The Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Manish Tewari on the eve of opening session of the expert committee on Prasar Bharti recently mentioned that broadcasting should not come under the ambit of TRAI. The minister while talking to some media persons suggested setting up of a separate ‘techno commercial’ regulator for the burgeoning broadcasting industry as he extrapolated that the 12-minute per hour cap on advertising in TV channels was steadily grazing into the areas that were outside the ambit of TRAI.
Discussing the agenda of digitisation, the minister mentioned, “Digitisation is an attempt to bring in a transparent revenue model, and replace the existing advertisement-based model. Government has initiated the process of digitisation, so that real-time data is made available.”
Although the minister did mention that he is saying the above facts in his own personal capacity and that his views are not policy pronouncements of Government, the entire debate brings us back to the basic question: Whether the telecom regulator should govern the broadcasting industry?
The issue becomes more pertinent as recently the broadcasters met the I&B Minister and conveyed their displeasure over the TRAI notification.
As far as the ad cap is concerned, industry experts prominently highlight two reasons why the cap has been badly timed. First, the digitisation model is not in place, minimising the revenue from subscription and making TV channels heavily dependent on advertising. The ad cap, therefore, would only be curtailing the revenue source for the channels which amounts to almost 80 per cent of the total money earned by them. Secondly, the cable networks have completely been exhausted in their present forms. With 800+ channels, there is no extra space and the channels have to fight for space on the cable platforms. Therefore, instead of broadcasters charging fees from the cable operators, they actually end up paying money to the cable operators in order to ensure proper and ‘above the rest’ distribution.
Ashok Shekhar, an independent media pundit we spoke to mentioned, “The Minister makes sense but this would be useful only if his thoughts are transformed into action. There is still a long way to go. I am not very optimistic, but I would be happy if something substantial happens on this front.”
Talking to e4m in response to the previous story on TRAI, Arvind Sharma, President, AAAI had said, “As long as the entertainment industry is regulated, things will only get worse. I believe there is no need for this industry to be regulated by TRAI.”
He further added, “Entertainment industry should be regulated and modified by the market forces. The media and entertainment sector is like other sectors. Such regulation notices not only curb revenue models but also hamper the growth of the channel. When newspaper advertisements are not regulated in terms of quantity, why this regulation should apply in broadcast media? There should be no regulation like such.”
Broadcasting industry was brought under the ambit of TRAI in the year 2004 when it was noticed that the service involved transmission of signals. But industry experts feel that the regulator should confine itself only to signal policies and not interfere with content. TRAI on the other hand does not adhere to these demands.
The CTNR laws which date back to 1994 were amended in 2005, but broadcasters do not adhere to it either. The broadcasting bodies i.e. IBF, NBA, are pitching for self regulation of content and advertising, which has not been accepted by the government.
“Free competitive spirit within the media should define what will be the advertisement time duration or style of advertisements in any particular channel or programme. If TRAI wants to render services in this arena, instead of focussing on controlling the duration and type/style of the advertisements, it can let the channels offer the templates that work best. The viewer is evolving and is becoming a discerning customer, as earlier claimed in the consultation paper itself. With fragmentation and freedom in the media, the channels also may further evolve over a period of time,” said Bharat Patel, Immediate Former Chairman and current Member of the Executive Council of the Indian Society of Advertising (ISA).
TRAI did not respond to the repeated phone calls made by e4m.
With nobody paying heed to anybody, the entire situation is in a tizzy. I&B Minister Tewari has although given a hint on what could be the next correct approach of his ministry, but he would need to intervene sooner than later in order to evolve a consensus between both the stakeholders.