The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India –TRAI, has released a consultation paper on ‘Issues related to Advertisements in TV channels’, taking up a review of existing regulations on duration of advertisements and their format of presentation in television channels in India (Hat Tip – @b50). The authority has said that it has been receiving complaints as well as feedback from subscribers on the increasing duration and distracting formats of TV ads, which have affected the TV viewing experience. The TRAI has invited comments from various stakeholders: written comments on the issues raised in the consultation paper can be submitted till 27th
March, 2012, and counter-comments on the comments by 2nd April, 2012. The consultation paper will lead to a proposal which will make recommendations related to restricting and regulating the duration, frequency and timings of the advertisements, especially on pay channels, and will include:

– Prescribing upper limit for the duration of advertisements on clock hour basis.

Different maximum limits for the duration of advertisements in FTA and Pay channels in a clock hour – According to the proposed recommendation, no FTA(free to air) channel shall carry advertisements exceeding 12 minutes in a clock hour. For pay channels, this limit shall be 6 minutes.

Scheduling advertisement breaks only during the interruption in the sporting action, in case of telecast of live sporting events– The advertisements shall only be carried during the interruptions in the sporting action e.g. half time in football or hockey match, lunch/ drinks break in cricket matches, game/set change in case of lawn tennis etc.

Defining time gaps between consecutive advertisements breaks during telecast of movies and other programmes– The 12 minutes of advertisements should not be in more than 4 sessions in one hour. In other words, there will be continuous airing of the TV show for at least 12 minutes each. Also, not more than three advertisement breaks shall be allowed during telecast of a movie with the minimum gap of 30 minutes between consecutive advertisement breaks.

Permissibility of part screen advertisements– There shall only be full screen advertisements. Part screen advertisements will not be permitted. Drop down advertisements will also not be permitted.

Prescribing screen area in case of news channels for running non-commercial scrolls, tickers – Channels will be allowed to run not more than two scrolls at the bottom of the screen and occupying not more than 10% of the screen space for carrying non-commercial scrolls, tickers.

Prescribing audio level of advertisements viz-a-viz rest of the programmes-  The audio level of the advertisements shall not be higher than the audio level of the programme.

According to the TRAI, the existing provisions prescribe that no programme shall carry advertisements exceeding 12 minutes per hour, which may include up to 10 minutes per hour of commercial advertisements, and up to 2 minutes per hour of a channel’s self – promotional programmes. It also provides that all advertisements should be clearly distinguishable from the programme and should not in any manner interfere with the programme viz., use of lower part of screen to carry captions, static or moving alongside the programme. However, it had observed that channels were not abiding by the rules. The TRAI has also said that some of the consumer organizations had also put forth the opinion that since they pay subscription fees for viewing pay channels, there is little justification for these channels to show advertisements.

It will be interesting to see the kind of responses the paper attracts, and what finally makes it to the TRAI’s list, at a time when the country is set to make a switch to digital broadcasting, wherein pay channels will not be able to justify excessive ads with the excuse that subscribers are under-reported. However, the TRAI will have to strike a balance, as subscription revenue alone cannot meet broadcasters’ expense, and the implications of its recommendations will affect a large number of stake holders including advertisers, media buyers, in addition to broadcasters.

Download: Consultation Paper | Press Release