After 56 years, the personalised ad break is here

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The Independent Culture

It is time for a commercial break and a single, male viewer watches adverts for grooming products and racy sports cars. The family next door, though, glued to the same programme, is tempted instead by package holidays and a new people carrier.

Broadcasters are to introduce advertisements tailored to the personal tastes of individual viewers by using information gathered from postcodes, viewing preferences and customer research. The move is designed to halt the drift from television to the internet.

BSkyB is trialling a scheme called AdSmart in which adverts will be stored on customers' Sky+HD set-top boxes and transmitted during "live" viewing, ending the traditional "one size fits all" advert break. It aims to roll out the scheme to viewers next year.

However there are fears that "addressable advertising" could be an invasion of privacy and aggravate viewers. BSkyB promised that its 10 million subscribers would receive targeted adverts only with their permission.

Television advertisers are fighting to maintain influence over consumers who are used to receiving a range of targeted advertising responses each time they place a keyword search into Google. An estimated 50 per cent of all advertising spend is wasted, and agencies that buy television advertising space are supporting BSkyB's initiative in the belief that more relevant commercials might prevent viewers' channel-hopping during breaks.

A BSkyB spokesman said: "A single, male might see an advert for a Mondeo but the family next door could see an ad for a people carrier. We could deliver localised ads, so you might see one for the Ford dealership in your area. And we can update ad campaigns. If viewers record a programme at Christmas, we could replace all those Boxing Day furniture sales adverts when the programme is played a month later."

BSkyB added that it would not target customers by analysing which programmes individual viewers watch, nor would it buy in data about their purchasing habits.

The media giant hopes to avoid the controversy that engulfed BT when it employed a system that tracked the internet habits of its customers in order to target them with relevant advertising. Condemned as online snooping, the system was dropped in 2009.

Sky's competitors are also pursuing personalised services. Virgin Media has developed a set-top box that enables up to eight different users, and their viewing tastes, to be identified. The new Virgin TiVo box recommends programmes and films to viewers on the basis of their past choices.