China ad ban in TV dramas has advertisers and agencies scratching their heads

Chinese regulator the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (Sarft) is to ban ads during TV dramas from January, collecting them in blocks between programmes as is the case in South Korea. Sarft says that removing ad will “ensure the integrity and coherence of the TV plots and conform to the public interests and aspirations.”

The point of the move is supposedly to boost the attraction of TV against the competing charms of the internet (which the Chinese authorities don’t like at all) although the move may have precisely the opposite effect, costing Chinese TV broadcasters up to $3bn according to some estimates and directing a stream of revenue to online film and video streaming services.

It’s possible of course that something has been lost in translation here, some reports refer to banning ads during ‘cultural’ programmes which may well not include all TV dramas.

But the news will alarm many marketers and their creative and media agencies who depend on Chinese TV exposure to lead their marketing efforts in the booming country (in the case of agencies their revenues will presumably be hammered).

Not that long ago so-called ‘ad blocks’ were the norm in mainland Europe but the rules were relaxed as both advertisers and broadcasters argued that they didn’t work, viewers just switched off or changed channels and the overall TV audience was far less than it might have been.

We may receive further elucidation about what China’s Sarft really intends before the January ad switch-off deadline.

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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.