Ad-Caps: How The World Views It
Too many ads. For TV channels, it’s healthy sustenance; for viewers, more distraction than they can take. For once, the authorities had foreseen the problem: for six years, nestling amongst the many clauses of the Cable Networks Regulation Act, a clause restricting the extent of advertisements on TV channels lay almost unnoticed. No one cared about its implementation. High TRPs (television rating points) brought more ads and more revenue. Business soared. Then in May, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) told broacasters to follow the rule, which said no more than 10 minutes of advertising per hour of programme content. To this was added two minutes for ads promoting the channel itself or its programmes. In effect, no more than 12 minutes of advertisement per hour.
Viewers may have felt relieved, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. It comes right in the middle of an economic crisis: rising prices, job losses, prospects of worse ahead. Of these troubles the media too has had its share of battering, and the 12-minute limit could cut into TV channels’ revenues.
But does TRAI have the mandate to regulate advertisements? It does, via an order: it was sometime in January ’04 that the Union ministry of communication and information technology notified an order bringing broadcasting service and cables services under the ambit of TRAI. The regulator was also tasked with making recommendations for regulating advertising time on channels. And it is this regulation that has come to bite the news channels more than entertainment channels.
Says K.V.L. Narayan Rao, president of the News Broadcasters Association and executive vice-chairman of NDTV, “The cap on advertising may be part of the Act, but the scene now is vastly different. News channels in particular are reeling under high carriage fees, their ad rates are not going up. We are not saying give us grants. We are just saying: allow us to function.”
Officials in TRAI take care to clarify that they are not in the business of regulating content. “Advertising falls outside the ambit of programming and this in no way amounts to content control,” officials say. They also point out that the cap was framed after an assurance from the broadcasting industry that it would abide by the limits set. It was only when it did not that TRAI decided to crack the whip.
Says Raj Nayak, CEO, Colours Viacom 18, “In the long run, from a broadcaster’s point of view, I think 12 minutes ad time per hour is a good thing. However, I believe that just like a sunset date was set for digitisation, a sunset date should be set for broadcasters to reduce paid inventory in phases—to come down to 12 minutes over the next 24-30 months, during which all phases of digitisation are completed and the industry gets a fair share of subscription revenue.”
When this question is asked of TRAI officials, most of them clarify that it is not their intention to make life difficult for broadcasters. “This was being implemented in a phased manner as requested by the broadcasters themselves. It is the broadcasters who suggested that from July 1, entertainment channels would implement a cap of 16 minutes, while news channels would implement a 20-minute cap. It is only when they didn’t comply that we took them to court. And it’s the worst offenders who were taken to court,” officials said. In TRAI parlance, the “worst offenders” were those who had the maximum violations of the 12-minute rule. TRAI also says decisions were arrived at in open consulation with broadcasters; there was no suddenness.
Yet, TRAI straightaway hauled offenders to court. Cases were lodged against 14 channels, including Zoom, Zee News, Aaj Tak among others. The US and the UK and many other countries have 12 minutes per hour ad caps. And while there is no denying that ad clutter can be annoying, the standoff between TRAI and news broadcasters is likely to last a while. With the economy showing no sign of mending, the uncertainty will not go away in a hurry—like the ads.
Apropos of A Dozen Minutes to Learn (Sep 16), in these hard recessionary times when one searches for editorial content amidst 'spotlight' features in news magazines, no one should grudge news channels the ad revenue that is still flowing to them.
Ashok Lal, Mumbai
Self-regulation does not yield results in India. Especially in this age, when TV channels are run purely for commercial purposes. So since advertising is a necessary evil, perhaps we should allot a fixed time for it.
Mahesh Kapasi, Delhi
In these hard recessionary times, when one searches for editorial content amidst Impact features in newsmagazines, no one should grudge news channels the ad revenue that is still flowing to them.
The Act should also apply to newspaper and magazines. No more than 20% of the print space of the newspapers/maganzines should be filled with advertisements.
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