Media Perspective: Let's keep the focus on the quality, not quantity, of TV ads

In the Peter York-presented documentary The Rise and Fall of the Ad Man, we were treated to 70s footage of members of the public in dodgy cagoules calling for more TV ads because they were better than the programmes. Thirty years on, they may well get their wish.

Last week, Ofcom confirmed it is considering increasing ad minutage on terrestrial public-service broadcasting channels. This could see ad minutage brought into line with the multichannel world, where up to 12 minutes of ads are allowed in an hour.

Ofcom has admitted that there are concerns involved in doing this, and these should be clear for all to see. While commercial broadcasters (on the whole) deserve plaudits for increasing the general quality of TV programming since the 70s, is there really a volume of quality TV ads to successfully support an increase in ad minutage?

In the week when the marketing body Thinkbox launches its "thinkboxes" awards, a welcome scheme to encourage creativity across a broad spectrum of commercial TV activity, is it really the right move to be contemplating an increase in volume, rather than the quality, of TV ads?

Industry bodies have already spoken out over the potential dangers attached. While the likes of Thinkbox and ISBA welcome Ofcom plans to lift the "straitjacket" of the rule requiring a 20-minute interval between ad breaks within programmes and changes to rules on ads in films and news, they are wary of proposals to increase ad minutage. As ISBA points out, it's debatable that in a "cooling economy" there will be sufficient client demand, and there is also media agency research indicating that viewers will turn away from commercial TV if ads become too intrusive.

Let's face it, that's already the case with some digital channels: 12 minutes of Ocean Finance and ads are enough to break anybody's spirit and make the Sky+ an absolute must for most shows.

A switch to increased minutage won't do anybody any favours (except maybe ITV in the short term), and it's in other areas that broadcasters and agencies should concentrate. There have been some excellent creative uses of the TV medium already this year (such as Fiat's all-evening channel sponsorship of five, through MediaVest UK), and increasing ad minutage would risk taking the focus away from such initiatives in favour of filling hours of extra spot airtime.

The Ofcom proposals, then, seem a mixed bag of steps that will increase flexibility and creative options for clients, while, at the same time, potentially damaging the reputation of TV as a medium. After all, there's only so many times you can show a Skoda "cake" or PG Tips commercial before you're down to the dross. And that's not what TV needs right now.