Could Government’s epic media Bill spark a blizzard of ads?

EU’s revised directive allows broadcasters to concentrate ads in peak viewing times

The Government’s online safety and media regulation Bill is a sprawling epic designed to bring a plethora of social media and video-on-demand companies into the regulatory loop. But it still took care to address a subject close to the heart of commercial television broadcasters: how many ads they can officially show per hour.

Commercial broadcasters such as Virgin Media Television are currently subject to a limit of 12 minutes of advertising per hour – a 20 per cent maximum – which for them is happily twice as much as the RTÉ average.

Still, the existing rules are less than ideal, especially when it comes to eyeball-luring sport fixtures.

The Bill, as part of its job to transpose the EU’s revised audio-visual media services directive into Irish law, gives commercial broadcasters more flexibility in how they schedule ads.


Instead of a 20 per cent limit per hour, advertising minutage will be able to take up to 20 per cent of the broadcasting period from 6am to 6pm and 20 per cent of the period from 6pm to midnight.

So a commercial broadcaster can, subject to their own assessment of viewer tolerance levels, concentrate their ads – running more of them right before a big match, then again in half-time, for example – into the precise moments when audiences are at a natural peak.

Advertising logic

For commercial broadcasters, which unlike RTÉ don’t receive direct support from the television licence fee, it will seem only fair that they can offset the high cost of rights to sporting events and other premium content with ad revenues in a manner that makes most sense for advertisers (who have many options about where to spend their money beyond linear television, after all).

Irish rugby fans, of course, might remember their dismay during the 2015 Rugby World Cup at what then seemed a striking difference in the level of advertising on Virgin predecessor TV3 compared to previous rights holders RTÉ.

But Minister for Media Catherine Martin didn't seem too worried at the potential for viewer backlashes to ad blizzards when she spoke to journalists about the Bill on Wednesday. Such sensitivities would be teased out during pre-legislative scrutiny, she suggested.

European viewers can be thankful, at least, that in this part of the world, broadcasters still largely respect the rhythm of the sporting action when inserting ad breaks, rather than rudely intruding upon it.