The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has drawn out various regulations impacting advertising on television. Through its notification dated May 14, 2012, on the Standards of Quality of Service (Duration of Advertisements in Television Channels 2012), the TRAI has chalked out not only the duration of ad time but also the gap between ads and the kind of advertising allowed.
These regulations that come in force as soon as they are published the Official Gazette apply to all channels including free to air, pay channels and local cable channels.
Cap on ad time
The TRAI has reiterated that no broadcaster shall carry advertisements exceeding 12 minutes in a clock hour in a programme. Explaining ‘clock hour’ TRAI stated that clock hour commences at 00.00 of the hour and ends at 00.60. Any shortfall of advertisement duration in a clock hour shall not be carried over. Advertisements included not only the commercials but also the channel’s own promotions, for its shows or for the channel per se.
The TRAI has also specified that the time gap between end of one advertisement session and the commencement of the next shall not be less than 15 minutes. In the case of a movie, the time gap cannot be less than 30 minutes.
Sports genre differentiated
In context to ad time in an hour, the TRAI has said that for the live broadcast of a sporting event, the advertisements shall be carried only during the breaks in the sporting action.
The sub regulation time gap between two ads too will not apply in the case of sports channels.
There is no clarity given on how sports channels will be able to employ the allowed 12 minutes of advertising in the hour at the time of broadcasting live sports.
Only full screen advertisements
The TRAI has also said that channels can only show full screen advertising. No part screen or drop down advertisements are allowed. The TRAI has explained this point to say that advertising should be clearly distinguished from content and should not in any manner interfere with the programme by using the lower part of the screen to carry captions, static or moving alongside the programme.
Every broadcaster will also have to ensure that the audio level of advertisements is in the same level as the audio level of the programme.
In its explanatory note, the TRAI has said that the move is for the benefit of consumers and to improve their viewing experience. TRAI suggest that it has taken note of various complaints regarding overplaying of advertisements, long duration of ads, overlaying of advertisements on the screen during the programme, which are not in accordance with the allowed advertising in the Cable Television Networks Rules 1994.
The TRAI also pointed out that these regulations are on the basis of the 29 comments that it had received for its consultation paper, dated March 16, 2012, on Issues Related to Advertisements in News Channels’.
In general, broadcasters and advertisers are against any regulation on the subject given that advertising is outside the jurisdiction of the TRAI as it is akin to content regulation and that it is against the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression. It has also been brought to the TRAI’s notice that such regulation is contrary to TRAI’s recommendation in 2004 that had said that there should be no regulation on advertising for any channel. Restriction on advertising would have the impact of increase in subscription and that limited inventory time would also jack up ad rates, which would in turn affect small and medium enterprises. The broadcasters and advertiser associations also pointed out that the focus of the moment should have been to drive digitisation than regulate advertising.