TV ad breaks could get longer as rules reviewed

By George Bowden
BBC News

A remote control in front of a televisionImage source, Getty Images

Advertising breaks on UK television channels could get longer and more frequent as part of a review of broadcasting rules by regulator Ofcom.

The frequency and length of advertising will be reassessed in light of evolving viewing habits and the rise of streaming services, Ofcom said.

The regulator pledged to "listen to different views and examine what TV viewers say" before any changes.

It previously said the frequency of ads could be seen as disruptive to viewing.

The regulator's current rules state that, for channels three to five, the "total amount of advertising in any one day must not exceed an average of seven minutes per hour of broadcasting".

The channels can run advertising breaks of up to eight minutes per hour during prime time periods of 18:00-23:00 and 07:00-09:00.

Other channels are allowed up to nine minutes of advertising per hour of broadcasting, plus an extra three minutes for teleshopping.

Discussing the review, an Ofcom spokesman said the regulator needed "to strike the right balance between protecting viewers' interests and sustaining our traditional broadcasters".

The review on advertising frequency and length was mentioned in an Ofcom report to Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries on the PSB licences of channel three and channel five.

The report said: "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."

Channel three, known as ITV or STV, and Channel 5, are privately owned and funded through advertising.

Their public service broadcasting licences are due to expire in 2024 - but Ofcom advised Ms Dorries it believed there was a "good case" to renew both licences.

Subscription streaming services like Netflix and Disney+, which do not carry advertising for most subscribers, are set to be regulated by Ofcom for the first time in a move that had long been requested by traditional broadcasters.

Previous Ofcom research found that many older audiences "often prefer to record content as a series so that they can skip the ads" - while younger viewers also aired frustrations with the amount of adverts.

In a statement, an Ofcom spokesman 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."