Demands by advertisers for extra airtime won’t necessarily relieve
all the pressures of TV inflation. Anna Griffiths writes.
Yet again there are calls for commercial TV to extend its advertising
airtime. Advertisers have pressed and pestered for years for more
They argue the benefits would be immense and immediate. Pressure would
be eased on the demand for airtime, inflation would fall, and the
constant barracking of ITV would abate. Marketing directors wouldn’t
have to face the embarrassment of telling their bosses why they keep
spending more cash on TV and reaching fewer viewers.
The difference this time is where the call is coming from, and how it
has been received.
At the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers conference last week,
Paul Polman, Procter & Gamble’s vice-president and general manager, took
up the cudgel.
P&G is the world’s biggest advertiser with an annual spend of over
pounds 3bn worldwide. When it speaks, media owners listen.
Armed with an array of facts and figures, Polman put television’s
performance for advertisers in the firing line. He scored some direct
hits: ’Over the past five years, TV advertising costs have risen by up
to 47%. This is massively ahead of normal retail price inflation which
was at 14% over the same period. Clearly this is unacceptable to
He said P&G had carried out a review of costs back to 1980 which showed
a constant upward pressure on advertising costs.
Commercial TV companies should, he said, up the maximum advertising
airtime from seven minutes an hour to nine, while maintaining a minimum
daily average of seven. This would ’give TV stations and advertisers
more freedom to balance demand and supply’.
Polman also reserved a section of his speech for the BBC’s ’artificially
protected market position’. He called for ads on the BBC, even if it
were for only five minutes per day of peak airtime. This could wipe
pounds 10 off the licence fee.
The difference in the latest call is the reaction of the ITV sales
Traditionally they have been cold toward approaches for more minutage;
now they are willing to look at the issue.
TSMS and Laser Sales have said they will reconsider extra minutage if
all the ITV network companies agree. Carlton too has said it would be
prepared to look at its minutage arrangements - outside of peak.
Jerry Hill, chief executive at TSMS, says: ’We’ve got to listen to the
problem and respond to it as a courtesy to our clients, and do this
within a reasonable period of time.’
Bob Wootton, ISBA’s director of media services, is putting together a
policy document for the Independent Television Commission about
increasing minutage over a two-year period, but he says that while he
has the support of advertisers, he is frustrated by the lack of support
from media agencies.
If the idea of extra minutage is to bring down TV inflation, why are
media buyers so unenthusiastic? Just because it is on the client’s ’wish
list’ doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for the industry to do.
Opponents in the extra minutage debate, say it is a short-term fix that
could eventually create more problems if the extra ads persuade more
viewers to reach for the remote. Better programming and bigger audiences
is the answer, not allowing more ads - because fewer people may watch
Better programming means more viewers, which would reduce station
Paul Taylor, joint media director of BMP DDB, says: ’I’d rather see
strong programmes and audiences with sensible levels of commercial
Media buyers are conscious of how easy it is to turn viewers off. Chris
Boothby, head of TV buying at BBJ MediaServices, points out: ’If you go
into peak there are issues of clutter. There are ITV promotions at the
start of virtually every peak ad break - how does the viewer
differentiate between a channel promotion and an advert?’
There is concern that if ITV does agree to extra minutage it would
charge a 10% premium to advertise in the first slot of any ad break,
negating the idea of extra minutage.
The timing of the debate about minutage seems out of kilter with the
imminent launch of Channel 5, as Taylor points out. ’Once Channel 5 is
up and running, and we see what the product is, it will take some heat
out of TV inflation.’
But the launch of Channel 5 will not end calls for more ad minutage.
Unless it erodes the BBC’s share of viewing, it may add to them.
The ITC is willing to discuss minutage, but would only act if it were in
viewers’ interests. Why would a viewer benefit from more ads if it cut
Some in media believe that those advertisers calling for more minutage
should consider whether it will really benefit them while viewers can
still switch channels to an ad-free BBC.
YOUR TIME IS UP
- Advertising on terrestrial TV in any one day is limited to an average
seven minutes per hour.
- In peak-time, this is increased to an average of 7.5 minutes per hour.
There can be no more than 12 minutes in any clock hour. The ITC states
peak-time is 6pm to 11pm and 7am to 9am.
- In July 1996, the ITC allowed ITV, Channels 4 and 5 the ability to
aggregate their spot advertising allowance without asking for permission
between 12am and 6am for long ads.
- TV inflation in 1995/96 was 8% and is now running at 10%.