U.K. TV regulator mulls ad changes

Watchdog may lift "must sell" edict

LONDON — Hard-up U.K.webs stand to benefit from a signal that Ofcom, the local regulator, is poised to nix rules that force ITV, Channel 4 and Five to sell all their advertising airtime.

The watchdog announced Monday that it is launching a 10-week consultation examining these rules.

Additionally it will also review the restriction that prevents these broadcasters from offering advertisers bundled airtime deals across their main services and digital spin-off channels.

Ofcom CEO Ed Richards said: “In the last few years the TV sector has moved on with substantial increases in the take-up of digital services and in the number of available channels.

“We are proposing that these rules be removed in light of broader developments in the sector.”

If the regulator greenlights these changes, the additional coin could be worth tens of millions of dollars in extra revenue.

ITV, Channel 4 and Five have all suffered from a decline in ad income due to the U.K. recession and the emergence of new media, and would welcome the relaxation of restrictions.

Ofcom introduced a “must sell” rule in 2003 to prevent these webs limiting the amount of airtime they sell and so force up prices.

But the cornucopia of digital channels on air in the U.K. — more than 400 channels are available on paybox BSkyB — has made it much harder for ITV, Channel 4 and Five to harden prices by restricting airtime supply.