Ofcom plans to extend commercial breaks in broadcast reshuffle

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

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Commercial breaks on British television could become longer and more frequent as Ofcom reviews broadcasting rules.

The regulator is reviewing rules that set the frequency and duration of advertising on TV channels, restrictions it calls “complex” and which set limits for public service broadcasters “stricter than 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 broadcast hour. On the other hand, other channels can have up to nine minutes during prime time.

In a report analyzing the licensing of ITV and Channel 5, Ofcom confirms that it has started initial discussions with stakeholders to rethink the advertising rules and expects to define the next steps later this summer.

The regulator believes an overhaul of advertising rules could help UK broadcasters compete with US streaming giants such as Netflix and Disney+.

“We are considering a range of options, but before making any plans we will listen to different views and consider what viewers are saying,” an Ofcom spokesperson confirms.

“We need to strike the right balance between protecting viewers’ interests and maintaining our traditional broadcasters, which includes helping them compete with US streaming platforms.”

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With public service broadcasting licenses set to expire in 2024, the regulator told Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Nadine Dorries that there was a “good case” to consider.

The report also suggests that 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 review the rules and guidance around such arrangements.

Audience research is currently underway to better understand attitudes towards commercial references in programs and opinions on the potential trade-off between exposure to more advertising and more branding in programs.

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

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

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