Media: Perspective - More airtime for ITV will undermine the whole ad industry

One of the consequences of the TV industry's current obsession with diverting adspend from press into television is a marked change in the type of ads on screen. Potentially, this could have serious repercussions for the industry as a whole.

While interactive applications are heralded as the ideal environment for brands that have traditionally spent the bulk of their ad budgets on press, the reality is that few are willing to invest the necessary sums in running interactive television ads.

Instead, and quite understandably, they test the water with cheap and not very cheerful direct response ads that do little to enhance the viewing experience, let alone provide a quality and effective environment for those other advertisers who have also bought TV airtime in the same programming.

Until now these ads, such as Jamster's infuriating Crazy Frog ringtone, have either been the preserve of the non-terrestrial channels or seen in cheap and little-viewed off-peak airtime, and have not caused a huge problem. They have helped fill spare inventory and contributed to TV's modest growth in share.

However, this could all change if ITV's chief executive, Charles Allen, has his way and ITV, and therefore all the other commercial terrestrials, are allowed to increase their allowance of commercial airtime.

At last week's presentation of his company's results, Allen announced that, as part of his strategy for growth, he was lobbying Ofcom to get ITV1 the same amount of commercial airtime as its multichannel rivals.

Along with Channel 4 and five, ITV1 is allowed a total of seven minutes of ads per hour (although this can be increased to a maximum of nine in peaktime as long as the extra minutes are deducted elsewhere), while the multichannel stations are allowed nine minutes.

In theory, Allen's call seems a reasonable request: with some regions of the UK having their analogue signal switched off and therefore being forced on to digital platforms as early as 2008, the value of the terrestrial licences will undoubtedly fall as audiences fragment.

But long ad breaks don't work and viewers don't like them. An extra two minutes every hour amounts to an additional 28 per cent of capacity on each station and, while prices might be forced down, so will quality.

The problem of ad clutter would present advertisers with a major headache, particularly given the amount of promotional airtime the broadcasters are using to promote their digital sister channels.

But more importantly, as personal video recorders become an issue the ad industry can no longer afford to duck, an increase in ad minutes would surely just boost sales of these systems that threaten the broadcasters' very existence.