C4 pushes for more ad breaks

Web pleads to commish to lift restrictions

U.K. pubcaster Channel 4 is lobbying the European Commission to relax rules restricting the number of advertising breaks in movies.

The web says that European films will get crowded out of digital and video-on-demand services unless broadcasters are allowed to run ads more frequently than the present limit of every 45 minutes.

The revised Television Without Frontiers directive proposes ads breaks every 35 minutes, but C4 execs say this will make no practical difference, since both versions allow just three breaks in a two-hour film.

The campaign is sure to meet opposition from Euro auteurs who already see ad breaks as violating their creative integrity.

But C4 argues that making the commercial model for free-to-air film channels more attractive will make it easier to support European cinema, rather than relying on high-rating U.S. blockbuster fare.

This is a particularly pressing argument for C4, which is relaunching its pay movie service FilmFour in July as a free-to-air channel supported by advertising. The service will go overnight from 350,000 subs to a potential audience of 18 million.

C4 also plans to launch a VOD service integrated with FilmFour. Viewers will be able to watch a movie free with ad breaks or pay to watch the same movie without ads.

It also will use the free-to-air broadcast as a shop window to promote VOD movies, such as pics by the same filmmaker.

That means that if it proves uneconomic to schedule niche Euro pics on the free-to-air service, then those pics will also lose out on the VOD platform.

“Meaningful liberalization of this rule would let us show a greater number of shorter ad breaks,” said C4 corporate affairs exec Jonathan Simon. “The extra revenue this would generate would allow us to significantly increase the volume of European (and international) films in the schedule, from 10%-15% to around 40%.”

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