Bangalore: The strictures of Karnataka’s Election Commission (EC) during the state’s legislative assembly elections, which ended on Thursday, could have been the main reason why Kannada television channels did not make big bucks from political advertising.

Since EC had banned the display of banners, buntings, posters and cut-outs, local TV channels were hoping to cash in on the political parties’ need to reach out to voters. “Advertising revenue is down 60% this time, compared with the 2004 state elections, due to the strict rules laid down by EC. With every single TV ad going under the scanner, advertising wasn’t easy," said G. Velayudhan, marketing manager of Sun Network’s Udaya TV.

The number of political ads made during electioneering this time also declined, Velayudhan said. “If they made 10 ads last time, they made only two this time," he said, but declined to disclose Sun Network’s earnings from such ads.

Clifford Perreira, director at TV9 Network, said the channel’s ad revenue was up a negligible 10% during the 15 days of political campaigning on TV. “Politicians cut down on their advertising budget this time, and one of the reasons was the various limits imposed on advertising campaigns."

Ad revenue figures provided by Zee Kannada channel show it earned Rs30 lakh from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rs16 lakh from the Congress party, and Rs15 lakh from Janata Dal (Secular). “We have got far less business than other channels like Udaya, which got an ad revenue of Rs75 lakh from a single political party. The nature of advertising, with ads having to be pre-screened by EC, also curtailed business to some extent," said Siddhappa Kaloji, news coordinator with Zee Kannada.

Political parties, however, say they spent as much, if not more, on ads in this year’s elections. “This time, advertisements in the electronic and print media were more because we could not use banners or buntings. We could reach voters only through these ads," said Suresh Kumar, the BJP spokesman in Karnataka. The BJP spent around Rs2 crore on such ads, said a party official, who did not want to be named. Kumar said the rules for advertising were viewed as stringent only because local election officials did not understand them properly. “This has been the first election (with such stringent rules) and, in the coming days, election officers will get used to it."

Kumar said a TV ad by his party was censored by the state EC because it referred to the Congress party and the Centre on price rise and inflation. The party was finally allowed to air the ad after the Election Commission of India cleared it.

V.S. Ugrappa, a spokesman for the Congress party in Karnataka, said the number of TV commercials went up, though he added that such ads do not win votes. “While commercials might have entertainment value, people would not vote merely after seeing an ad on TV or a newspaper," he said. Ugrappa did not say how much his party spent on TV ads.

Even as political parties advertised to an extent, individual candidates stayed away, unlike in the past, the channels say. While no limit is set for a political party’s expenses on electioneering, according to section 77 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, individual candidates can only spend up to Rs10 lakh for campaigning. “With this limit, most candidates preferred to give gifts to attract voters rather than advertise on TV," said A.R. Arun Kumar, manager at ETV Kannada.