Less is more on Italian channels

The number of ads per break on Italian TV was getting beyond a joke, which is when the industry stepped in to bring real value back to the medium. By John Shannon

SBHD: The number of ads per break on Italian TV was getting beyond a joke, which is when the industry stepped in to bring real value back to the medium. By John Shannon

At the beginning of next month, the Italian TV industry will take the first steps towards limiting the length of ad breaks and the number of spots per break in an effort to re-build the value of the medium to advertisers.

It is a long overdue change of heart by an industry that has allowed commercial messages to become so pervasive that they have lost much of their power to inform and influence the consumer. In May, the situation reached its lowest ebb when Canale 5 ran no less than 18 commercials in one commercial break.

In outline, the agreement be-tween Publitalia (the sales house of Silvio Berlusconi’s Fininvest Corporation), the advertisers represent- ative association (UPA), the Association of Advertising agencies (Assap) and the Association of Media Buying Centres (Assomedia) is as follows: From April 1, each commercial break will last a maximum of four-and-a-half minutes and will include no more than 14 spots. From October 1, each break must be further reduced to four minutes, with a maximum of 12 spots per break; and finally from April 1, 1996 each break will last three minutes and carry a maximum of nine spots.

From August this year, Sipra, which handles state broadcasting airtime, will abide by the same rules. If it fails to do so, Publitalia has threatened to withdraw from the agreement.

This attempt to rebuild broadcast media’s position as the premium advertising vehicle represents a clear acknowledgement of how overcrowding and clutter can undermine advertising effectiveness by diluting the commercial message. It also provides a salutary reminder to media owners, agencies and advertisers in other parts of Europe that in an increasingly fragmented media market the quality of the advertising medium is paramount for all parties.

Many in our industry, both in the UK and in other parts of Europe, are currently weighing up the arguments for and against increasing advertising minutage to the permitted EC allowance. Against this background, and in the light of a general shift in media consumption patterns across Europe, the Italian experience is particularly apposite.

The combined forces of media fragmentation, and the emergence of interactivity, are leading to a transfer of power from the hands of media owners and into those of consumers. Increasingly this is forcing television companies to provide a balanced package of targeted quality programming and advertising that brings genuine consumer satisfaction.

Advertisers rightly expect their advertising agencies to create commercials that build strong consumer relationships.

It is vital that media owners create an environment in which such work can meet its potential. The rampant and short-sighted commercialism which has led the Italian media industry to its latest U-turn provides a stark reminder of what can happen when they do not.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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