TRAI slaps 12 minutes per hour cap on TV ads

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Monday capped the duration of advertisements on television at 12 minutes per hour, a climb-down from its recommendation in March this year of just six minutes of advertising an hour.

The ads in the clock hour shall include all types of commercials including those promoting the TV channel itself. The regulatory body also held that any shortfall in ad duration in a clock hour cannot be carried over by the broadcaster. Further, ad breaks during live broadcast of sporting events have to coincide with breaks in the sporting action, says an order termed 'standards of quality of service regulations 2012'.

The minimum time gap between consecutive ad breaks is 15 minutes, except in movie channels, where it has to be 30 minutes. Broadcasters can also only display full-screen ads on television. Part-screen or drop-down ads will not be permitted, the regulator said. Besides, the audio levels of advertisements on a channel should not be higher than those of the programmes being telecast.

The regulations are bound to lead to protests from TV channels, as they (including news channels) are against any curtailment of their liberty to cram programmes with limitless ads.

Several major publications (most of which also own TV channels) have also come out strongly against the move, claiming it would bankrupt broadcasters. Commentators say newspapers are constantly touting themselves as keepers of democracy and champions of liberal values, but are quick to react with sharp editorials and angled stories when their own interests are in any way threatened.

Viewers on the other hand will welcome any prospect of curtailment in the advertising. They have long been subjected to a level of advertising that has rendered TV programmes, including 'live' broadcast of cricket and other sports programmes, virtually unwatchable. Several viewers say they have stopped watching sports TV, despite a liking for cricket, tennis, and other sports.

In a separate order on the quality of services and a grievance redressal mechanism in Digital Addressable Cable TV Systems, TRAI mandated that multi-system operators should not demand any placement fee from broadcasters. It also said that in the reference interconnect offer filed with the regulator, the MSOs must disclose the basis on which it is charging carriage fees from broadcasters.

The MSO must additionally carry a channel in the same genre as has been indicated by the broadcaster.

This particular ruling is likely to please broadcasters, as it seems to reverse TRAI's earlier order that MSOs are allowed to charge a carriage fee from broadcasters to carry their channels.

To enhance consumer convenience, the regulator said all cable operators must provide subscribers a form and manual containing information about the details of the services being offered. Either party has to give a notice period of 15 days for termination of services.

Additionally, MSOs have to set up a toll-free customer care centre for redressing of complaints and processing consumer requests. Every MSO or his linked local cable operator must also establish a web-based complaint monitoring system to enable the consumers to monitor the status of their complaints. Such consumer complaints should be addressed within eight hours by cable operators, TRAI said.