Television

TRAI ad cap: Why news channels want concessions?

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MUMBAI: News channels have been rather miffed with TRAI's ruling that advertising air time should be restricted to just 12 minutes per hour. And they have been seeking some succor from government. Two weeks ago they got a lifeline when the Telecom Disputes Settlement Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) allowed them to appeal against the TRAI mandate.

And apparently, if sources are to be believed that appeal was filed with the TDSAT today, the hearing for which will be on 19 September.

"In a democracy you have the legal right to approach the court against injustice and that is what we are doing," says one of the broadcasters who wished to remain unnamed.

Certain issues that news providers are grappling with are high carriage fees, falling advertising revenues, an unfavourable economy and low subscription rates. These have already nearly crippled the broadcast news industry with all of them being forced to cut back ad time per hour to 20 minutes from 1 July.

Those in the know say the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) perspective is that other genres can cope with the ad restriction better because their shows are pre-produced. News-based and news-oriented shows which are live are unpredictable.

"In news, generally there are discussions. What will we do if a discussion ends a minute early or a minute late?" asks the news broadcasting executive. "Sometimes, news channels cover incidents without even a break. In such cases, it puts a lot of strain on news channels as they either violate the rule or fall short of fulfilling it. Also in the case of natural disasters where death has occurred we find it difficult to carry advertising. And this could continue for days. What about the loss of air time then?"

Lowering of advertising air time will work better in a digitised cable TV universe, is the news broadcasters view, as substantial subscription revenues will kick in (most news channels run as free to air services now) and carriage fees will drop to almost zilch. But that is in the future, they say, as digitisation has still some way to go nationally and has happened in only a limited number of cities.

"We had asked TDSAT to phase it out in such a way that it comes into effect at the same time that digitisation takes place in the country," says another broadcaster.

Sources indicate that TRAI is unlikely to relent on allowing any increases in air time as chairman Rahul Khullar is pretty clear that quality of services is something which is the regulator's responsibility. But they add that one area where he may give concessions is when round the clock news reportage is forced upon news channels by natural or manmade disasters or events.

"We believe there has been an informal agreement with the TRAI agreeing to the news broadcasters' demands that if they don't consume the air time within the day because of live coverage they will be allowed to consume it in the next 24 hours," says a source."Now that has to be written into law."

It's over to the two Ts - TDSAT and TRAI - now.

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