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More TV viewers could be driven to the internet under new Ofcom proposals that would allow longer and more frequent commercial breaks.

The communications watchdog has released a consultation in response to last year's EU Audiovisual Directive, which aims to harmonise television regulation across the bloc.

At present rules mean ITV1, Channel 4 and Five - the commercial channels carrying a public service obligation - can show an average of seven minutes of advertising per hour. The distribution of advertising is also restricted to one per half-hour programme and two per hour-long programme, with a minimum of 20 minutes between.

Under Ofcom's proposed changes, the UK restrictions on the timing of commercials would be dropped. It would mean two breaks in a half-hour show instead of one. It's thought that some broadcasters would adopt an American model, where adverts are shown immediately after the opening credits.

Another change would mean films could be interrupted every 30 minutes, rather than the current 45-minute minimum.

More controversially, Ofcom is also considering allowing commercial public service broadcasters to increase the overall amount of advertising. In a statement today, the watchdog said: "Ofcom recognises the possible concerns of viewers about the amount and intrusiveness of television advertising and particularly welcomes their views.

"On the other hand, Ofcom must also take account of the contribution made by advertising revenue to paying for the choice of television services that viewers enjoy."

Commerical broadcasters have pushed hard for the changes as their revenues fall in response to the rise of the web. How they believe they can swerve the laws of supply and demand long term by selling more time in front of fewer viewers, to the same advertisers, is a mystery.

You can respond to the consultation here. ®

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