LONDON - U.K. media regulator Ofcom said Monday that Simon Cowell's X Factor on TV network ITV gave London's five-star Corinthia Hotel "undue prominence" in an episode last year and therefore breached Britain's programming rules.
"No undue prominence may be given in programming to a product, service or trademark," those rules state. They define "undue prominence" as a result of mentions that have no editorial justification or a result of "the manner, in which a product, service or trademark appears or is referred to in programming.”
In a live episode that aired in October, the 13 U.K. X Factor finalists were put up in the luxury hotel on the river Thames. Eight of the finalists were shown arriving at the hotel or commenting on it, according to the Ofcom ruling. "There's a phone in the toilet!" one contestant told eventual winner James Arthur, it highlighted. Arthur himself was quoted as saying: "It's absolutely amazing here."
Ofcom said its probe found that ITV did not get paid to promote the hotel and did not have a product placement deal with it. But the production firms, Thames and the Syco joint venture of Cowell and Sony Music, had a contract that allowed the contestants to stay there at reduced room rates, even though the arrangement "did not guarantee the inclusion of any references to the hotel."
ITV responded by saying that the references to the hotel "made up a very small part of the total running time of these introductory [scenes] as a whole, let alone the running time of the program as a whole."
With many contestants not used to staying in luxury hotels, the producers and network in their defense also argued that they had to set the stage and therefore showed contestants arriving and "settling into their new lifestyles as performers and television celebrities." Also, the hotel stay was different from past seasons when performers lived together in a house, requiring a visual explanation of the new location, they argued.
Ofcom acknowledged that it was "common practice to show an establishing shot of a location," but argued that the number of external shots of the hotel, the number of mentions of its name and the amount of praise shown were "excessive" and not "editorially justified."
Said the regulator: "Ofcom concluded that the cumulative effect of these references resulted in the program as a whole giving undue prominence to the hotel."
The regulator didn't mention any potential fines or other penalties.