No time limits for TV ads, unless you're a kid
The number of TV commercials seems to be growing uncontrollably. At the rate they’re going, commercial time will soon be greater than the programs. We know those programs must be paid for, but the situation’s gone way beyond what’s reasonable. We’d like to express our displeasure to those who regulate this. Can you provide that contact information?
— Don and Bonnie R., Medford
Sad to say, there isn’t a regulator when it comes to commercial time — at least when it comes to programming for grownups.
On broadcast and cable programs meant for kids younger than 12, the Federal Communications Commission limits ads to 10-1/2 minutes an hour on Saturdays and 12 minutes an hour on weekdays, according to the FCC’s website.
Those restrictions were imposed after the Children’s Television Act of 1990.
For nearly 37 years, there’s been no such time restrictions for other programs that run during prime time.
Prior to Nov. 24, 1982, the government required no more than five consecutive ads per commercial break and no more than 8-1/2 minutes of ads per hour, according to articles we found from the FCC and the New York Times. Those restrictions were lifted to settle a lawsuit between the Justice Department and the National Association of Broadcasters filed three years earlier over the big three broadcasters restricting advertisers as a trade group.
That’s not to say the FCC is entirely laissez-faire when it comes to commercials. The agency has banned ads for cigarettes, cigars and tobacco since the early 1970s, and the FCC also enforces complaints regarding loud TV commercials.
False or deceptive ads are also prohibited, but that’s typically the Federal Trade Commission’s purview, not the FCC’s.
It’s not all bad news for commercials, however. Thanks in part to those digital video recorder boxes and disruptive millennials’ proclivities toward ad-free streaming services such as Netflix, the number of ads is actually trending down, according to a March 2018 LA Times article about plans throughout the industry to reduce commercials.
That said, the story illustrated the high water mark that led to reductions. Primetime hour-long shows averaged only 11 minutes and 32 seconds of ads, but cable networks carried as much as 18 minutes of commercials per hour, according to the LA Times, citing information from the media strategy firm Magna Global.
You may not be able to complain to the government about commercials, but you can still complain.
Your best bet is to contact the TV network, although some networks make it easier to dial them up than others. You can reach ABC’s customer care line at 1-800-230-0229 or www.abc.go.com/feedback, CBS customer service at 1-888-274-5343 or audienceservices.cbs.com/feedback/feedback.htm, and NBC at nbc.com/contact us.
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