Trai brings ad regulation ghost back to haunt broadcasters again

NEW DELHI: Turning the heat on broadcasters again, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has notified the Standards of Quality of Service (Duration of Advertisement in Television Channels) after watering down the amended version of the ad regulation.

The main regulation was issued on 14 May last year that had the broadcasters up in arms. The matter finally reached Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (Tdsat) with the broadcasters getting interim relief in the form of a stay.

The amended ad regulation has done away with contentious clauses by keeping a standardised ad duration at 12 minutes on clock hour basis for all channels as stated under the advertising code of the Cable Television Networks Rules (CTNR) 1994.

As per the advertising code, no programme shall carry advertisements exceeding 12 minutes per hour, which may include up to 10 minutes per hour of commercial advertisements, and up to 2 minutes per hour of a channel’s self-promotional programmes.

The advertising code among other things also states that “all advertisement should be clearly distinguishable from the programme and should not in any manner interfere with the programme use of lower part of screen to carry captions, static or moving alongside the programme”.

The authority has also defined clock hour in the amended regulation. “The clock hour means a period of sixty minutes commencing from 00.00 of an hour and ending at 00.60 of that hour,” Trai said in the notification.

While refusing to bow down under pressure from broadcasters, the Trai has also tried to pacify them by doing away or moderating certain clause from its earlier version in March.

Some of the provisions that have been done away with include: (i) advertisements should be carried only during breaks in live sporting action, (ii) time gap between consecutive advertisement sessions should be of minimum 30 minutes in case of movies and 15 minutes otherwise excluding sporting events and (iii) no part screen or drop-down advertisements should be permitted etc.

In order to minimise other breaks during certain live sporting events, in which natural breaks either occur after relatively long periods or there are no natural breaks such as F1 races, part screen advertisements should be allowed, the Trai said.

It also said that “the “part screen” and “drop down” advertisements are integral forms of advertising and statutory rules already exist under the Cable TV Act to regulate the format and duration of advertisements that may be carried on television channels and the regulations are beyond the purview of Trai and in conflict with the provisions of rule 7 of the CTNR 1994”.

The watered down version will also not go down well with broadcasters who are already bearing the brunt of of ad slowdown. It wouldn‘t be surprising if the matter ends up in the court again.

The Trai contends that it is not bringing a new regulation; rather it is just implementing an existing one under the CTNR 1994 act. It also affirmed that regulating the duration of ads on television channels is the need of the hour in the interest of the consumers.

The authority has alleged that most channels are in ‘brazen breach’ of the advertising code contained in the CTNR 1994.

It has based its action on a report by I&B ministry’s Electronic Media Monitoring Centre (EMMC) that validated the rampant breach of permitted duration of advertisements in an hour by a large number of TV channels.

Unperturbed by the allegations that it is overstepping the line, the Trai asserts that it has the power to define the term “quality of service” and lay down its standard and ensure its compliance.

“Therefore, Trai has made these regulations to effectively monitor the duration of advertisement and to ensure that the broadcasters comply with the legislation in this regard,” it said in the notification.

In order to monitor and ensure compliance of these regulations, broadcasters are now mandated to report the duration of advertisements carried in their channels to the Trai on quarterly basis in a prescribed proforma.

The authority also warned that it would by order or direction issued from time to time, intervene for the purpose of protecting the interests of the subscribers or for ensuring compliance of the provisions of these regulations.

The Trai amended the ad regulation following the Tdsat ruling that directed the authority to take stakeholders into confidence before implementing the ad regulation. The Trai issued a consultation paper on 27 August asking all stakeholders to give their responses which was followed by open house discussion.

During the consultation process, the broadcasters contended that the ad regulation would result in fall in advertisement revenue. It was also mentioned that the restriction on advertisement duration would result in sharp increase in subscription charges.

Some of the broadcasters suggested that the said regulations should be implemented after the completion of Digital Addressable System (DAS) in December 2014 or it should not be regulated on clock hour basis; instead it should be regulated on an average basis, averaged over a period of 24 hour.

However, the Trai feels that if the ad duration is calculated on average basis the broadcasters will push more and more advertisements during prime time which attracts the highest number of eyeballs, to fetch higher rates for the commercial time slots.

Some of the broadcasters were also of the view that sports channels merit different treatment. Live telecasts other than sports should also be treated at par with live sporting events.

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