Media: Russell Davies

Like all institutions, the advertising industry is obsessed with self-preservation. Anything that hints at a trammelling of our expansion or reach is decried as unnecessary, anti-competitive and not good for consumers.

Our trade bodies have knee-jerk press releases ready to go at the slightest hint of legislation controlling where ads are allowed to appear - almost always mentioning the likely Death of Children's Television and the resulting End of Western Civilisation.

Maybe we should stop worrying and learn to love the fact that there will just be less advertising and less commercial media in the future, and that if we're smart, it can be the rubbish that gets binned, not the high-quality stuff.

It's clear from every "ad avoidance" study that if technology allows us to steer clear of advertising, we're going to do so. (Even the terminology betrays our prejudices; "ad avoidance", as though avoiding ads is the aberrant behaviour and the normal thing to do is seek them out.) To me, it's equally clear that society is asking for some rebalancing between commercial and private spaces. Bans on junk-food ads may be clumsy tools, but they demonstrate a societal desire to push back the extent of commercial interruption in our lives. As traditional channels fragment, clever media people will find new ways to barge into people's attention, just making the problem worse. How long before the posher villages and towns start to consider outlawing posters? How long before the European Union tries to ban DM? It's easy to dismiss these people as meddling bureaucrats, but they're undoubtedly reacting to significant tides in popular sentiment.

And if there's less advertising, there's going to be less commercial media. It's inevitable, but is it necessarily a disaster? Concern over kids' TV might be fair, but outside that area, if there were only three ITVs and only eight sections in The Sunday Times, would that really presage a new cultural dark age? I don't think so. Mostly because it will be the rubbish, not the high-quality content that will go. We're entering a new age of attentionomics, where high-quality content can find its audience relatively easily, and it's the low-quality pap that's left with no business model.

So, how should we react? Well, perhaps not by always lobbying for the right to bug people, but by preparing ourselves for a world where we'll have to be actively invited into people's lives, which means making content that's more entertaining or compelling than any other reasonably convenient option.

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