Neil McNicholas: I'll be back after this lengthy break...

IS it just me, or are the commercial breaks (the 'adverts') during television programmes becoming more frequent and longer?

Is there too much advertising on television?

Having lived in the United States I’m quite familiar with how often their programmes (or rather programs) are interrupted by adverts: ridiculously and very annoyingly often. And, of course, the problem is an hour-long American programme is only about 45 minutes without the commercial breaks and so our broadcasters have to pad them out if they insist on scheduling them for an hour. And so our programmes are becoming equally littered with adverts, or the standard breaks are becoming longer.

One of the worst offenders in this country is the UKTV organisation. You can switch on any of their channels at random and the odds are that they will be in the middle of adverts. It really doesn’t matter when you switch on or switch over, or what other things you decide to do first, when you do, or when you eventually do, there’ll be adverts on. Try it for yourself. You may even be able to find a bookie who will take odds!

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At least the main terrestrial commercial channels are fairly consistent with their advertising: a 30 minute programme will have one break at the 15 minute mark, and an hour-long programme will have either two breaks 20 minutes apart, or three at 15 minute intervals. But some of the cable companies seem to schedule so many that it’s more a case of the programme interrupting the adverts!

It’s at least one good thing that you can say about the BBC: that there are no adverts – at least not commercial ones, though it continues to trail its own programmes endlessly, and that can be pretty annoying at times. As much as I disagree with having to fund the Beeb by law, I would never advocate that it went commercial. If it was funded by subscriptions and donations like PBS in the States, it could still continue to do what it does but without resorting to advertising. If nothing else, that would get my vote.

If you are trying to watch something on UKTV’s ‘Gold’, ‘Alibi’, ‘Drama’, or ‘Yesterday’ channels you will be constantly bombarded with adverts, and also not only trails for their own programmes but the same ones over and over and over ad nauseam. So let’s say you have tolerated the adverts, or just come back from answering the call of nature or from making a cup of tea, what you hoped was the last advert won’t actually be the last advert at all because now you will have endure three or four programme trails – and no doubt all the same ones you saw just ten minutes ago – before they’ll let you get back to the programme you were watching before.

And, of course, the other problem with UKTV is that they schedule the commercial breaks at the same time on each channel, so if you try to escape them by switching channels for a couple of minutes, they’ll be in the middle of adverts on all the others too, so there’s no getting away from them.

Even if you try to escape to Sky, for example, they are almost as bad. Switch to Sky News – adverts; switch to Sky Sports – adverts. And if you try something completely different and switch to the BBC News channel to find out what’s going on in the world, you can bet your life it will be time for Business News – which isn’t really news at all.

Ultimately there are two things that you can do. The first is to switch off completely, but then why should you have to when the Government has forced you to pay the licence fee so you can switch on? The other is to turn down the sound so you don’t have to suffer the inane soundtrack to the adverts (or to the promos). Come to think of it there is another option, and that is to record whatever you want to watch and then play it back later when you have the glorious freedom to fast forward the commercial breaks, or watch everything on “catch-up” when you can do the same.

I like to pride myself on the fact that while I may occasionally find one or two of the adverts amusing enough to voluntarily watch them, I’m not at all influenced by adverts and so the millions of pounds that are spent on producing them and paying for air time, are completely wasted on me. Having said that, when I find my enjoyment of programmes being decimated by unwanted advertising, I would refuse to buy those products anyway just to get my own back – not that they would know, but I would.

Father Neil McNicholas is a parish priest in Yarm.