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Clearing TV of ad clutter

11 March 2011

Anyone who knows anything about the way TV advertising airtime is bought and sold knows it needs a clean-up. TV trading is about as transparent as a thick brick wall and every bit as impenetrable. The only people who really understand how the TV ad market works are the people who do the buying and selling of airtime. And for the most part they're a band of brothers as tight-knit and hard to fathom as a fringe religious cult.

So you can't blame the House of Lords for figuring the whole airtime trading mechanic is due for an overhaul. And what an overhaul they're proposing, one that could throw the whole television advertising ecosystem into shock.

The Lords want to reduce the amount of advertising that put-upon TV viewers have to endure. While ITV, C4 and C5 can stick with their average of seven minutes an hour (rising to a max of eight minutes in peak time), satellite channels will have to reduce their ads from nine minutes per hour (with a maximum 12 minutes in peak). According to the Lords Communications Committee, it's time to put viewer's interests first.
Depending where you sit in the TV ecology, putting the viewers' interests first might not be good news. For the satellite channels, less commercial minutage means they have less inventory to sell to advertisers, so the price of the average satellite ad spot will rise to compensate. That will arguably make satellite less attractive to advertisers.

So it's not looking so good for satellite then, this whole minutage thing. Nor for advertisers, who can expect the price of TV advertising to rise by up to 15 per cent under the Lord's proposals.

If you're looking for an upside, let me offer you one. The Lords' recommendations would mean a lot less advertising clutter. And no-one - particularly the advertisers themselves - like advertising clutter. Too many ads in too many breaks mean viewers are more likely to switch off, sometimes literally. Fewer ads will mean more impact for the ads that are shown. And fewer ad breaks will make for a more positive viewing experience all round. All the broadcasters need to do now is make sure the programmes are good enough to keep advertisers and viewers coming back.

Claire Beale is editor of Campaign

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