Will we be seeing political adverts on our streaming services?

Mike Wright, Head of Communications

Posted on the 18th April 2024

ITV recently confirmed to the Guardian that it is considering allowing political ads on its ITVX streaming service.

At first glance, this may not seem like a huge development. Social media is already awash with political attack ads and will be again at the next election; is it really that different if they start popping up in the middle of binge-watching Broadchurch or Love Island?

A big shift in political advertising?

Yet, if ITV do start showing political ads on its streaming service it will signal a marked shift in the way we have run political campaigning in this country for almost 70 years. Since 1955, political parties have been banned from buying ads on TV and radio.

The idea behind this prohibition was partly to ensure that our political debate was not unduly influenced by how much political parties can spend. Parties were instead allocated free five-minute party-political broadcasts so they could speak to the voting public on a level playing field.

The legislation in this area is massively outdated

But the legislation that governs political advertising on TV and radio was last updated in 2003 and doesn’t cover the subsequent rise of streaming services, which has created a loophole political parties are reportedly now looking to exploit.

Another factor at play is that at this coming general election political parties will be able spend an unprecedented amount of money. Changes quietly pushed through by the government last year almost doubled the cap on the amount parties can spend to £35 million. In short, money is set to play a much bigger role in the coming general election than any other in recent history.

Heading into unchartered waters

The worrying element of this report is the risk that we head down a route where our political debate starts being shaped by parties exploiting loopholes in outdated legislation rather than by regulation that reflects the modern world.

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