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Will new legislation lead to more new business for TV advertisers?

A few days ago I read that Ofcom are changing the rules regarding how many minutes of advertising can be broadcast per hour during films screened on TV. This will be increasing from the current 7 minutes to 12 minutes. Another way of looking at it is that up to 20% of what you are watching will be an ad.

This story caught my attention for a number of reasons:

Firstly, I had no idea that there was a seven minute cap until now. Disgraceful I know, considering I work in a new business agency and should therefore be an expert in all legislation across all marketing disciplines. I’ll be having a long hard think tonight about how I’ve let my colleagues down with my ignorance.

If this 7 minute cap does currently exist it seems to me to be like “London Underground minutes” – you know, where you look at the first train board on the Northern Line platform at Bank station and it says 1 minute but really you know it could be nearer 5.

Secondly I didn’t realise that films were treated differently to other types of programmes until I read that article. Personally it doesn’t make me any happier to have a show like The Wire interrupted more often or for longer than “Bridget Jones – The Edge of Reason” (which is no doubt being repeated tonight for the eighth time this month on ITV2) just because one is a film and one isn’t.

I do know, however, that most channels I watch already synchronise their ad-breaks with each other so that if anyone dares to channel surf during a break they will be subjected to a commercial from someone or other, whether they like it or not. I also know that commercials tend to be broadcast at a higher volume than the programmes – a bit like shouting for our attention just in case it lapses when the break starts.

So the other reason this story had me interested is from the point of view of cost, competition and coverage.

Does the increase mean that brands will put their TV advertising budgets up to spend more money marketing to us during the extra allowed time? Or will it be the case that more availability actually leads to the overall cost of buying ad slots decreasing simply due to the laws of supply and demand – maybe leading to smaller brands that would not have previously had the budget available to look at advertising on more mainstream TV channels as a viable option?

As more and more channels launch, coupled with the fact that people can now watch films and programmes via the internet, audience share is becoming increasingly fragmented. To a certain extent this has been good news for some brands because it allows them to target their audience with much better accuracy. For example, you can guarantee that any new film by Nick Love about football hooligans will be advertised between 9 and 10pm on Bravo as the demographics are a very snug fit.

It’s a far cry from the pre-digital/Sky days where only the biggest brands of all could afford a similar slot on ITV and even then the ad may be wasted on a significant proportion of the audience.

In order for advertisers to win new business from viewers they may have to work harder to keep the audience interested. After all, if people know they have longer during a commercial break, they are more likely to leave the room to do things like make a cup of tea. One option would be for shorter breaks but more frequently, although the annoyance factor of having a film or programme interrupted too often would be pretty high.

My final thought was how all this is pretty irrelevant to me as a viewer anyway. Why? Because since mankind’s second most important invention after the wheel – i.e the Sky Plus box – I’ve watched less ads than ever before. I simply record everything I’m going to watch and then start viewing it about 15-20 minutes after it starts, skipping through every ad break and still finishing the show at the same time it finishes it real time.

How ironic that the company who reaps such a huge revenue from selling ad space to brands also provides such an effective means of allowing us to avoid watching them.

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