back to article Regulator reckons telly advert caps are just peachy

Ofcom has taken a long, hard, look at the quantity of advertising on television, and concluded that the existing caps are just fine and nothing needs to be done. The main UK channels are limited to nine minutes per the hour, with other commercial stations being restricted to seven. But Europe caps advertising at 12 minutes, so …


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  1. Usually Right or Wrong

    So how come...

    a 30 minute Coronation Street episode has about 15 minutes of adverts? Not a complaint, just an observation, the adds provide welcome relief. (My wife insists the off switch is not an option and my presence is required for some unfathomable reason.)

    1. Neil Charles

      Because they only have to average nine minutes

      That's why whatever programme is on after the X Factor or Coronation Street will have much less advertising. ITV stick as many breaks as they can in their highest rating programmes and then have to re-balance the schedule later in the evening to get back to their nine minute average again.

    2. Mark N

      The Executive Summary of the Ofcom report says (*emphasis mine*):

      "1.3 The rules which apply in the UK set limits for the commercial public service broadcasters (PSBs) – Channel 3, Channel 4, S4C and Channel 5 - and all other commercial broadcasters. For example, there is a limit on the *average* number of minutes per hour of advertising across the day of 7 minutes an hour (off peak) for PSBs and 9 minutes an hour for all other broadcasters."

      To enable programmes like Corrie to be bumper ad-fests, ITV often shows no adverts during less popular programmes (e.g. the public service obligation regional programmes shown in the graveyard Eastenders-is-on-BBC1 slot).

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Because of perception bias?

      I'd also hazard that those precious minutes per hour can be weighted however the channel want, so they put the majority of them in the half-hour show that pulls the big ratings.

    4. Montreux

      Trailers don't count as adverts

      This had me going for a while, particularly with Sky's enormous ad breaks. The length of the adverts for products is only 3 minutes, but the broadcaster extends the break in the programme to 4 or 5 by adding trailers for their own programmes at the beginning and end of the break.

  2. fishman


    While increasing the number of minutes of ads will decrease the cost of an ad to an advertiser, the advertiser looses because the viewer gets oversaturated, and more ad time encourages the viewer to get up and do other things during the breaks.

    Speaking of ads, for the College Cup soccer semifinals and finals (US college soccer championships), they stopped the game halfway through each half to run commercials.

    1. Ryan Clark

      They do that in a lot of US sports. The NBA has TV timeouts in the 4th quarter. The NFL doesn't need any as it has about 1,000 breaks including one straight after every kick off or punt.

  3. Chris Redpath

    That little? Seems like more

    Hang on a mo, only 7 or 9 ad-minutes-per-hour? I'm going to start counting this. I have noticed lately that programmes I record take a lot less time to watch than they did to broadcast when you skip through the non-programme parts.

    Perhaps ads for the channel itself and adverts for upcoming shows are excluded? That would explain why a 1-hour show only takes 30 minutes to watch from a PVR.

    1. Red Bren

      No need to count

      Just compare the scheduling by the BBC and a commercial channel for the same show. For example, an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation filled a 45 minute slot on the BBC and an hour on Satellite/Cable.

      I assume the 9 minutes per hour only covers paid-for advertising and excludes self promotion for other TV shows, channels and products.

      When you take into account the intros and outros at the start and end of each show, and even each side of the adverts, it's a wonder there's anything to actually watch.

    2. Rameses Niblick the Third (KKWWMT)
      Thumb Up

      @Chris Redpath

      As far as I am aware, adverts for the stations themselves (competitions, other programs, etc) do not count, hence why the BBC are allowed to advertise other programs as well.

    3. H2Nick


      Maybe you also skip the "previously on..." recap & the next week trailer as well as the TV station trailers...

      That can reduce some stuff considerably...

      I've set one button on my Humax PVR to skip 3 mins forward, & that gets past the majority of ad breaks exactly, so all I see it the bumper with a slight jump.

      So a nominal "hour" program has 3x3 minute commercials, = the 9 in max.

      But I don't need to watch them, so I'm happy.

    4. ThomH Silver badge

      There's got to be some highly technical definition of advert

      The standard US half hour programme seems to be 20 or 21 minutes long. Similarly the standard hour programme seems to run for 40 to 42 minutes. Check any DVD you have. So, picking the first thing I can spot on the TV schedule, when Five show The Mentalist tonight between 9PM and 10PM, per the rules they have to find something like nine minutes of material that isn't adverts to show in between parts of the programme?

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Really? Takes nearly 50 minutes for me!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So how do they manage with US imports?

    Your typical US hour long show has less than 45 minutes of continuous playtime. The rest of the time being made up with adverts.

    Admittedly its over 40 years since I was taught to add up but 45 + 9 = 54 which leaves six minutes (at least) of silence. What do they fill this with?

    I could be miss-understanding the term "nine minutes per the hour" and that might mean something different than "nine minutes per hour" so perhaps somebody could explain?

  5. Jon Press

    Don't know if it's a regional phenomenon...

    ... but the Channel 4 News breaks consist entirely of trailers for Channel 4 programmes and the breaks on other programmes/channels are regularly padded with trailers.

    Doesn't look like there's advertising available to fill even nine minutes per hour.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    ITV is already unwatchable

    Maybe I'm getting old but I find the ads far more intrusive and regular than they used to be. Channel 5 was unwatchable from day 1, and ITV has gone the same way. Even if there was anything worth watching on ITV, the ads are so bad (frequent) now that the programs are unwatchable. Much better to wait a day or two and get the program off the internet (in whatever form suits you) than watch it live or even recorded (because the TV companies keep threatening to sue any manufacturer who dares to put auto ad-skipping into their recorders).

    1. JB

      Agreed, but nothing new

      I remember watching (or trying to watch) UK Gold as it was then about 4 or 5 years ago, and just giving up wen the breaks (trailers and ads) went on for longer than the bits of programme before and after. There really is a point where the trailers just become interminable. I accept that commercial TV relies on ads, and I'm happy to put up with a certain amount, but having to sit through trailer after trailer after trailer is just infuriating.

      PS: bring back the black bits between the adverts!

  7. Fihart

    At what point do we stop watching telly ?

    Well, already actually.

    If I recollect correctly, 20 years ago there was one commercial break in a 30 minute programme and one between programmes. A one hour programme had two breaks and one between programmes.

    With the advent of Freeview breaks multiplied so that programmes were constantly interrupted by what seemed like longer breaks.

    I'm not interested in watching TV commercials. So I'm not interested in watching commercial TV.

    1. Kanhef
      Thumb Up

      I haven't owned, let alone watched, a TV for years.

      Haven't missed it one bit, either.

  8. Annihilator Silver badge


    No limit on how much adverts for other programming can be crammed in then? Have just done a quick random check, most programmes coming from the US are only 22-23 minutes long, crammed into 30 minutes. So Channel 4 showing an episode of Friends (not that they do anymore) has to fill 7-8 minutes per *half* hour. They fill the gap with "later this week, another episode of what you're currently watching"...

    With crap like X-Factor, or Come Dine, or Cash In The Attic (or whatever else I'm forced to watch) there is also a missing 2 minutes per ad break made up of "coming up after the break" followed by "welcome back, here's a reminder of what you just watched.

    In all, it's about 10 minutes of "entertainment" crammed into an hour.

  9. Andrew Harvey

    Good decision - I commend it to the house!

    Advertising gives us free TV! Or does it? We pay extra for products to provide a marketing budget so they can spend our time and money telling us what we (mostly don't) want or have already brought.

    Those I know (including myself for a year) who have gone from the UK to the US or Australia (as two examples) almost give up on any non timeshifted TV for commercial channels. It is an absolute nightmare. The UK has slowly been slipping in that (very wrong) direction (e.g. sponsored weather and just about everything else). Even worse really is the commercial/brand pressure on TV programme making.

    Because it becomes almost ubiquitous we forget how many hours of our lives can be spent watching adverts - and that it is an intrusion on our quality of life.


  10. Jason Bloomberg

    Nine minutes per hour?

    Maybe, but the important thing is really 'programme content per hour'. I guess it's channel idents, 'coming soon' and 'on a sister channel' that allows one hour of recording to be watched in 45 minutes or less on a PVR.

    I've been meaning to actually look at the time code to measure it accurately for a while so that's something on the list to do over Christmas :-)

    If Carlsberg operated a broadcast channel...

  11. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

    Only 9 minutes per hour?

    I can only assume that these aren't evenly distributed throughout the day, and that there's some time during the night when there's no adverts at all?

  12. Wensleydale Cheese

    Four minute chunks are what I recall

    I haven't checked recently, but when I got my set top box three years ago the ad slots during a film were consistently 4 minutes long, and approximately 20 minutes apart..

    Perhaps they cunningly start at 21(ish) minute intervals so that as the first hour's nine minute allowance completes, the next hour's nine minutes starts?

    It certainly seemed like 3 lots of 4 minutes per hour.

  13. b166er

    Ofcom mostly bad, however +1

  14. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    I don't watch adverts. I use a PVR to time-shift everything.

  15. paulf
    Thumb Up

    Official document analysis


    Your mini editorials on the source documents you've used to research your stories are always amusing. The one in this article, "Ofcom's analysis [pdf, coma inducingly dull]" has just brightened my day (in describing the OFCOM document as "coma inducingly dull", not that you have risked life, limb and consciousness to research this story!)

  16. AndyS

    the X Factor is basically an hour-long product placement

    Luckily, though, nobody watches that drivel. Right?

  17. Roger Kynaston Silver badge

    X Factor

    You mean people watch that stuff?

  18. Dave Pickles

    Breaks != Adverts

    A one-hour programme on commercial TV generally has three 4-minute breaks, not including the break between programmes. I presume that trailers and 'watch us' stuff don't count in the nine minutes, though surely advertising yourself is still advertising?

    My PVR has a 'jump forward 4 minutes' button so I never see the breaks.

  19. deshepherd

    Re: That little? Seems like more

    Probably does seem like more since the 15-30secs at either end of the ad break where there's a "sponsors message" (e.g. sport on ITV brought to you by KIA, Home and garden brought to you by B&Q etc) don't count towards the advert quota. That said ... the new VM TIVo has a "skip forward 30secs" and you can keep pressing to increase the skip in 30sec increments - I find that Ch4 breaks are invariably 4 mins (8 skip button presses) long and with 4 breaks per hout that seems like 16mins to me!

  20. Simon Jones [MSDL]

    1hr = 45 min

    Generally speaking an hour of commercial TV equals 45 minutes of programme but factual programmes on ITV, C4, 5 et al all have so much padding - "comming next" before the ad break and the obigatory "recap" after the ad break (as though the viewers can't remember what happend three minutes ago) - not forgetting the "next time" trail at the end of the program that you're getting periously close to just 35 minutes of meaningful content in any hour.

    This "cap" of advertising at 9 minutes an hour fails to take into account all the trails, repetition and "sponsored by" messages that make watching commercial TV an absoute pain.

  21. OffBeatMammal

    unlike the US...

    where we get 7-9 mins of content per hour of programming (what with the ad breaks and the last week on and the flashbacks)

    I fondly remember growing up in London listening to Laser 558 (pirate radio, and don't ask why I remember the station ID) - they started with never more than a minute of advertising per hour and ended up as "never more than a minute from the music" ... but were still a vast improvement on what's available today on radio or TV either side of the pond

    Hopefully broadcast Linear TV will go the way of the dodo replaced by a la carte on-demand access with a subscription model which lets you avoid constant interruptions by soap powder hawkers and actually enjoy TV again

  22. Mike Green

    In Oz the level is atrocious....

    Really, I thought we had it bad in the UK, but adverts can easily double the length of a movie over here. I wouldn't mind if it was limited to 4 breaks per hour, but it can be literally 2 minutes and then the ads come on again. It's okay though, there's very little worth watching on Oz TV that we don't already watch via the interwebs and then DVDs (absolving our guilt!) They've got digital freeview here now, but have yet to go through the sort out we went through in the UK, with the Beeb taking it over and making it half decent. 2/3rds of the channels are just clones of the remaining 3rd, not even usefully time shifted like the +1s in the UK.

    1. Steven Roper

      What shits me

      about adverts here in Oz is the way the stations disperse them through the show.

      When a show starts, you usually get the first 15-20 minutes with no ads. That's just to rope you in and get you hooked watching the show. Then they start bombing you with ads - after the first ad break, you get maybe 7-8 minutes of show, then another 5 minutes of ads. The ads get more and more frequent towards the end - 5 minutes of show, 5 minutes of ads, 2 minutes of show, 5 minutes of ads - until at the very end, the fuckers cut the last 30 seconds of the show to hit you with one last bout of ads, then finally let you see that last 30 seconds and the end credits. That's right, 5 MINUTES of ads before the last THIRTY FUCKING SECONDS of the show!

      Note that Australia many years ago "deregulated" TV advertising, that's why you get pretty much 20 minutes of ads per hour.

      Add to that the fact that Australia has a TV censorship regime that would make China's most conservative hardliners look like porn industry freedom fighters compared, not to mention that our TV stations usually run 2 seasons behind the rest of the world, and one can see why I (and a lot of other Aussies!) watch all my shows on the Bittorrent channel!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    TV => Recycle => Job Done

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Never to be repeated, Ofcom seem to have used some sense for a change. Given the bargain basement ads ITV already has to resort to, its hard to see more of the same would help income - prime time would probably be affordable for the local corner shop.

    I counted one of channel 4s imports at 34 minutes of actual programme for an advertised hour, once you'd taken away the ads, channel ads, trailers and ludicrously long "in last weeks episode...". 26 minutes of fluff is an awful waste of life, so it's hardly a surprise everyone time shifts the ads or pops off to shampoo the budgie, and ads now seem to be more about simple "Oi!" type attention grabbing than any artful or compelling production; why bother?

    Ofcom is doing the ad pimps a big favour by saving them from their own greed; left to their own devices they'd kill their own businesses off for sure.

    @Chris Redpath - Yes they are excluded. I can't remember the exact figure but there is a certain amount more to promote the channel and the star ad-fodder that's up and coming.

  25. JBR

    perhaps it's...

    a mean of 9 minutes per hour? So no ads at 3am but special long juicy ad breaks during Corrie and Downton Abbey?

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bully for OFCOM!

    Bully for OFCOM for standing firm on this.

    However, I have a question for the Brits (since it's been a while since I was over there) - have your TV channels started putting the damn "bug" in the lower corner (hell, anymore its in the lower QUARTER) of the screen, jumping around, flashing, and generally acting like a spoiled three year old at a dinner party?

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Old ITV shows

    When you see old ITV shows repeated on digital these days the extra breaks are very badly placed.

    But they also use the breaks to cut the running time by using judicious editing. I was watching an episode of The Sweeney a few weeks ago and noticed a terrible edit around a break. I went and found the episode on Youtube and sure enough about 40 seconds had been cut and the whole thing hung together far better.

  28. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Not just the duration

    It's not so much the duration, it's the frequency of breaks. Now, if Ofcom could rule that they're allowed an ad-break between programmes, and then a max of 1 break in a 25-40 program, and 2 in a 40-70 min program, and suitable scale from there - basically every 20 mins or so - then at least we know we've got several minutes of ads which is plenty to go and put the washing in, make toast/coffee etc. Two breaks in a 25 min prog is taking the piss.

  29. BlinkenLights

    American network TV shows now run to only 43 minutes, yet still have an hour slot on most Sky channels. That works out to 17 minutes of adverts, so something does not add up.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I like enough time to make a brew and have a slash without missing anything. I don't want enough time to cook a roast dinner.

    "Nice as that sounds it's also becoming increasing moot. "

    Only if you watch that kind of program. 95% of TV programming is not affected by such things.

  31. Ben 54
    Thumb Down

    9 minutes is still too long

    ..but I was shocked to see in Indonesia that they have around 5 minute ad breaks for ever 4 minutes of screening (or any random short number). Doesnt this people realize no-one watch these ads? Thats the time i take a leak or get a drink.

  32. Nick Ryan Silver badge

    Not just the timing...

    but could the b*****ds not ramp up the volume* for the ad breaks? Particularly noticeable in late evening tv where the stations tend to reduce the volume a little but you still get hit by a wall of noise as soon as the ads start up.

    * Yes, I know "volume" and "perceived loudness" are different, but most people consider it "volume".

  33. Paul Shirley

    On the occasions I bother stripping adverts rather than just skipping them during playback, a lot of programmes manage 42-43 minutes in an hour slot. Things like The Big Bang Theory clock in at 18min usually in a 30min slot.

    There's a lot of self promotional padding but I'm struggling to believe that fully accounts for the extra 6 or 9 min required. Maybe we just don't see things if they repeat so often. (Hard to say since I don't see the ads anyway;)

  34. a well wisher

    Calm down - Its only an average

    Its an average across the day of 9 mins / hour - so they can really cram them in on the 'popular' stuff and put nothing in the low rating stuff

  35. Arkasha

    And what are they doing...

    about the huge jump in volume for ad breaks? I'll be the first to admit I don't watch much TV but when I do I find it highly annoying that when the ad breaks come on the volume suddenly goes really loud on some channels until the ads finish (Dave, I'm looking at you.) I swear I read somewhere doing that was illegal.

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    7-9 minutes?

    Five USA might well be on track for that per break. I once managed a quick shower in an ad break mid-CSI.

  37. This Side Up

    Advertising is counter-productive

    If someone interrupts the programme I'm watching and screams at me for 30 seconds, what makes him or her think I'm going to buy his or her silly product of service? Au contraire mon vieux fils.

    Cut them all down to 7 minutes per hour including pre-recorded trails, plus not more than 1 minute per hour for station identifications and continuity announcements. Oh, and dock 10 seconds for every product placement while you're at it.

  38. Lars Silver badge

    I hope the EU

    Will demand an "advert only" channel and leave the rest of the channels for the stupid ones who do without adverts.

  39. Marky

    Less adverts - thats good!

    Most of the time I see at least 18 minutes advertising per hour on the commercial stations. 4.5 minutes each break at quarter hour intervals.

  40. Someone Else Silver badge

    Oh that that rule were in effect on THIS side of the pond

    Ever since Ronald McDonald Reagan removed the 12 min/hr limit, we are bombarded with at least 16 minutes of advertising an hour (in general...during the special ratings periods, that amountc an -- and DOES -- increase).

  41. Goat Jam

    Lucky Bastards

    In Australia, we can have more than 20 per hour of adverts in an hour.

    That, the constant moving of programs around and the year or more lag between overseas releases anbd their air dates in Aus its no wonder that so many people turn to <ahem> "alternate sources" for their viewing material.

    Not that I would do that of course.

  42. Hairy Airey

    American Football has sponsor's timeouts

    If the offense is using consecutive "no huddle" plays they don't use timeouts and if the clock isn't stopped the TV station can stop them for a commercial break. This has happened during the Superbowl at least once.

    At least we get warnings when Adverts are coming, apparently they don't in the US.

  43. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Stop whining

    Try Spanish TV.

    That is all.

  44. Jim 59


    please could this 9 minutes apply to advertising on the beeb - idents, "trails", and "discussions" advertising one program within another. Radio 5 will often stop for a 15 minute "discussion" of that evening's entertainment on BBC1. Question time often grinds to a halt so DD can advertise the next week's show or some dreary coorporation website. If you want that guff, you can't have the license fee too.

    On Channel 5, the gadget show is a sad example. It was great once but is now so debauched with competitions, advert breaks and other annoying ephemera that the original point of the show is largely lost. It is clobbered by BBC Click.

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