Advertising Control

It is a fundamental principle of the Television Act that the programmes should not be provided or sponsored by advertisers, but procured by the Independent Television Authority from independent programme companies under contracts to it. The advertiser is concerned only to buy time in television for the insertion of his advertisement just as he buys screen time in the cinema or space in a newspaper or magazine. He has no share in programme production and no say in programming decisions: these are matters for the broadcasters—that is to say the programme companies and the Authority.

The income of Independent Television, apart from the overseas sale of programmes, derives from the sale of these advertising “spots” of time, each ranging from 5 to 60 or more seconds in duration. The service gets no share of the television licence fees or other public funds.

There are two provisions in the Television Act for this total distinction between programmes and advertisements. Under Section 4(3) and paragraph 1 of the Second Schedule of the Act, it is the Authority’s duty to secure that the advertisements are “clearly distinguishable as such and recognisably separate from the rest of the programmes”. But further, Section 4(6) of the Act lays down that

Nothing shall be included in any programmes broadcast by the Authority whether in an advertisement or not which states suggests or implies or could reasonably be taken to state suggest or imply that any part of any programme broadcast by the Authority which is not an advertisement has been supplied or suggested by any advertiser; and, except as an advertisement, nothing shall be included in any programme broadcast by the Authority which could reasonably be supposed to have been included therein in return for payment or other valuable consideration to the relevant programme contractor….

Exceptional allowance is made for charitable appeals, reviews of publications or entertainments, documentary programmes and other items, but none of the exceptions weakens the force of the general requirement that nothing should be done which might give to reasonable viewers even the impression that an advertiser has provided a programme. The system has from the beginning proceeded smoothly and without argument on this basis. Some of the popular imported programmes do owe their existence to advertisers who have “sponsored” them in their country of origin—notably some of the programmes from the United States that are enjoyed by viewers of either of the British television services. But for British viewers these programmes have been bought and broadcast on the decisions of one of the broadcasting bodies and not on the decisions of advertisers.

The Amount of Advertising

The Television Act does not lay down precisely the amount of advertising that may be allowed: it simply places upon the Authority the duty to secure “that the amount of time given to advertising in the programmes shall not be so great as to detract from the value of the programmes as a medium of entertainment, instruction, and information”. Since the beginning of transmissions in 1955, the Authority has allowed a maximum of six minutes of spot advertising an hour, averaged over the day’s programmes, but a further rule restricts the maximum to seven minutes in any single “clock-hour” (e.g. from 6-7 p.m., 7-8 p.m., etc.).

Control of the maximum amount of advertising by the clock hour has its merits as a tidy statistical device, but of course the rigidity of the clock hour conflicts occasionally with the need for flexibility in the timing of programmes and with the natural incidence of intervals in which the advertisements may be shown. So the Authority is prepared occasionally to allow minor departures from the seven-minute maximum if, for example, an interval of advertising falls just on one side of the striking of an hour instead of another, thus carrying a minute or two of advertising from one clock hour into another. In each case, however, the excess is counter-balanced by an equivalent reduction in the amount of advertising in the adjacent hour.

The following figures show the average hourly amount of advertising for all the Authority’s stations in service during each month of 1962:

Average amount of advertising
Month Average per hour over whole day (minutes) Average per hour between 7 and 10 p.m. (minutes)
January 4.9 6.6
February 4.6 6.3
March 4.7 6.2
April 4.9 6.2
May 4.4 6.2
June 4.4 6.0
July 5.0 6.5
August 4.4 6.1
September 4.2 6.1
October 4.4 6.4
November 4.9 6.5
December 4.3 5.9

Over the year as a whole, an average of 4.6 minutes an hour of spot advertising (about 7½ per cent of the broadcasting time) was transmitted from each station.

The Independent Television Authority allows less advertising in its programmes than is common in comparable self-supporting systems abroad.