NEWS21 April 2023

Ofcom consults on television advertising reforms

Media News Public Sector UK

UK – Broadcasting regulator Ofcom has launched a consultation on whether to remove some or all of the stricter rules on advertising on commercially-funded public service broadcasters.


Under rules introduced more than 30 years ago, public service broadcasters ITV, STV, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5 were subject to tighter advertising restrictions than non-public service commercial channels, such as ITV2 and 5USA.

After a call for evidence last year, Ofcom has provisionally concluded that the stricter rules are no longer justified or proportionate.

The consultation includes two options, with the first being to make advertising rules the same across public service and non-public service channels.

The second option is whether to retain some safeguards that limit the number of internal breaks allowed in programmes, which Ofcom said is its preferred option.

Under both options, all public service and non-public service broadcast channels would be subject to the same limit of showing no more than an average of 12 minutes of television advertising and teleshopping spots per hour, of which no more than nine minutes may be television advertising.

In each case, existing restrictions on the frequency of advertising in films, news and children’s programmes would be kept in place.

The second option would mean a half-hour television programme on a public service broadcast channel would still only be allowed one advertising break, while a half-hour programme on a non-public service channel would continue to be allowed two breaks.

Ofcom said it was considering the changes due to “significant changes in how television is distributed and watched since these rules were first introduced three decades ago”.

The regulator added: “There is already a vast choice of alternatives to linear broadcast television, including subscription video on-demand services and free advertising-supported television channels which are increasingly drawing audiences’ attention.

“It is our current view that providing PSB channels with the same freedom in advertising minutage and scheduling as other commercial channels would not significantly affect the range of services available to viewers, or materially affect audiences’ perceptions of their quality.

“Allowing the PSB channels slightly greater flexibility in the scheduling of advertising may also strengthen their commercial position as they continue to manage their transition to digital-led organisations, and afford them greater opportunity to monetise their content.”

Ofcom added that its own research indicated that most viewers had limited awareness of the differences between the frequency of advertising on public service broadcast channels and their competitors.

Similarly, viewers had not necessarily noticed an increase in advertising minutes on public service broadcast channels following the period of national mourning after the death of Queen Elizabeth II last year, when they were allowed the same advertising limits as other channels so they could recoup lost minutage.

Audiences said they were more likely to tolerate additional advertising if they could be assured that the additional revenue generated would be invested in content.

The consultation runs until 31st May 2023 and can be viewed here