Ofcom eyes extending ad breaks in broadcast shake-up

The regulator is “scoping a range of options”, as it looks to balance the interests of viewers with the need to help UK broadcasters compete with the likes of Netflix and Disney+.

TV advertising
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Advertising breaks on UK television could become longer and more frequent, as Ofcom reviews broadcasting rules.

The regulator is examining the rules that set the frequency and length of advertising on broadcast TV, restrictions it describes as “complex” and which set limits for public service broadcasters “stricter than the rules set for commercial broadcasters.”

Current rules mean that for ITV1 and Channel 5, the total amount of advertising in any one day must not exceed an average of seven minutes per hour of broadcasting. In contrast, other channels can have up to nine minutes during primetime.

In a report analysing the licensing of ITV and Channel 5, Ofcom confirms it has embarked on initial discussions with stakeholders to rethink ad rules and expects to outline next steps later this summer.

The regulator believes a shake-up of advertising rules could help UK broadcasters compete with US streaming giants such as Netflix and Disney+.

“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,” an Ofcom spokesperson confirms.

“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.”

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With the public service broadcasting licences set to expire in 2024, the regulator has advised Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Nadine Dorries, that there is a “good case” to review.

The report also suggests the regulation of sponsorship and product placement is relevant to the sustainability of public service broadcasting. According to Ofcom, some respondents to its December 2020 consultation asked the regulator to consider the rules and guidance around such arrangements.

Audience research is currently underway 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.

The regulator says any changes to its approach on commercial references is “likely to be seen as a benefit for all broadcasters.” An update is expected later this year.

The review of broadcasting rules comes as the controversial privatisation of Channel 4 rumbles on. This week the broadcaster, which opposes the prospect of privatisation, announced it is working on new deal with ITN to keep its Channel 4 News programme on air for the next five years.

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