The UK communications regulator’s mammoth review of the amount and distribution of TV ads continues. Part 1 looked at how many times programmes could be interrupted. In Part 2 the focus is on how long they can be interrupted for. Part 3 will focus on why we needed two parts. Anna Montes previews.
When: October 2008
Where: United Kingdom
Law stated as at: 30 October 2008
On the 7th October, Ofcom published a second consultation paper relating to the amount of advertising and teleshopping that should be permitted on UK television screens. The consultation also scrutinises the number and length of advertising breaks that appear on our televisions.
Background to the consultation
By way of background to this latest round of consultations, the Television Without Frontiers Directive ("TVWF Directive") established a single market in television broadcasting services and also set out rules on the amount of advertising that should be allowed in television programmes. The TVWF Directive was amended in December 2007 and re-named the Audio-Visual Media Services Directive ("AVMS Directive"). It must be implemented by the UK and all other member states by December 2009.
The AVMS Directive limits the amount of television advertising and teleshopping spots on TV to a maximum of 20% (12 minutes) in any one clock hour and one advertising break is permitted in every scheduled period of 30 minutes in the case of films and news programmes, and in every children's programme longer than 30 minutes duration. Television advertising breaks in religious services remain prohibited. Having said that, member states can impose stricter rules than those set out in the AVMS Directive if they wish.
Following the adoption of the AVMS Directive, Ofcom reviewed its "Rules on the Amount and Distribution of Advertising" (RADA) and the first round of its consultation process took place in March 2008. The first round focused on the scheduling and distribution of television advertisements and the outcome of the consultation was a new Code on the Scheduling of Television Advertising which replaced RADA from 1 September 2008.
What the new consultation covers
Prior to the launch of the consultation, Ofcom commissioned some consumer research into the attitudes of viewers towards possible changes to TV advertising regulation and these views were taking into account by Ofcom when it formed the options presented for discussion as part of the consultaion. Ofcom now wants to canvass views from the industry on the following subjects:
(a) The regulation of peak-time minutage on PSB channels
Some of the options that Ofcom has put to the industry for consideration on this topic as part of the consultation include the following non-exhaustive list:
- Option 1 (to main the status quo) – At present non-PSB channels have an allowance of 9 minutes an hour for every hour of transmission, and may use up to 12 minutes of this in any one hour and PSB channels have an allowance of 7 minutes an hour for every hour of transmission, and may use up to 12 minutes of this in any one hour.
- Option 2 (to relax peak-time restrictions) – A further option would be to eliminate or reduce the differences between the rules applying to PSB channels, and those applying to other channels. This could be done by simply allowing PSB channels to broadcast the same amount of advertising as other channels (i.e. an average of 9 minutes an hour) or by allowing all channels to broadcast up to the maximum permitted by the AVMS Directive (i.e. 12 minutes an hour).
- Option 3 (to introduce a weekly averaging of peak-time restrictions) – During the peak viewing period from 6pm to 11pm, PSB channels may broadcast no more than an average of eight minutes per hour of advertising, amounting to a daily peak-time allowance of 40 minutes. This rule does not apply to non-PSB channels which may show up to 12 minutes an hour during the same period. ITV plc (ITV) has proposed that, rather than increasing peak-time minutage allowances overall, public-service channels be allowed to aggregate the existing daily peak-time allowances to create a weekly allowance of 280 minutes, which could be scheduled at their discretion, subject to a maximum limit of 12 minutes in any one hour. However, some broadcasters are concerned that the effect of this proposal would be to increase ITV's share of commercial impacts at the expense of other broadcasters.
(b) The number and length of TV advertising breaks
Existing European regulatory framework does not affect the way Ofcom can regulate break frequencies. However, Ofcom is of the opinion that limits should be placed on the number of advertising slots appearing on TV in the UK. Ofcom has therefore posed a number of options for consideration regarding on the number of breaks that should be permitted, and options on the length that internal advertising breaks should be on PSB channels. Some of the options up for consideration in the consultation include the following:
- Option 1 (maintaining the status quo) – The current rules allow PSB channels to take one break in a half-hour programme, three in an hour-long programme, and five in a two-hour programme. Non-PSB channels are allowed two breaks in a half-hour programme, three in an hour-long programme, and six in a two-hour programme.
- Option 2 (to introduce more breaks in longer programmes) – The effect of this option would be to allow two breaks for every half-hour of programming in programmes of 60 minutes or more. As is the present position, PSB channels would be allowed to take one break in a half-hour programme, and non-PSB channels would be allowed two.
- Option 3 (breaks between autonomous parts) – An additional option applicable only to programmes comprised of autonomous or separate parts (the contents of which could stand alone from other parts) would allow channels to schedule as many breaks between each or some of these parts as they wanted. For example, this would allow more frequent breaks to be taken in magazine-type programmes featuring unconnected stories, or in programmes of individual music videos. It would not allow more breaks in programmes featuring a competition of several rounds, or a drama featuring different scenes, or the performance of a piece of music with different movements for instance.
Within the consultation documentation, Ofcom confirms what is meant by ‘Teleshopping’ by stating that it is the provision of direct offers to the public with a view to the supply of goods or services (including immovable property, rights and obligations) in return for payment.
Teleshopping can also include self-promotion channels which are devoted to the promotion of the licensee’s own goods or services. "Teleshopping windows" are extended teleshopping features with a minimum uninterrupted duration of 15 minutes. Shorter teleshopping spots may also in appear within conventional advertising breaks.
The AVMS Directive modifies the European regulatory framework relating to teleshopping by lifting the three-hour daily maximum for teleshopping on channels that are not dedicated teleshopping channels. While teleshopping and advertising spots continue to be limited to no more than 20% (12 minutes) of an hour, the previous limit on how much of this time may be devoted to advertising spots has been removed whilst there are no changes to the rules allowing 24-hour dedicated teleshopping (including advertising) and self-promotional channels.
Ofcom is of the view that non-public-service channels should be able to decide for themselves how much teleshopping is permitted on their channels but that public-service channels should only be allowed to show teleshopping overnight when audience numbers are very low. Ofcom is therefore considering the following options:
- Option 1 (maintaining the status quo) – The current rules allow dedicated teleshopping channels to show as much teleshopping content as they wish, but limit other non-PSB channels to 3 hours a day. While PSB channels are permitted to show teleshopping, they may only do so between midnight and 6am, and do not have a separate teleshopping allowance. This means that they must use their advertising minutage if they wish to show teleshopping.
- Option 2 (deregulation for all channels) – Increased deregulation of channels whereby both PSB and non-PSB channels are permitted to carry as much teleshopping content as they wish and at any time.
- Option 3 (deregulation for non-PSB channels only) – Non-PSB channels could be allowed to schedule either more teleshopping than at present or as much teleshopping as they wished, at any time.
- Option 4 (liberalisation for PSB channels) – PSB channels could be permitted to show up to six hours of teleshopping during a defined period when audiences are relatively small (in other words at times which are outside daytime or peak periods such as between midnight and 6am, or for six hours after the end of the evening peak (from 11pm onwards)).
Ofcom has indicated that its initial preference is for Option 3 above in relation to non-PSB channels and Option 4 in relation to PSB channels. As any changes to the rules on the amount of teleshopping are unlikely to have a significant effect on the number of commercial impacts supplied to the market in Ofcom's opinion, it proposes to implement any changes resulting from this consultation shortly after the publication of its conclusions.
Why this matters:
Where TV advertising is concerned, Ofcom reports that almost all stakeholder groups who have responded to previous consultations, including most viewers, broadcasters, advertising agencies and advertisers, have expressed opposition to the idea of more advertising on television. Ofcom has made it clear that its own preference is to maintain the current status quo on the overall amount of advertising on television, although it is awaiting the outcome of the consultation before reaching a final decision. It may be therefore that we don’t see many changes to the current system following this consultation process.
Ofcom's consultation will close on 11th December 2008 so if anyone feels strongly about television advertising they need to voice their concerns soon to ensure their views are taking into account by Ofcom. In the meantime, we all need to just wait and watch this space for Ofcom's final decision which it intends to publish during the first quarter of 2009. Ofcom expects that any changes to the overall amount of television advertising permitted would be implemented with effect from 1 January 2010, to allow time for the repercussions to be taken into account in the annual negotiations between broadcasters and media buyers.