Clearcast assists with the broadcasters’ functions: if a broadcaster decided not to approve an advertisement because of a risk of an adverse finding by the ASA, that decision would not be amenable to judicial review.
- "Clearcast TV pre-clearance decisions not subject to judicial review: Diomed Direct Ltd v Clearcast Ltd - Swan Turton Solicitors". Swan Turton Solicitors. 2016-05-19. Retrieved 2016-05-24.