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A fractured ad cap mandate dawns

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MUMBAI:  Who ever thought a cap could generate such a lot of brouhaha? The TRAI’s ad cap, which comes into effect from 1 October, has fractured the industry. The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) and most of its members have taken a decision to follow the TRAI’s mandate on limiting air time per hour to 12 minutes to ensure good quality of service and viewing experience to Indian TV viewers.

Zee TV, Colors and Star Plus, according to company executives, have decided to follow TRAI’s diktaat. But the breakaway is Sony Entertainment Television that says it will continue booking commercials as before, beyond the 12 minute limit. That is a bold stance by its CEO Man Jit Singh if there was any, and it has totally confused one and all.

Star India, sources say is insisting on implementing its ad rate hike following its adhering to the air time restrictions, something which advertisers such as Levers, Reckitt Benckeiser, among others have been resisting. In fact, the Indian Society of Advertisers has accused the broadcasters of being in breach of contract.

Broadcasters have in turn stated that they are only following and complying with TRAI’s mandate. “The situation is quite confrontationist,” says a media veteran.

Zee TV on its part has stated that it will adhere to TRAI’s order but has been relatively flexible on its ad rate revision, if one goes by unconfirmed reports.

What has probably prompted Man Jit to take his decision is the fact that both the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and a bunch of music channels have got reprieves on toeing the ad cap line from the TDSAT.  While the NBA got a stay against the TRAI order in August allowing them to continue operating status quo till the next hearing on 11 November, the music channels too got relief when the appellate tribunal gave them the same leeway till the next hearing on 21 October. The Sun Network too filed a petition with the TDSAT last week, the outcome of which is awaited, at the time of writing.

“Sony Entertainment Television has done its legal homework and believes that whatever decisions have been taken against the TRAI ad cap is extendible to all channels and genres. It has also got some strong properties like KBC for which it has signed deals. Additionally, the Star and Zee group have enough inventory available to sell to advertisers, thanks to the number of strong existing and new channels in their portfolios,” says a media observer.

“We are waiting for the outcome of the hearings on 21 October and 11 November before acting on the ad cap mandate,” says Sony Entertainment president Rohit Gupta.

Advertising Agencies Association of India president Arvind Sharma believes that the parachute which was provided to news and music channels by TDSAT is applicable to the entire broadcast sector. Says he: “The TDSAT has said that ad cap cannot be implemented and no action will be taken against anyone. AAAI fully supports it.”

However, a highly placed source at the IBF confirmed that the law will kick in from tomorrow and how it will play out is for everyone to guess. “There is no doubt that confusion still prevails,” he says.

Some such as Discovery Networks have not been impacted by the ad cap at all. Says senior vice-president & GM south Asia and head of revenue, pan regional ad sales and south east Asia Rahul Johri,  “We telecast international programming with varying lengths and varying break patterns, and we have always followed the 12 minutes advertising cap. So this does not change anything for us.”

Some speciality channels such as FoodFood have decided to walk the 12 minute ad line as the threat of criminal charges for violators is proving a major deterrent, says a source.

An IBF member gives a perspective on the ad cap clap trap. Says he “There are two scenarios: IBF members comply with TRAI’s order. Then let’s say the TDSAT quashes the rights of TRAI on this issue on 21 October or 11 November. The ruling will be valid for everyone and every broadcaster (even those who have decided to comply with 12 minute ad cap) can go back to the old system.   In the second scenario, news and music channels lose the case in TDSAT. They can approach the Supreme Court for succor. Then let’s say the Supreme Court puts a stay on the ad cap, then it will be back to as the world was operating before this ad cap announcement by TRAI.”

Apparently, it seems that we have not heard the last of it as yet!

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