MediaSENse by Indrani Sen: To cap it all

12 Oct,2015

By Indrani Sen


During the last month, the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and others sought adjournment of the court case challenging the advertising cap of 12 minutes per hour twice in the Delhi High Court. The hearing scheduled on September 8 was first adjourned to September 23 on the ground that lawyers were on strike, which again got adjourned to November 27 on the ground that the matter was under discussion with the Information and Broadcasting Ministry (I&B). The earlier order by Supreme Court that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) will not take any legal action against any channel violating the norms will stay put till the Delhi High Court case is heard and resolved. As per the reports published by the TRAI on a quarterly basis, very few channels are adhering to the limits set by TRAI.

Based on consumer complaints, TRAI has been trying to regulate the quantity of commercials on TV channels since 2012. When the regulation on Ad Cap was announced in 2013, (   August 18, 2013).  Manish Tewari, I&B Minister in the UPA government said in an interview “TRAI should introspect and reconsider its current stance till carriage fees don’t mitigate further and subscriber revenue doesn’t stabilize for the sake of the healthy growth of the industry.”  Subsequently, Prakash Javadekar, the first I&B Minister in the BJP Government  indicated to media that the government was considering an amendment that free-to-air (FTA) channels should be exempt from the restriction of the 12 minutes ad-cap, while for pay channels the existing limit of 12 minutes per hour of advertisements would continue. ( October 8, 2014). After Arun Jaitley took over as I&B Minister, he made a statement that there should be no ad cap in the print or electronic media, but did not give any such instruction to the Ministry. ( )

While the I&B Ministry and TRAI are mulling over the issue, it would be informative to do a quick look around the world and survey the norms related to ‘TV Ad Caps’ practised in developed countries. In Europe, the Audiovisual Media Services (AVMS) sets the regulatory framework setting a limit for all channels of 12 minutes on the amount of advertising shown in one hour.  The similar rules which apply in the UK, are set out in the Code on the Scheduling and Amount of Advertising (COSTA) prepared by Ofcom, Independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries. With our colonial hangover, we seem to have adopted the regulation prevailing in UK.

The Australian model is very interesting. The Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) categorises the time bands into two slots and stipulates that on the main channels, commercial television licensees may schedule

1) Average 13 minutes per hour of non-programme matter between 6pm and midnight; and

2) Average 15 minutes per hour on non-programme matter at other times.

However, the maximum that can be scheduled in any given hour is:

1) 15 minutes from 6pm to midnight – with no more than 14 minutes scheduled in any four of those hours; and

2) 16 Minutes at other times.

The definition of non-programme matter includes paid advertising but excludes short programme promotions and pop-up programme promotions in the middle of programmes. Additional allowance is given during election periods to accommodate the broadcast of ‘political matter’. Since 2014, the leading channels have been lobbying with the government for raising the bar to 20 minutes of non-programme matter every hour. The pros and cons of the same are still being debated.

Canada had the stipulation of ad cap of 12 minutes per hour based on individual licence agreements till 2007. In May, 2007, CTRC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) announced a phased relaxation of the rule bringing the free to air conventional TV channels more closely in line with their counterparts in US. So, from 2009, there is no cap on the quantity of commercials per hour on the free to air Canadian channels while the specialty pay channels are still subject to the ad cap of 12 minutes per hour.

American TV hour-long programmes typically run for 42 to 43 minutes, leaving 17 to 18 minutes per hour for commercials. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has a special regulation for controlling loud commercials, but has not introduced any cap on the quantity of time used for the commercials per hour. In 2014, a new study from Nielsen, the ratings measurement firm of US, showed that the number of commercials had grown steadily over 2009 to 2013. In 2009, the broadcast networks averaged 13 minutes and 25 seconds of commercial time per hour which grew to 14 minutes and 15 seconds in 2013. The growth was more significant on cable television. A typical American home had 189 channels to choose from yet only watched 17.5 on a regular basis. That figure was the same in 2009, when the average home received 129 channels. According to Nielsen, use of shorter commercials became more common (   May 16, 2014). Recently, I read online that Viacom is planning to find out if they can get more value for TV commercials by running fewer them on the network. (  September 21, 2015).

Ad clutter has been a major hindrance for TV viewing over many years. To cap it all, now an exodus of consumers from TV to streaming video, mobile devices, etc. have started across the world. On TV, appointment viewing has been changing to scattered delayed viewing. Our TV channels, who are fighting against the TRAI regulation on ad cap for protecting their revenue, should remember that their ratings followed by revenue may be better protected with less time devoted to ad breaks.

The  I&B Ministry and TRAI should consider the scope of adopting the Australian model with variable options across different time bands including additional allowance during Central and State elections. As we have almost 50 percent of our licensed channels in the news genre, the news and non-news can also be put in two different buckets apart from the FTA and Pay channels. In my view, we need to come out of the practice of holding UK as the role model and look around for better alternatives while framing our media rules and regulations.

Indrani Sen is a veteran media agency and marketing services professional. She is currently an Independent Consultant and Adjunct Faculty, Media Management at Symbiosis Institute of Media & Communication, Pune. This column MediaSENse will appear fortnightly. The views expressed here are her own.


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