Earlier this month, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) issued various guidelines to regulate advertising on television in India. Unlike Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI), a part of the Cable TV Networks Rules post the 2007 amendment, which regulates the content of the ad, TRAI ad regulations are more about how much advertising.
The regulations become effective as soon as they are printed in the Official Gazette, which people familiar with the process tell me, means a couple of weeks. Unless there is some drastic delay in printing the Gazette, these regulations will become effective in a few days now. The Indian advertising, marketing and media industry is divided on the issue. Advertisers and agency heads are of the opinion that aspects such as limiting commercial time on television may work in the favour of advertisers, as it controls clutter in the television environment.
Some advertisers suggest that the clause prohibiting drop down or part screen advertising can be a hindrance as both advertisers and viewers are used to some of these things but various others are alright by this too.
Broadcasters have obviously made it clear that the regulations are intrusive and not thought through with the broadcaster, or even the viewer, in mind. The Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF) is yet to issue any official statement on the matter but members of the IBF have made it clear that the ad regulation will affect them adversely.
One clause in particular that kept some of the exchange4media staff busy most of last week was the 15-minute break between two ads and the fact that any shortage of ad time could not be carried forward to the next clock hour; every clock hour allows 10+2 minutes of ads as per TRAI ad regulations.
With the exception of equal division of time, so 16 minutes content and then four minutes ad break at a gap of every 15 minutes is the only way that the broadcaster and hence advertisers get the full allotted 12 minutes of ad/promo time. But this means only three ad breaks in a clock hour. In every other combination, there is a drop of at least three minutes of advertising in the second clock hour, which cannot be carried forward.
Things such as the one-minute and two-minute ad breaks that we had begun to see on television last year will become extremely complicated to execute now if broadcasters would want to take complete advantage of the allotted ad time. This means further pressure on television inventory and hence a possible impact on television ad rates.
TRAI ad regulations have been very strong on exchange4media’s radar and in the last week, many media experts and people who really know how some of these things affect the overall industry have voiced their opinion on the subject. The one thing that keeps coming back is whether this regulation would auger good news for print and digital. Unless viewership increases and hence a possible increase in ad rate makes sense, advertisers will revisit their spends on TV. As Shashank Srivastava of Maruti Suzuki had put it, advertisers would look for new cost equations. Some of the smaller advertisers may not consider TV as an option anymore – the business, according to some, will become a big boy’s game. Could this be good news for TV as an advertising medium? Doesn’t sound like it.
It was positive to see the TRAI clarify on the placement fee aspect of carriage fee. A lot needs clarity on the ad regulation as well. For instance, the TRAI has said that a few of the clauses will not apply to live broadcasting of sports events. But it has not clarified what applies to sports then. At one level, it may be alright that Live broadcasting is treated differently for sports but not for news channels, but how are news channels treated the same as pre-recorded programming?
Some broadcasters and associations are contesting TRAI’s very authority in regulating commercial time on television. But the way things have been, that is a different discussion altogether. As Paritosh Joshi says, the camel is already in the tent; the immediate question is not how it got there, but how correct steps are taken as soon as possible to avoid any disservice to the television industry.