TV set

question of the week

Will Ofcom's proposed changes to TV ad minutage drive levels of ad fatigue?

The regulator is looking at increasing the length of ad breaks of the commercial terrestrial channels

By ian darby

It's fair to say that Ofcom has attracted more than its fair share of headlines recently. The ongoing debate about the appointment over a chairman at the media regulator ended in March with the selection of Lord Grade of Yarmouth, not before the selection faced criticism for being politically motivated.

However, Ofcom has since moved forward, announcing that it is considering an extension of minutage and frequency of ad breaks on UK terrestrial channels as part of a broader review of broadcasting regulations. The move, it argues, would help the broadcasters counter strong competition in the shape of streaming services that has “put pressure on broadcasters, squeezing revenues, and made it harder for them to maintain their current offer”.

The watchdog also said that it will conduct research into audiences’ views on the trade-off between more advertising and the balance with in-programme branding. Current rules limit public broadcasters to an average of seven minutes per hour across the day, but is there is a danger that in extending this, they will contribute to levels of advertising fatigue among viewers and lose audiences?

Liz Duff, head of commercial and operations, Total Media

Ofcom is ultimately trying to protect broadcasters from the streamers by boosting opportunities for revenue to help them fund production and content acquisition. But increasing ad minutage to do this is short-term thinking.

Increasing the volume of ads will create a poor experience both for the viewer and for the advertiser. The strength of the UK market is the quality of the TV content and of the ad environment. That’s why advertisers spend on TV: they know it’s a high-quality environment which delivers attentive and engaged audiences.

While the short-term benefit to the broadcasters is increased advertising revenue to help to boost their content budgets, the reality is that a longer, more cluttered ad environment will turn people off. We’ll see lower attention, lower engagement, an increase in time-shifted viewing, and it may ultimately push viewers away towards the streaming environment – the very outcome Ofcom is trying to protect against.

Viewers of commercial TV understand the value exchange between advertising and quality content, but people will only tolerate so much before they start to look for alternatives. When you look at other markets which have more advertising minutage, you can clearly see the impact this has on the viewer experience, and it isn’t one we should be replicating. The UK broadcasters don’t want to see the level of cord cutting we’re seeing in the US, so Ofcom need to carefully consider the long-term implications of their proposed changes.

Richard Huntington, chief strategy officer, Saatchi & Saatchi London

When people from creative agencies start worrying about media inflation, you know it’s serious. So, the idea of expanding the supply of TV inventory is hugely tempting to me. Especially as it would provide much needed revenue for our badly embattled broadcasters.

Tempting but profoundly misguided and dangerous.

All advertising works by consent, not from the individual but all of us. Advertising by its very gets in the way of the things we want to see and do. But on the whole, we tolerate this intrusion. We understand that advertising subsidises the things we love or need (from entertainment to public transport). Most importantly though, in regulated media it is the advertising that interrupts the content, rather than the content interrupting the advertising.

The success of UK commercial TV is that this balance has been maintained. Contrast this with the way that advertising has destroyed the user experience in much digital media especially social. People hate it, people hate us and in the long term this will destroy consent for us to do what we need to do.

So, let’s hear no more of deluging linear TV or broadcaster VOD with more inventory. However tempting this appears, it will only hasten the decline it purports to resolve. What we really need is the premiumisation of broadcaster VOD, recognising the power of free content people actively seek. And most prized of all, access to the gorgeously high-quality audiences and content of offered by subscriber VOD, as their commercial models demand the opening up of these wonderful platforms.

Simon Davis, chief executive, Walk-In Media

As a headline, more ads per hour is quite strange logic - the response to help our broadcasters “compete with American streaming platforms”, which are enjoyed partly for being largely ad-free, is to allow broadcasters to run more ads?

Even stranger is the assertion that it is a trade-off between in-programme branding and more advertising, why is that? Is Ofcom suggesting there should be a cap on the “brands per hour” to which consumers are exposed? Clearly this would be unworkable.

Our broadcasters have been doing pretty well over the last few years in terms of revenue, price per spot, quality of programming, platform innovation, and new advertising opportunities delivered through VOD.

So where is the clamour for longer ad breaks coming from? Not from ad buyers, and certainly not from viewers. So Is it possible that Ofcom’s new Tory Peer chairman Michael Grade, recently appointed by Nadine Dorries, is reacting to requests from some US-based suitors of C4, more used to higher commercial minutage and sniffing an opportunity for a quick if short-term injection of revenue?

Maybe I’m too cynical, and Ofcom’s catch-all assertion that “Any changes to our approach on commercial references is likely to be seen as a benefit for all broadcasters” is correct. But it doesn’t sound particularly thought through to me, sounds more like a Nadine Dorries Tweet!

Raquel Chicourel, chief strategy officer, Grey London

OK, let's get the obvious point of view out of the way. First, the only thing that will create ad fatigue is if we fill the additional space with boring ads. Second, we know TV advertising is the most effective channel for brand growth (thanks Binet & Field). So increased ad spaces offer potential benefits for brands. Third, more ads mean more funding for better TV content. So, in theory, another net benefit to culture. All very positive provided we don't fill the new spaces with boring work both brands and culture will benefit.

But there’s a less obvious way to look into this change. I find it ironic that an industry that champions the long term and heralds itself as innovative & creative, is still obsessed with an ad format that hasn't evolved much from the Mad Men era. But, in the long-term, is it the wisest thing to do? Increasingly, we live in a world where new brands (Magic Spoon, Tesla) and new creators (Mr Beast) are building multi-billion dollar brands...without running a single traditional TVC ad.

Want another inconvenient truth? Younger generations are ditching live TV for Roblox, Twitch and YouTube. I do want our industry to wake up. To wake up and realise that increasing ad formats to save legacy media owners, is like putting a small plaster on a gaping wound. We are going through one of the biggest changes in the media landscape, since the innovation of the 30-second spot in the 1950s. So maybe the best way to avoid ad fatigue is to stop making the same old kind of ads and start looking into more innovative, non-intrusive, brand entertainment, merchandise and partnerships.


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