Longer advert breaks could hit TV viewers

·3-min read
Woman watches TV
Woman watches TV

Television viewers could face more frequent, and longer, advert breaks as Ofcom reviews whether to change its current advertising guidelines.

The media regulator will look at potentially increasing the number of minutes per day, and per hour, that broadcasters are allowed to show adverts for.

Ofcom will also review whether to allow more product placement in shows as part of efforts to improve revenue on broadcast television.

Broadcasters in the UK are currently under intense commercial pressure from American streaming companies such as Netflix, Amazon and Disney +.

Ofcom acknowledged that the potential changes were, in part, a response to the streaming platforms’ growing success.

In a report submitted to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) the regulator said it was looking for views on the “potential trade-off” between “exposure to more advertising” versus “more product placement”.

Fears model will resemble the US

The announcement has prompted fears that the UK could potentially move to a model similar to that currently in place in the US where viewers are bombarded with a deluge of commercial breaks on almost every network.

The current Ofcom rules on advertising outlines the time limits for broadcasters in the UK.

At the moment, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5, are allowed an average of seven minutes per hour for “every hour of transmission time across the broadcasting day”.

Between 6pm and 11pm there must not be more than an average of eight minutes per hour.

Advertising breaks on public service channels such as these are not allowed to exceed three minutes and 50 seconds.

In addition, in a show which lasts between 21 and 44 minutes, public service broadcasters can have just one advertising break.

Non-public service channels are allowed no more than an average of 12 minutes of television advertising and teleshopping.

In the US, viewers currently have to sit through anywhere between 12 and 17 minutes worth of advertising per hour.

This means that over the course of 10 hours people would be forced to watch around three hours of commercials.

Next steps outlined later this summer

In its report, published on Wednesday, Ofcom said: “We are conducting audience research to gain a better understanding of attitudes towards commercial references in programmes and views on the potential trade-off between exposure to more advertising versus more in-programme branding…

“We are also looking at the rules that set the frequency and length of advertising on broadcast TV.

“These rules are complex, with limits in place for public service broadcasters that are stricter than the rules set for commercial broadcasters. We have had initial discussions with stakeholders, and we expect to be able to outline our next steps later this summer.”

‘Not desirable at all’

Speaking to Mail Online, Conservative MP Giles Watling, who sits on the DCMS committee, warned that British viewers would simply turn off their televisions if there were too many commercials.

He said: “I think probably people will vote with their feet if there is a lot of advertising. They may well not watch a television channel that has too much advertising…

“If you want to have a lot of advertising then have a lot of advertising, but you might not get the results you want.

“I think it could lead to the US model, which in my view would not be desirable at all.”

A spokesman for Ofcom said: “We’re scoping a range of options, but before we form any plans we’ll listen to different views and examine what TV viewers say.

“We need to strike the right balance between protecting viewers’ interests and sustaining our traditional broadcasters, which includes helping them compete with American streaming platforms.”