Mumbai: It may be a dull Diwali for advertisers betting big on television channels for promotions. Viewers who do not switch from analogue to digital cable before October 31 in the four metros—Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai; and there will be some who don’t make the shift in time— will not be able to see their favourite shows or the advertisements that ride on them.

Under a new law, the government has made it mandatory for cable operators to deliver only digital signals that can be accessed through a set-top box. Advertising agencies that buy media for advertisers are feeling a bit lost as they estimate total television viewership to drop by about 15% to 20%. According to estimates by media buying executives, the four metros account for around a fifth of the 148 million television households in India. And according to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, which also oversees the cable business, as of last month, 32% of the households in the metros were yet to move to digital cable systems.

Basabdutta Chowdhury, chief executive of Platinum Media, a division of Madison Group said the picture is grim for advertisers; 100% digitization may be hard to achieve from day one, beginning November 1, there may be loss of viewership, she added.

Senior executives from top media buying companies say that television broadcasters have not given any clarity on how they intend to deal with advertising and advertisers. They are miffed that the Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) will suspend its subscription to viewership data in the four metro, albeit temporarily, from TAM Media Research. TAM is a research company that measures television audiences.

“Advertisers have committed large spends on big ticket properties such as Bigg Boss, KBC.... What happens to the money that has been invested is unclear, given that we pay on cost per (television) rating point," said Mona Jain, chief executive of VivaKi Exchange, which buys media for the clients of Starcom MediaVest Group and ZenithOptimedia.

Buyers say it isn’t as if advertisers can stop advertising. “It is the festive season when most advertisers build momentum. We cannot advise our clients to pull out spends during this time," added Jain.

Traditionally, marketers rollout their festival campaigns 8 to 10 weeks prior to the season, and step up activity during the last two weeks.

One option open to buyers is to alert advertisers. “We have warned clients about the volatility expected in viewership in the initial weeks of November," said Nandini Dias, chief operating officer, LodeStar Universal, an agency that buys media for clients.

Another is to evaluate alternatives, including renegotiation of rates—the status of which is unclear according to Madison’s Chowdhury—or finding other ways to reach audiences.

Print is expensive, said VivaKi’s Jain, and newspapers will likely increase rates to cash in.

Broadcasters don’t seem amenable to renegotiating rates.

“We will not encourage re-negotiating of ad rates. Advertisers have the choice of advertising with a channel or not," said Rohit Gupta, president-network sales, Multi Screen Media Pvt Ltd, company that runs Sony Entertainment Television among others. Sunil Lulla, managing director and chief executive of Times Television Network agreed, added that the shift to digital was for the benefit of the industry. An executive at Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd claimed that the shift to digital would unearth viewers who weren’t previously being reported.

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