OFCOM'S DECISION ON THE ADVERTISING SCHEDULING RULES

Ofcom has published a statement setting out its decisions on the issues raised in its July 2014 consultation, which considered:

  1. the options available to secure effective and consistent enforcement of rules that restrict advertising interruptions in programmes, and
  2. proposals for changes to the advertising scheduling rules, designed to make them clearer and easier to follow.

Ofcom has decided that its current approach to the way in which programme length is measured for the purposes of determining the amount of permitted advertising, using electronic programme guides (EPGs), is the most appropriate method and shall be maintained.

In addition, Ofcom has made amendments to its Code on the Scheduling of Television Advertising (COSTA), which shall come into force from 1 November 2015.

BACKGROUND

Under the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (2010/13/EU) (the “Directive”), national regulatory authorities are required to maintain and enforce rules about the content and scheduling of advertising on television services in order to protect the interests of television viewers and safeguard the character of European television.

Ofcom fulfills part of this requirement through COSTA. COSTA contains specific rules limiting the amount of advertising that television services may show and the extent to which advertisements may interrupt programme content (known as “internal breaks”).

The number of internal breaks permitted in a programme is determined by a range of factors including the programme’s genre and its “scheduled duration”, a term set out in the Directive but not otherwise defined.

Traditionally Ofcom has used information from published programme listings, such as EPGs, in order to assess scheduled duration. Some broadcasters, particularly in the case of children’s programmes, had argued that an alternative approach should be adopted to measure programme length to the second to allow them more flexibility on internal breaks.

USE OF THE EPG APPROACH TO ASSESSING SCHEDULED DURATION

As a result of the consultation Ofcom has decided that the continued use of the EPG approach to the measurement of scheduled duration best achieves outcomes that fulfil its statutory duties. Specifically, Ofcom considers that the EPG approach:

  1. appropriately balances its duty to ensure the availability of a wide range of television services with ensuring that viewers, particularly children, are afforded the required level of protection
  2. offers greater transparency than the alternative options, uses information that is readily accessible, and provides clear parameters on which to make enforcement decisions, and
  3. represents an appropriate basis for assessing compliance with the requirements of European legislation.

AMENDMENTS TO COSTA

Ofcom has also decided to make revisions to COSTA which include:

  1. inserting specific exemptions which apply to breaks on public service channels and minutage rules on certain local television services, and
  2. amending a range of definitions, such as those which apply to teleshopping and films, to make the code clearer and easier to follow.

The revised code will come into force on 1 November 2015.