Something All Politicians Can Support – Major TV Advertising Reforms

Something All Politicians Can Support – Major TV Advertising Reforms

© David Burton 2018

Reform TV Advertising

     Our elected officials - Democrats, Republicans and Independents – have repeatedly demonstrated a total inability to agree on just about anything. As a result, little to nothing is being accomplished in the halls of government in our nation’s capital. Nothing gets done in Washington except for ill-advised rhetoric, backbiting animosity and a disregard for the obligations of our members of Congress and the office of the President to serve their constituency - the people of America who have elected them.

     Well, I have a suggestion for political action that all politicians can support. Our elected officials can get together to enact legislation that is sorely needed and which would garner the approval of just about every citizen. What our Democratic, Republican and Independent elected officials can and should do is to pass federal laws that reform the way in which television advertising is forced upon the American public.

     Today, the television viewing public in America is held hostage to broadcast and cable television companies that foist seemingly endless and repetitive commercials on their viewers. The American public is essentially helpless in avoiding this interminable stream of unwanted sales pitches. It’s long past the time when our legislators need to take action to stop this money-grubbing assault on our senses!

     Broadcast and Cable networks keep piling on more and more commercials. Even the supposedly commercial-free publicly-funded stations now tell us who is sponsoring their “commercial-free” programs and contributing funds to keep their programming going. The time has come to get back to content without the excessive selling now rampant on television. “The early promise of cable TV was that, in exchange for paying for TV, we'd be spared the commercials and get a wider variety of quality programming. But that never happened. Not only do the cable-only channels show ads, they show lots of ads. Classic reruns and movies are cut beyond recognition to make room for more ads than can possibly be sold, with the void filled by endless station self-promos. Even HBO runs ads - infomercials disguised as ‘Making of’ shows for current movies.” (Ref. 1) With respect to cable television, since you and I are paying for the cable service, one would think that we could get programming without commercials - or, at least, with a minimum of commercial interruptions. Today, nearly all of us are paying a lot of money to get television into our homes and we’re not getting our money’s worth. It’s time to stop the TV industry from using our living rooms as their billboards to show an endless amount of annoying commercials.


     Our legislators can look at what other nations have done to bring TV advertising under control if they can’t figure out what to do on their own. The framework that determines the amount of advertising permitted on television in Europe is set by the European Union’s Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) Directive. This sets a basic limit for all channels of 12 minutes on the amount of advertising which may be shown in one hour. In Spain “the Council of Ministers approved on 11 November 2011 a Royal Decree clearing the Regulation developing the Spanish General Law on Audiovisual Communications regarding television advertising and the provision of legal certainty to the sector.
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     “The new Regulation clearly defines the characteristics of the various formats of audiovisual commercial communication, such as self-promotion (for which a maximum of five minutes per hour is permitted), tele-promotion (to which a limit of 3 hours and 36 minutes per day is set) and sponsorship. . .
     “According to the text, sponsorship may not exceed 10 seconds per hour, must be linked to programmes or sub-programmes and may not encourage the viewer to purchase the sponsor’s product or service. . .
     “Self-promotion (defined as videos advancing TV serials, films, documentaries or TV shows and on-screen overlays of the same broadcaster) may not exceed 5 minutes per hour and tele-promotions (defined as the advertising made by the programme host or hostess or by the main characters of a programme using the scenario and ambience of the same programme) shall have a minimum duration of 45 seconds.
     “Commercial messages broadcast during the retransmission of sport events are permitted . . . only when the game is paused or when the advertisements allow the further development of the event. In this case, advertising is allowed by overprints not occupying more than one fifth of the screen.” (Ref. 2)

     From Europe, England and Australia, we find: (Ref. 3):

     “In Most nations restrict the advertisements that are broadcast on television. There are restrictions on both the length of commercial breaks, and on the content of the advertisements themselves. . . Length restrictions are widespread in developed nations with the conspicuous exception of the lack of US restrictions (the US does not restrict the broadcasting of commercials, except during children’s programming).” [Emphasis mine]

     “In Australia, an average of thirteen minutes of non-program matter may be broadcast between 6 p.m. and midnight, and fifteen minutes at other times. In any particular hour, between 6 p.m. and midnight up to fifteen minutes maybe broadcast, but no more than fourteen minutes(average) in any four hours. During election periods, stations can add one minute of political matter. At all other times, the maximum hourly limit is sixteen minutes.”

     “{in England} commercial broadcasting is allowed no more than nine minutes per hour average per day, with a maximum of 12 minutes in any given hour, in accord with European laws. However, there can be no more than seven and a half minutes on average in prime time viewing. Cable television is also regulated by the EU standard. Ads must fall in natural breaks in programming and be at least 20 minutes apart. Ads are not allowed to interrupt certain types of programs . . .”

     “The regulations on Commercial Length {in Europe} are broadly as follows. The EU directive allows for 9 minutes of commercials on average, with a maximum of 12 minutes in any given hour. In Australia, broadcast channels must carry at most 13 minutes of commercials on average, with a maximum of 15 minutes in any given hour. As a matter of comparison, some programs on the major networks in the United States have recorded advertising levels in excess of 20 minutes. [emphasis mine]


     I call on our legislators to pass legislation that prohibits more than a small number of consecutive advertisements, say 2 or 3. In one instance, I counted some nineteen (19) consecutive commercials on one cable channel. As reported elsewhere, one person timed a TV channel and found that they showed eleven (11) commercials in a row, which lasted a total of five (5) minutes and forty-nine (49) seconds. When the actual program came back on, it only played for four (4) minutes and sixteen (16) seconds, which was actually less show time than commercial time.[4] Elsewhere, it was reported that the percentage of airtime consumed by commercials had increased from thirteen percent (13%) in 1952 to thirty-one percent (31%) in 2017 – nearly a two hundred and forty percent (240%) increase! [5] Another report showed that Channel surfing during a commercial is as likely as not to result in switching to another obnoxious commercial.

     The law should also limit the amount of time for advertisements in any given span of time. For example, the law should limit advertisements to no more than, say, ten (10) minutes in any hour.


     A good commercial can be both informative and entertaining - the first time and maybe even on the 5th showing. But by the time the commercial is repeated for the 20th or 100th time, it has lost its crowd appeal and, if you are like me, turned me off to the product being advertised. A too-often repeated commercial is like a dead fish - after a while it stinks! Let’s save companies some of their advertising money and let’s put into law a limit on the number of times a commercial can be shown during some period of time, say ten (10) times in any twenty four (24) span of time on any one TV channel.


     How many advertisements have we all seen where there is a footnote at the bottom or the end of the commercial with some totally unreadable legalese, either because the print is too small or the time on-screen is too short? Let’s stop wasting screen space and let’s pass a law that requires that any words appearing in an advertisement must be readily and totally readable during the time the wording appears on the TV screen by anyone with an eighth-grade education and normal eyesight.


     I am appalled at those commercials for various prescription medicines that end up terrifying the potential beneficiary of the medicine with a seemingly-endless listing of all the bad things that can happen when one uses the medication.

     There is nothing more repugnant that watching a ten (10) second advertisement for some drug or medication and then being subjected to ninety (90) seconds of a listing of all the potential harm that can come from using the medicine. What is needed is legislation that relieves the drug company of the legal obligation to provide such material or which specifically prohibits the drug company from providing the disclaimer. Let’s leave all that information about harmful side-effects to a discussion between the patient and the doctor who prescribes the medications. A TV ad is not the place to present this information!

     There are even arguments in favor of outright bans on prescription drug advertising. “Drugs have harms as well as benefits, and the harms are greater when drugs are indiscriminately prescribed. Consumer advertising, delivered to the masses as a shotgun blast, rather than as specific information to concerned patients or caregivers, results in more prescriptions and less appropriate prescribing.
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     “Advertising also provokes a subtle shift in our culture -- toward seeking a pill for every ill. While there are many for whom stimulants and other medications can be a godsend, , , , too often, a pill substitutes for more human responses to distress. U.S. clinicians prescribe stimulant medication for A.D.H.D. at a rate 25 times that of their European counterparts. The complex decision to start a long-term medication should be motivated by the observations of . . . a caring clinician - not stimulated by rosy ads.
     “Consumer drug advertising is banned in most of the world . . .
     “In the information age, in which more balanced sources of information on drugs should be widely available, biased pill-pushing messages are a public health menace. To advance the health of the public, the United States should follow the lead of the vast majority of countries, and ban direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising.” (Ref. 6)


     At one time, lawyer advertising was non-existent – the legal profession policed itself and prohibited such advertising. Today, our TV sets are filled with advertisements by lawyers and law firms who are urging every American to sue drug firms, doctors, hospitals and anyone else with the ability to pay large settlements. These suits cost Americans billions of dollars in litigation, defensive medicine costs and legal settlements which, in all too many cases, are designed to simply avoid the cost of going to trial. America needs legislation that requires the ambulance chasers to disclose what percentage of people are harmed by the products and companies they are hounding with class action lawsuits. Let’s have these law firms acknowledge when 10,000 people are helped by a supposedly defective product for each person who suffers adverse side effects. And, more importantly, let’s reform our tort law system to reduce or eliminate those frivolous lawsuits so that only those grossly and blatantly negligent can be sued. It’s high time we stopped allowing baseless law suits simply because the defendants have “deep pockets” and “that’s where the money is.” Let’s start this process by limiting what these lawyers and law firms can say and advertise on television.


     To end the TV commercial blizzard, we need our legislators to pass laws that limit the amount of commercials allowed during a given span of air time. Let’s have legislation passed that allows medical products to be advertised without the need for the plethora of disclaimers about the harmful side effect of the medicines. How about a law that requires the ambulance chasers to disclose what percentage of people are harmed by the products and companies they are hounding with class action lawsuits? Perhaps nost importantly, let’s reform our tort law system to eliminate frivolous lawsuits. One reason drug costs and medical care in the United States are so high is the very real threat of lawsuits against health care providers and drug companies. We urgently need a shield law to stop this abuse of our legal system that costs everyone except the lawyers and the few who win enormous settlements in our overburdened courts. Perhaps what is needed is a law prohibiting members of the legal profession from enacting (or not enacting ) legislation that directly benefits themselves.

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  1. What's wrong with Television, Bill O’Reilly,, Accessed 10 June 2015.
  2. Spain Regulation on TV Advertising, Laura Marcos and Cristina Mora,, Accessed 31 January 2018.
  3. Regulation of television advertising, Simon P. Anderson,,
    August 2005.
  4. Too Many Tv Commercials – What Is The Cause,, Accessed 30 January 2018.
  5. How Much TV Commercial Length has Grown over the Years:,,
    Accessed 30 January 2018.
  6. Consumer Drug Advertising Should Be Banned, Kurt Stange, The New York Times, 16 December 2015.


  1 February 2018 {Article 316; Whatever_59}    
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