New Delhi: Television broadcasters came down heavily on norms issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Monday that capped commercial breaks at 12 minutes per hour. The time will include that spent on channels’ in-house promotions.
Although the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act provides for the same advertising limit, Trai has tweaked the clause and banned drop-down advertisements as well as those that occupy a part of the screen. It has also specified that there should be at least a 15-minute gap between two commercial breaks in an hour-long programme. During the telecast of a feature film, a 30-minute gap must be maintained, Trai said.
The regulator’s rules are aimed at making the viewing experience less arduous and reining in the clutter on television screens. Some advertisers have welcomed the move for this reason, saying it will help ads stand out and keep viewers from switching channels.
But the change has not gone down well with channel owners, who say that Trai does not have the powers to issue such regulations as they fall under the purview of the ministry of information and broadcasting.
“Trai should focus on getting digitization implemented so that broadcasters can grow revenues from subscription,” said Uday Shankar, chief executive officer (CEO) of Star India Pvt. Ltd. “Regulations with respect to commercial time are already in place under the cable TV Act, and Trai has no jurisdiction over this. Trai should stay away from this.”
Shankar is also president of the Indian Broadcasting Foundation lobby group.
Bharat Patel, chairman of the Indian Society of Advertisers, agreed with Shankar. There was no reason for Trai to issue the regulations, he said.
In the Standards of Quality of Service Regulations, 2012, issued on Monday, Trai said, “Any shortfall of ad duration in any clock hour cannot be carried over.” During the live telecast of a sporting event, ads should only be carried during breaks in the sporting event, it said.
The part-screen and drop-down rule hit revenue, especially at sports channels that allow such ads and far exceed the current limit of 12 minutes per hour.
The new rules will lead to a cut of 15-20% in broadcasters’ commercial inventory, media-buying industry experts said.
“Most broadcasters of news and non-news channels will challenge the Trai regulation,” said Sunil Lulla, who is on the News Broadcasters Association board of directors and is managing director and CEO of Times Television Network, which runs the Times Now and ET Now channels.
A person familiar with the framing of the regulations was surprised by the broadcasters’ response.
He said Trai had issued a consultation paper on TV advertisements and had invited comments from various stakeholders to be submitted by 27 March. Trai had said that the consultation paper would lead to a proposal related to prescribing limits.
“So, this regulation should not come as a surprise to them. Currently, broadcasters follow the 12-minute rule in terms of an actual commercial break, but allow ads that scroll up and down the screen far exceeding the permissible limit in the process,” he said. “A three-hour movie screened on television is stretched over five hours,” said this person, adding that Trai will not backtrack simply because broadcasters have raised concerns.
The rules are aimed at improving the viewing experience, he said. “As a consumer, it is disturbing to watch the numerous advertisements between programmes,” the person added.
The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (Casbaa) lobby group had submitted its response to Trai’s consultation paper in March. It had said that few markets support the strict six-minute-per-hour limit for pay channels proposed by the consultation paper.
The person involved with the rule-drafting process cited earlier said that although Trai looked at regulations in other countries, it did not want to ape them. “The dynamics of television viewing in India is way different from most countries, and Trai has done the right thing by limiting commercial time. That is what our market needs,” the person said.
Some experts said the move may actually work in favour of consumers and advertisers. Although media agency executives expect the move to push up rates for commercial time, the curbs on inventory will also reduce clutter, helping advertisers, said a senior executive who declined to be identified.
Consumer durable firm Videocon Industries Ltd also welcomed Trai’s move for this reason.
“Shorter break period will offer marketers high-visibility impact as the clutter of ads will reduce,” said H.S. Bhatia, chief marketing officer at Videocon India. He added that this would also mean viewers will be less prone to switching channels, an advantage for advertisers.
Defending Trai’s move, the person involved with the regulation said the regulator has not capped ad rates. “What they charge is left to them,” he said.