Ofcom scraps plan to remove stricter TV ad rules

Ofcom has decided against removing stricter TV advertising rules that apply only to commercially funded public service broadcasters (PSBs).

Following a consultation, the regulator said it has only decided to retain the status quo “for the time being” and that the potential benefits to audiences, broadcasters and the wider market are “uncertain”.

All UK broadcasters are subject to restrictions on the quantity and scheduling of advertising on their channels.

But the commercial PSB channels – ITV, STV, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5 – are subject to tighter advertising restrictions than non-PSB commercial channels such as ITV2, 5USA and Pick.

Ofcom said: “While we remain of the view that there may be merit in harmonising TV advertising rules by relaxing the additional restrictions on PSBs, we have decided to retain the status quo for the time being.

“In reaching this decision, we recognised that the potential benefits to audiences, public service broadcasters and the wider market are uncertain.

“We also took into account that proceeding would mean that viewers would be likely to see increased advertising in ‘peak’ evening hours which contain news. This in turn could lead to a reduction in news minutes, which risks diminishing a particularly important genre of PSB content with high societal value.

“Instead, we consider it appropriate to consider the impact of changes to TV advertising rules on viewers in the broader context of other changes to the PSB system in the coming years – including the implementation of the Media Bill.”

When it launched the consultation in April, Ofcom argued that audiences migrating to streaming platforms meant consumers enjoyed a much wider range of ad-supported and subscription services over broadcast and online.

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

PSB channels currently tend to broadcast the maximum 12 minutes of advertising in and around mass appeal programmes in the 8pm-9pm slot during peak hours, Ofcom said.

These broadcasters usually balance this with fewer or no advertisements in the 6pm, 7pm, 9pm and 10pm slots, which typically contain news programmes.