Advertising and branded content on the developing interactive television platforms are to be tightly regulated, according to guidelines issued by the Independent Television Commission.
However, the regulator has washed its hands of advertising that appears on walled garden interactive TV services such as Open or ONnet.
Issued this week, the ITC guidelines stress the importance of separating advertising from editorial content. The move will affect the regulation of interactive television sponsorship deals as well as branded programming.
Although the watchdog acknowledges the importance of commercial investment in interactive television, the guidelines state that 'differences of status (between programming and advertising) must be transparent to viewers' and stressed the need for 'transparency of advertising content'.
Stephen Locke, the ITC's head of advertising, said: 'We believe that this guidance will give viewers the best possible opportunity to benefit from a flourishing market in interactive TV services.'
There are fears within the industry that the guidelines could hinder a market which is still in its key development stage. Andrew Howells, the managing director of BMPTVi, said: 'The ITC is trying to deal with the dichotomy of needing the commercial side without affecting the neutrality of the programming, but it's just too woolly.'
Richard Forbes-Robertson, the head of production at the interactive television advertising agency Phosphorus, said: 'It is quite simply trying to block any chance of true sponsored programming.'
Richard Adams, the managing director of the new-media agency Incline, said: 'By stopping the blurring of advertising and content, the ITC is stopping the best new avenue to advertisers now TV ads are under threat from personal video recorders, broadband and video on demand.'