MxMIndia Comment: Let market forces decide ad duration

21 Mar,2012

By Pradyuman Maheshwari


There is no denying that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has done some splendid work in the world of telecom. It’s also done its homework well on the recommendations for digitized delivery of broadcast signals. The sunset dates (especially for the four metros) are very ambitious, but TRAI is determined to cleanse the system, and this could well help do that.


However, there are some areas where TRAI has failed, and come up with outlandish recommendations. For instance, its advisory that only All India Radio news feeds be used on FM private radios. It’s bizarre. When all and sundry players are allowed to air news on television – via satellite and cable, why not have news on radio? I believe that radiowallahs are also to blame for this delay and somewhere the fact that most of them are also in television and print is impacting pushing this agenda.


Then there’s the issue of cross-ownership. I am aware of the problems that owning various media has, but just following what was implemented in developed nations eons ago is not right. Also, strategic tie-ups between media groups can happen to ensure that they further their collective agenda. An example being of Star and Zee getting together to set up distribution arm MediaPro.


The newest in TRAI’s proposals which has now asked stakeholders to present views is on the duration and display of ads on channels. Surely we knew that the TRAI was working on it, but the timing was interesting. It’s happening at the end of a tough fiscal, but more importantly, the industry bodies have matured in their outlook and are taking necessary steps to get their acts together (like they did on self-regulation). So why not ask the IBF and NBA to get together and deliberate?


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But the issue here is different, should the government really get into the act of regulating ad durations and displays? Let market forces decide (see video alongside where Sunil Lulla, Times TV Network CEO and VP, IBF and NBA board member, advocates the same to my colleague Shruti Pushkarna on the sidelines of the CASBAA convention yesterday). We have already had several instances when broadcasters have dropped ads to up viewership and ratings. Ad breaks on films have been tweaked much to achieve this. I am sure all sports channels know that they can’t play around with the amount of screenspace ads take because it impacts the viewer experiences. News channels go without a break for hours whenever they are pursuing a huge story.


More than regulations, market forces will help decide all of this. The government must have as much, say, in the matter of ad duration as it has in, say, a Hindustan Lever’s pricing of Dove soap. Tracking the policies in other countries makes for good reading, but is not necessarily a good idea. Broadcasters have appointed top marketing and research talent to think through this. Let them do their jobs… they know what’s good for their channels and their viewers.


The problem is that the Indian public doesn’t like to pay for content. They wouldn’t mind paying a few hundred rupees per head on going to the cinema for the movies, but will hesitate to pay even 1/10th that for a month’s subscription of a pay movie channel. Broadcasters are largely to blame for this, but that doesn’t mean that they need to pay so heavily for their mistakes.


The damage is not done yet. I am certain that all stakeholders will damn the proposals and ensure that these regressive policies don’t come in to being.


MxMIndia opposes them, and recommends a liberal broadcast regime. Let market forces rule.


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