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
If the EU cuts advertisers off from the shows they want to support, more
TV companies might follow suit.