ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 are reportedly seeking permission to show more adverts. Strict rules mean they can show less advertising in total than other commercial channels. They are apparently in talks with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about modifying or lifting the rules.
There has been no official confirmation but what might easing the restrictions mean in practice?
ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5 can have up to 12 minutes of adverts in one hour but the total across the day cannot average more than 7 minutes. Between 6pm and 11pm the average can reach 8 minutes. Other commercial channels are allowed a daily average of 9 minutes.
If the peak time average were to be increased to 9 minutes, the effect on viewers may be relatively small. It would mean 45 minutes of ads in peak instead of 40. Rules on the frequency and maximum duration of breaks would remain.
But ads are already distributed unevenly to place more around the most popular shows. To balance this out other breaks are simply filled with trailers. (Viewers who, understandably, will not know the complexities of the code probably imagine nobody has bought advertising in these slots.)
Another common tactic on ITV is to drop the breaks completely during the 6pm news hour and News at Ten.
If the effect of changing the rules is simply to end “trailer breaks” and reintroduce regular ad breaks during half-hour news programmes to accommodate an extra 5 minutes each evening, it would seem unlikely that there would be much adverse viewer reaction.
An increase in the daytime average would have a similar effect: ending trailer breaks or, maybe, oddities like the 3.59pm regional weather but not fundamentally changing the character of the channel.
But a change to 9 minutes averaged across the day could be more fundamental and would almost certainly cause controversy. Could it lead to 12 minutes of ads in most peak hours, balanced out by fewer ads during daytime?
This would almost certainly lead to cuts in programme durations and the increased amount of advertising would be immediately obvious. If viewers really objected it could simply drive them to the BBC or the very online services which the commercial channels say the extra ad time could help them fight.
Assuming the stories are correct, the commercial channels will have done their sums and believe more ad time will mean more ad revenue. They clearly do no not believe it would reduce the cost of advertising – potentially balancing out the increased time.
The risk is that a dramatic increase would alienate viewers and lead to less revenue. But, sensibly handled, the end of trailer breaks and news programmes without ads on ITV is unlikely to lead to more than passing comment.
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