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UK TV Advertising Laws

Watching the adverts during your favourite TV show has long just been a fact of life. Even with the rise of streaming services like Netflix, Disney+ and Apple TV, we’re likely all consuming hundreds of TV adverts per year.

Of course, advertising and promotion is carefully regulated, and there are laws about what can be advertised, when it can be promoted, and how often we should be consuming ads. We’ve broken down some of the main TV advertising laws to explain how your ad breaks are made.

Who regulates UK TV advertising?

In the UK, adverts are regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA is an independent regulator that keeps an eye on adverts across all kinds of media to ensure rules are being followed. 

The ASA took over reviewing broadcast (radio and TV) advertising from Ofcom in 2004, though Ofcom still has overall control over standards across advertising and works in a co-regulatory relationship with the ASA.

The ‘rules’ in question are the Advertising Codes, which are set by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). Both the CAP and the ASA work to regulate adverts “in a way that is transparent, proportionate, targeted, evidence based, consistent and accountable.”

How many adverts are allowed on TV?

According to Ofcom’s rules on the amount of advertising allowed, no more than seven minutes of adverts per hour of broadcasting are allowed in any one day on channels 3-5 (public broadcasting channels). On these channels, there are two periods where up to eight minutes are allowed: 6pm-11pm and 7am-9am. 

For other channels and platforms, advertising is limited to 15%, or no more than nine minutes per hour. There are extra rules that mean teleshopping spots can have an additional three minutes per hour. 

Ofcom reviewed these rules in 2023 and decided not to remove the stricter restrictions on the amount of advertising allowed on public channels. 

Overall, in any given hour of television there should be no more than 12 minutes of advertising. TV ad breaks can’t be longer than three minutes and 50 seconds. For short TV shows (those that last 21-44 minutes, only one ad break is allowed.

What are the rules for adverts on UK TV?

In general, here are some of the main rules and advertising laws in the UK:

  • Claims about products have to be true, and benefits cannot be exaggerated
  • Adverts must not cause serious or widespread offence
  • Adverts must not cause harm (physical, moral or mental) to society’s vulnerable or children
  • Adverts that might be inappropriate for younger viewers must be scheduled post-watershed (9pm)
  • Any adverts that make medical or health claims must be backed by scientific evidence
  • There are specific sections of the BCAP code that regulate adverts about food, financial products, charities, lotteries, alcohol, pornography, motoring and other categories.

Source: Legal Aspects of TV and Radio Advertising

What is the watershed?

The watershed in advertising is the period from 9pm until 5:30am. Before the 9pm cutoff, there are strict rules about what sort of advertising and broadcast material can be shown. The watershed is designed to protect children and the vulnerable from viewing any inappropriate or harmful material. 

Harmful or unsuitable material might include things like violence, sexual activity, offensive language or graphic scenes.

If you have any questions about UK TV advertising laws or rules, let us know in the comments.

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