“Hands off” TV advertising, say India’s broadcasters

India’s media regulator, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), has been robustly told that it does not have a mandate to regulate TV advertising. The responses have come as a result of a consultation process organised by TRAI ahead of possible new regulations which would limit the amount of time available for commercial breaks.

The Indian Broadcasting Federation (IBF), which represents many commercial broadcasters, says the consultation document “appears to have been issued in an injudicious manner in so far as it reflects on TRAI’s power to regulate content on TV channels.”

One of the key aspects of IBF’s grumbles is that India is still a long way from digitising its cable distribution circuits and consequently suffers a “gross under-declaration of the [cable] subscriber base” and thus suffers from low income potential from cable revenues.

“The under-representation of subscription revenues in the business model of Indian broadcasting is also due to a decade of excessive regulation of subscription models — including tight retail rate regulation, increasing interference in wholesale rate-setting, and maintenance of “must-provide” mandates that prevent platform differentiation and unnecessarily restrain competition,” the IBF said.

Broadcasters have also used the consultation process to point out the financial disparity between local Indian cable monthly ARPUs (of about $4 a month) compared to other international rates which more typically charge viewers between $60-$120 a month.

Zee TV, in particular, pointed out that newspapers and magazines can publish as many pages of advertising as they wish, and the current proposals for TV would represent a direct challenge on India’s Constitution which guarantees the rights of free speech and expression.

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