12-min ad cap will be a big blow to us: Broadcasters

Viewer’s interest would be adversely impacted if the rule is implemented as smaller channels would be forced to shut shop, bringing down content options to a huge extent, they say

e4m by Kanchan Srivastava
Updated: Oct 28, 2021 8:26 AM
news channels

Viewers who subscribe to online streaming services can enjoy ad-free content, but this choice is not available to TV news viewers. The best one can do is switch to another channel, which, in all likelihood, will be showing commercials only. 

Following viewers’ complaints of the increasing duration of ads on news and entertainment channels, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has finally woken up and approached the Delhi HC against seeking stricter implementation of the 12-minute ad cap rule. 


Channels to lose revenue if rule implemented 

The move by TRAI, however, has left broadcasters worried as they say implementing such a rule in the present situation is uncalled for. 

“In the pandemic-hit media environment, such a cap could lead to a drop in our revenue. Most of the news channels are either free or get a nominal subscription fee which is not enough to sustain in the current scenario,” said a news channel executive, requesting anonymity as the matter is subjudice. 

He added, “Even with viewership peaking during the lockdown, when other media sources were almost shut, we could hardly manage to sell ad slots. Then there was a fresh blow about implementing NTO 2.0 which could bring down our subscription revenues. The 12-min cap would be a big blow to us.”

If implemented, the 12-minute cap will badly hit news channels since they comprise 42% of the total 900+plus registered channels in India.

“TRAI’s original argument in introducing the cap was to protect the viewers’ interest. In reality, the viewer’s interest would be adversely impacted if the 12- min cap is implemented as broadcasters, especially the smaller ones, would be forced to shut shop, bringing down content options to a huge extent,” said a media expert. 

The case so far

TRAI has moved the Delhi High Court against “excessive” advertisements being aired by news channels.  

The Delhi HC has sought responses from the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and the Central government on the TRAI plea.

In its plea, TRAI has contended that it has received several letters from consumers complaining about their viewing experience because of excessive advertisement on various television channels. TRAI has filed an intervention application in a petition filed by NBA challenging rule 7(11) of Cable Television Network Rules, 1994 (CTN/Cable TV Rules). The NBA has argued that the rule is ultra vires to the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the constitution.

TRAI counsel Advocate Maneesha Dhir told the Bench of Chief Justice DN Patel and Justice Jyoti Singh that it is already a respondent in a bunch of similar petitions challenging the Standards of Quality of Service (Duration of Advertisement in Television Channels) Regulations 2012 and Standards of Quality of Service (Duration of Advertisement in Television Channels)(Amendment) Regulation 2013.

The ad cap regulation was challenged by the news broadcasters, who argued that TRAI has no power to regulate the length of advertisement on TV channels and “regulating advertisement is nothing but regulating free commercial speech guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution”.

Posting the matter for hearing on December 23, the bench clubbed the NBA’s petition along with those already pending before it and asked the NBA and Centre to respond to the TRAI's intervention application.

What the rule says 

The rule 7(11) mandates that no TV channel can air more than 12 minutes of ads in a clock hour. “No programme shall carry advertisements exceeding twelve minutes per hour, which may include up to ten minutes per hour of commercial advertisements and up to two minutes per hour of a channel’s self-promotional programmes,” the said rule reads.

Due to the legal battle, the rule was never implemented although it has been in existence for a decade now.  

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