Is ITV being too greedy by cramming ads into top series Downton Abbey?

Downton Abbey is one of those ‘prestige’ costume drama series beloved of the BBC and ITV programme boss Peter Fincham (formerly controller of BBC1) must have been very pleased to line up Gosford Park writer Julian Fellowes to write and direct this Sunday night series for the commercial network.

But some viewers are already complaining that ITV stuffed so many ads into Downton Abbey’s allotted hour that the programme, despite an all-star cast headed by grand dame Maggie Smith, was spoilt. The show won an audience of 7.7m.

The rules say that ITV can carry a maximum average seven minutes of advertising an hour through the day with an average of eight minutes in peak-time, 6pm to 11. But in any one peak-time hour it can carry up to 12 minutes as long as the peak-time average is adhered to.

So, by the looks of it, viewers of other peak-time programmes around Downton Abbey might have been wondering where all the ads were.

ITV will be in real trouble if it’s shown that it exceeded 12 minutes during the programme. But advertisers, who included Aviva, Marks & Spencer and Go Compare will hardly be pleased to discover that viewers of their doubtless expensive offerings were saying, “not another bloody ad.”

ITV has consistently shot itself in the foot by doing this over the years. Its Champion’s League football coverage is spoilt by cramming in so many ads on top of the interminable sponsorship bumpers that its expensive panel of experts barely have time to be introduced before the station cuts away again.

ITV CEO Adam Crozier will doubtless be telling an unhappy Fincham this morning that the station is in business to give advertisers what they want. But not at any price.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.