When a television episode is played on TV, it often has many commercial breaks. When the same episode is transferred onto other formats, such as VHS, DVD, or streaming video, the commercial breaks are deleted. What remains is a very short period of black.

What special term can be used to refer to this place? The term "commercial break" is not so suitable, because my readers will not see any commercials and they might also not recognize that such a place once had a commercial. "Scene change" also does not seem to be a good fit, because many commercial breaks were places in the episodes in places that were not scene changes. Furthermore, scene changes can occur at other times in a film too. Does the television industry have a suitable term?

2 Answers 2


The spaces came to be called commercial breaks because traditionally each of those spaces was called a break (specifically an act break, and we'll see why in a moment). Eventually, when commercials were inserted into these breaks, it was logical to designate them as commercial breaks.

The spaces you see in the finished product actually correspond to the spaces between the "acts" of a television script, so called by adoption of the term from the acts of a stage play, and therefore these spaces are the "act breaks." Once the script is produced, the act breaks in the script wind up corresponding more or less to the spaces or gaps you see in the finished show. So the term you are looking for is act break.

If you want to get even more precise, you can number the act breaks by which act just ended, thus: "The act one break" occurs after the first act, and so on.

  • 1
    Neither AHD nor Collins endorse the use of 'act' for an 'inter-commercial' portion of a TV programme. Your use of scare quotes around 'acts' and 'act break' indicates that you think that these terms (or the usage for commercial-TV programmes) may be at least verging on non-standard. Have you an authority for 'So the full, accurate term for each of these breaks is "act break." '? Or is this really a jargon register? And does a programme shown on ITV say with 4 acts become a 1-act programme if shown on BBC? Aug 27, 2013 at 9:28
  • Even if your terminology were appropriate for plays, films, etc., (& I agree with @EdwinAshworth that it does seem so), it can't apply to quiz shows, discussion progs, etc. where there are no 'acts'. In fact, we have the opposite problem, in that we often watch repeats of progs that were originally broadcast on BBC with no breaks, and are now broadcast on a commercial channel with breaks. The breaks are often abrupt and clearly not at an 'acting break', thus demonstrating that "act break" is not appropriate.
    – TrevorD
    Aug 27, 2013 at 11:21
  • +1. Act break is an industry term, but you'll find it in popular media.
    – choster
    Aug 27, 2013 at 15:53
  • @EdwinAshworth My quotation marks are traditional, not scare quotes. I am not calling the terms into question. I am demonstrating that "act" is adopted from the stage into the jargon of scriptwriting, so that even though a segment of a show might not be quite equivalent to an act of a play, it is considered an act of a TV show. In the same way, we might have to stretch the term to fit segments of quiz shows, etc., as in Trevor's examples. I haven't an authority for this, but I assure you it is standard. It's in the screenwriting books. Working in the industry, we call it that. Aug 27, 2013 at 18:17
  • @TrevorD And I'll add this comment to ensure each of you will see I appreciate your excellent comments, as well as to point out that I will edit my answer to refine it in response to your observations. Thank you. Aug 27, 2013 at 18:18

One term (some would say euphemism) is natural break.

On 25 May 2009 at Senate Estimates, the Greens spokesperson for Communications, Senator Scott Ludlam questioned the Managing Director of SBS, Mr Shaun Brown as to how the broadcaster could justify forcing breaks into programs that were never intended to be interrupted. BBC programs and cinema release movies were the examples cited.

Brown took exception to the expression that SBS had forced breaks into these or any programs. However he did admit that SBS interrupted programs that were never produced for commercial breaks. Brown insisted that SBS only had natural breaks which is permissible under the SBS Act. However the Act does not define natural breaks, so under their Codes SBS invented their own Guidelines. The SBS definition has never been tested in the Courts.

Save Our SBS, Sunday, 7 June, 2009

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