Shailesh Kapoor: Is the ad cap a blessing in disguise?

17 May,2013

By Shailesh Kapoor


There has been enough written and spoken about TRAI playing corporate police and setting guidelines that define break durations and other promotional dos and don’ts that channels must adhere to.


I find most of TRAI’s ideas fairly well-intentioned (though some, like not allowing entertainment channels to use on-screen promotions, border on unreasonable extremes). But their execution has a ring of policing, which is never a good idea in any industry, let alone one reeling under the pressure of slow policy-making and implementation over years.


If the 10+2 cap comes into force, many channels will lose upto 60% of their commercial inventory. This itself should have been reason enough to approach the issue in a more inclusive manner. It takes no rocket science to discover that if an industry loses about half its saleable produce to a policy, it will react adversely. Hope we see the end of this policy tangle in months, than in years!


But if I remove the baggage of TRAI and its ways from the discussion, I find great merit in the idea of ad cap. There is a mathematical proof that many have shared, including columnists on this website, whereby the linkage between reduction in inventory and increase in ad rates has been well-articulated.


But my argument comes more in the capacity of being a voice of the consumer. It operates on the simple premise that any pro-consumer move works well for a business or an industry in the long run.


In our researches back in 2008, certain genres had managed to create deep consumer disenchantment because of the poor viewing experience as a result of “too many ads”. Interestingly, over the last five years, this articulation has faded away. Complaint has given way to cynicism, where consumers have taken unreasonable ad time on television in their stride, using the remote as the potent weapon.


What does this do? Many things, including:

01. Movies (except premieres) are watched by segment. A 15-minute session on a running film is good enough.

02. Prime time sees dual viewing (of two programmes on one TV set) in many households. There is a “main programme” and a “breakwalla programme”. Heavy viewers are experts on break-matching patterns today, e.g. “Uttaran aur Pyaar Ka Dard ka break hamesha clash hota hai”, said with great dejection, for it robs her of the opportunity to watch two serials in the price (time) of one.

03. Regular news channel viewers have official break circumvention tips and tricks worked out. They know exactly when a news channel airs content and when it airs ads, so they can ask their wives for the remote at just the right time.


None of these “viewing behaviour” attributes are healthy in nature. They are not based on the essential principal that good television should be engaging and involving. They tend to reduce television viewing to a juggling act, taking the focus away from the content to the actual process of watching it!


A large part of this behaviour is captured in spot ratings dropping vis-à-vis content ratings. However, ratings can’t capture the “mental switch-off” that happens when an ad break starts, even if the channel is not changed. This “mental switch-off”, in turn, reflects as potential non-performance of the medium in the researches conducted by brands advertising on television, leading them to question if it is the best medium to effectively communicate their message after all. This is an argument other media sales executives, especially online and radio, have been using increasingly in the marketplace.


In an environment that’s going to be increasingly subscription-led, it will be prudent to keep the viewer at the core of decision-making. Making them watch TV like they should, is a good starting point.


If we see ad cap in some form in the near future, I have a feeling the broadcasting community will be secretly thanking TRAI a couple of years from now!


Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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