GLOBAL BRIEF: Minutage rules under attack - Continental broadcasters flouted TV ad restrictions. Richard Cook investigates

If anyone remains in any doubt that Europe is one entity merely divided by geography, they need look no further than the vexed issue of TV ad minutage.

If anyone remains in any doubt that Europe is one entity merely

divided by geography, they need look no further than the vexed issue of

TV ad minutage.



In September last year, John Hooper, director-general of the

Incorporated Society of British Advertisers, gave an impassioned

lobbying document on this subject to the Independent Television

Commission. British clients, he said, wanted minutage rates increased to

combat airtime inflation.



He wasn’t even asking for new precedents to be set - merely that they be

brought more closely into line with the EU’s Broadcasting Directive.



The ITC said no, viewers didn’t want more ads. The ITV broadcasters also

said no, albeit in far stronger terms, and the only result was that this

particular wound continues to fester.



That was just one way of attempting to tackle the problem. But there is

an alternative. Forget lobbying and negotiation - broadcasters can make

up their own rules to accommodate the advertising dollar. Last week, the

EU revealed it had received complaints from consumer groups in no fewer

than three member states. Groups in Spain, Portugal and Greece protested

that minutage restrictions were being flouted by broadcasters.



TV companies were inserting more ads in the top shows than were strictly

allowed. Films, for example, should not be interrupted by commercial

breaks more than once every 45 minutes.



In one sense, it’s the opposite of the situation in the UK, where the

power of ITV leaves advertisers looking to lobbyists for support. In

another, it’s a first glimpse of the realities of the multichannel

future. What the three countries’ TV landscapes have in common (and in

contrast to the UK) is a market oversupplied with airtime and

overcrowded with broadcasters.



One broadcaster, Spain’s Antena Tres, gave just that reason for its

decision to focus company growth in the less competitive Latin American

market.



If the EU cuts advertisers off from the shows they want to support, more

TV companies might follow suit.



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