Ad breaks – How long are they, who monitors them, and how often are the rules reviewed?

We’re all familiar with TV advertisements, even despite the ubiquity of streaming platforms that offer ad-free streaming content. However, how well are we knowledgeable about TV ad breaks in general? If you’re the type of person who’s curious about ad breaks, keep reading to find out more information about them.

How long are ad breaks?

The broadcasting day typically starts from 6am and runs for the entire 24 hours. Current regulations from Ofcom state that ads on public broadcasting channels (channels 3-5) are only allowed an average of 7 minutes per hour across the entire broadcasting day – whereas other channels are permitted to have an average of 9 minutes per hour, and an extra 3 minutes for teleshopping spots.

Guidance on ad breaks for channels 3-5 are currently as follows, depending on the length of the programme being shown:

  • 21 to 44 minutes – one break
  • 45 to 59 minutes – two breaks
  • 60 to 89 minutes – three breaks
  • 90 to 119 minutes – four breaks
  • 120 to 149 minutes – five breaks

For programmes of up to 20 minutes, no breaks are permitted.

Ad breaks are not allowed to exceed 3 minutes and 50 seconds, so you can expect most TV ad breaks to be 2 minutes and 30 seconds or 3 minutes and 30 seconds long. Individual ads are usually 30 seconds long, but there are instances of 10, 20, 40, 50, 1 minute or longer ads shown on addressable media, particularly addressable TV.

Who monitors ad breaks?

The regulator of ad breaks is the Office of Communications, otherwise commonly known as Ofcom, who monitors communication services from broadband, mobile, TV, radio, and the universal postal service, Royal Mail. Ofcom are committed to ensuring that content on TV is sensible and suitable for a range of audiences.

However, the agency that regulates the advertisements themselves is the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) who monitors the actual ads to see if they are compliant with the Advertising Codes. The Advertising Codes are written by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which is the sister organisation of the ASA.

The ASA are dedicated to ensuring that ads in the UK are responsible and are not harmful, misleading, or offensive to consumers. They have an arrangement with Ofcom that allows them to regulate TV and radio advertising.

It’s worth noting that the majority of ads seen on TV are vetted before they air to check if they are appropriate for broadcast.

How often are ad break rules reviewed?

Ofcom had announced that it may review ad break rules, particularly in terms of length and frequency of ads on broadcast TV for public service broadcasting (PSB) channels. This was due to the fact that the PSB licences of channel 3 (ITV) and channel 5 are due to expire in 2024. However, Ofcom has since decided not to extend ad breaks, citing that it wasn’t in the interest of viewers.

It can be difficult to ascertain an exact time frame for how often ad break rules are reviewed, but how often the legislation is reviewed could be due to factors regarding the current climate of the advertising and broadcasting industries, as well as viewers’ own frustrations and concerns.

And there you have it – all the basics you need to know about how long ads and ad breaks are, who monitors them, and how often the rules are reviewed.