Ben Bradshaw, the culture secretary, is expected this week to propose lifting a ban on commercial broadcasters and producers receiving payment to include brands in TV programmes.
The changes could come as soon as next year, bringing Britain into line with Europe and the US, where TV product placement is already allowed.
Mr Bradshaw’s predecessor, Andy Burnham, was opposed to any blurring of the line between editorial and commercial, despite pleas from broadcasters and programme makers who are suffering the worst advertising recession for decades. Mr Burnham feared that any relaxation of the rules would weaken broadcasting standards and damage trust between audiences and broadcasters.
The government reiterated its opposition in March, but Mr Bradshaw is expected to announce a change of policy during an address to the Royal Television Society on Wednesday.
It emerged last month that a Conservative government would allow product placement.
People close to Mr Bradshaw said the change in policy reflected his personal desire to minimise the “regulatory burden” on businesses, especially when they were trying to compete internationally. He thought it wrong to deprive commercial broadcasters of “millions of pounds in revenues” at such a difficult time for the industry.
ITV said in a statement that product placement “could be an important new revenue stream”, and a change in policy would be “warmly welcomed”.
“New sources of revenue mean better-funded content, which can only be good news for viewers,” said ITV.
Brands can already pay agencies to provide their products as props for TV shows, but under current rules, broadcasters are not allowed to profit from it.
GroupM, a media agency, has forecast that TV advertising spending will fall 14 per cent to £2.9bn this year.
Peter Bazalgette, former creative chief of production company Endemol , estimates that product placement could generate more than £100m revenue for broadcasters and production companies within three years, based on applying its 5 per cent share of TV advertising in the US to the UK market.
“Even if it’s not all new money, it strengthens the commercial television proposition,” said Mr Bazalgette, because viewers fast-forwarded through commercial breaks or watched shows online.
Ofcom, the communications watchdog, said in a 2005 study that it expected revenues to reach only £25m-£30m after five years.
A Department for Culture, Media and Sport statement said: “Ben Bradshaw has been reviewing policies across the whole of his brief, including on product placement. We will make an announcement as and when a final decision is taken.”
Advertisers and agencies gave only a lukewarm welcome to the news.
“It does represent an opportunity, but I don’t think it’s going to make a huge amount of difference,” said Jim Marshall, media futures group chairman at the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, which represents agencies.
“If you do it in an over-the-top way, it irritates people, but if you do it in a subtle way, it’s hard to get noticed.”
Mr Marshall said the move was less significant than the Competition Commission’s imminent ruling on contract rights renewal, governing how ITV sold its advertising space.
Ian Twinn, head of public affairs at the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, said it was unlikely to raise as much as £100m a year.
“Advertisers are not crying out like mad for it,” he said. Product placement required planning well in advance, with little guarantee of audience size or time of broadcast. “It’s a blunderbuss of a technique,” he added.
But Paul Frampton, managing director of the media agency MPG, said it would lend an “everyday reality” to shows such as Coronation Street . “This is just a form of equalisation for TV, which has been in the Dark Ages because of the tight regulation,” he said.