Advanced Television

COBA: Ad rules proposals risk news cuts

June 6, 2023

By Colin Mann

Broadcasters have slammed UK regulator Ofcom’s proposed changes to advertising rules which they say will result in the loss of nearly half an hour of news coverage a day.

A report from broadcasting association COBA suggests that plans to allow more advertising on ITV and Channel 4 would result in 27.5 minutes of public service news coverage being lost every weekday.

If Ofcom’s proposals to increase advertising allowances for public service broadcasters (PSBs) are pushed through, it would mean 115 hours of public service news programming could be cut from schedules each year, the report states.

The proposed changes would see an increase in the total amount of advertising on PSBs of up to 48 minutes a day on each channel – amounting to more than eight hundred hours a year of more adverts – which would have a significant impact on commercial revenues across the broadcasting sector, as well as threaten the viability of smaller commercial channels, potentially undermining media plurality.

Public service broadcasters currently have strict requirements on how advertising is distributed across peak and off-peak times.

As a result, the increase in advertising hours would force broadcasters to place more adverts around the news, as those shows are the only times where broadcasters can use these extra advertising minutes, leading to the huge cuts in news editorial output: ITV1’s level of advertising around news could nearly triple in peak times (from around 9.5 minutes to 26 minutes), while Channel 4 could increase adverts from around one minute per hour currently to 12 minutes.

The report from COBA – the UK industry body for digital, cable and satellite broadcasters and on-demand services – states this would inevitably lead to huge cuts in news editorial output.

According to COBA Executive Director Adam Minns, Ofcom was not taking account of evidence to show the proposed changes are damaging for the industry and not welcomed by viewers. “We are vehemently opposed to these proposals from Ofcom. The research published today shows that increased advertising would severely impact the levels of news programming available to viewers, as well as place a strain on the smaller channels who are so vital to the plurality and diversity in our sector,” he added.

“These proposals are ill-thought out and unnecessary, and are not even supported by all public service broadcasters. The result will be to erode the most important aspect of the public service broadcasting system: news,” he asserted.

“Ofcom should be protecting audiences and news programming, not suggesting changes that puts news at risk or harm the viewing experience,” he stated.

Ofcom’s proposals come despite widespread support for public service news in an era of ever-increasing misinformation and ‘fake news’.

The Government’s White Paper for the Media Bill has highlighted the importance of public service news, a view echoed by the Culture Media and Sport Committee, which pointed to its pivotal role in the pandemic and in combatting misinformation.

Ofcom’s own audience research has also highlighted the critical importance of public service news, which found that: “‘Trusted and accurate news’ is by far the most valued aspect of PSBs, both to people individually and to society”.

COBA is submitting evidence to Ofcom outlining the damage increased advertising hours would have on the sector, and the threat it poses to news broadcasting.

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