OPINION: Minutage decisions require more than measurements - Who can say what the effects of lengthening ad breaks will be? This uncertainty will further the cause of those lobbying for more TV minutage, Mike Wood claims

The Independent Television Commission has ruled in favour of maintaining the status quo on TV advertising minutage. This was predictable. The ITC is charged to protect viewers’ interests. There is no duty of care to advertisers.

The Independent Television Commission has ruled in favour of

maintaining the status quo on TV advertising minutage. This was

predictable. The ITC is charged to protect viewers’ interests. There is

no duty of care to advertisers.



Rightly, the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers is concerned

about rising TV costs and has been lobbying hard for an increase in

advertising minutage from an average of seven to nine minutes per hour.

This is a setback but no doubt the lobbying will continue.



ITV opposes increasing minutage. It fears advertisers will capitalise on

lower prices by spending less; that’s a good deal for advertisers but a

shotgun blast through the foot for the ITV companies.



This is overly alarmist. First, as ISBA recognises, minutage increases

would need to be phased in. Second, lower costs would expand the

market.



The ITV companies are unconvinced. In time, however, competition will

persuade them to add their powerful voice to the lobby for more

minutage.



Why? Because revenue follows audience and, as cable and satellite

audiences grow, money will leak out of ITV. At some point, ITV will

judge that there is more to gain from expanding its audience than from

suppressing supply.



Publicly, much of the debate has focused on how it will affect viewers’

response to advertising. The argument is that extra advertising will

serve only to encourage channel switching or the pursuit of some other

distraction, with damaging consequences for the viewing of both

programmes and commercials.



We shouldn’t dismiss this point of view. Common sense tells us that

clutter may reduce attention to any individual ad. It is true that

people tend to be good at remembering ads of interest and at blocking

out most of the others.



The big doubt is not about viewers’ ability to retain information but

their willingness to receive it. With the near-universal ownership of

remote control and an ever-increasing number of channels, there is a

real risk that the ad break will become a browse break.



Increasing minutage will have a one-off effect on costs, so it will not

address the vexatious issue of inflation. However, it will deliver a

saving to be enjoyed for all time. The magnitude of this saving will

vary dramatically depending on where in the day the extra airtime goes.

Importantly, though, it is measurable.



In contrast, it is very difficult to put a number on the impact of

longer ad breaks. Experiments show that ad recall falls off considerably

when the length of the break increases substantially.



This confirms what we intuitively know to be true - viewers tire of long

ad breaks. But laboratory tests don’t help us with the question in hand:

what happens if the increase is modest, say, by two minutes an hour or

less?



I’ve no idea how much effect increased minutage will have. I suspect it

would be devilishly difficult to measure, although the Institute of

Practitioners in Advertising deserves credit for linking its own

proposal of a modest increase in airtime to the measurement of its

impact on advertising.



What does concern me is the process by which decisions are made.



I am reminded of a story from school. Frogs can’t sense small

temperature changes so, if the temperature in a pool of water rises

slowly enough, the frog will allow itself to be cooked. This may be a

useful parable in the minutage debate.



It is precisely because of this inability to quantify the effect that

the argument for lengthening commercial breaks will, as is likely,

ultimately triumph.



This is a concern, not because ad breaks will get longer but because it

is a process in which the measurable takes precedence over the

meaningful.



Become a member of Campaign from just £46 a quarter

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to campaignlive.co.uk ,plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events

Become a member

Looking for a new job?

Get the latest creative jobs in advertising, media, marketing and digital delivered directly to your inbox each day.

Create an Alert Now

Partner content