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Clamour to delay ad cap on channels

New Delhi, Dec. 18: Broadcasters have sought a regulatory cap on TV ads to be put off till digitisation is complete in the country, a day after they got court relief on the rule.

Under the norms drawn up by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), ads must be limited to 12 minutes per hour.

Yesterday, Delhi High Court had asked Trai — which also regulates broadcasting — in an interim order not to take any coercive action against broadcasters for not following the 12-minute cap. This followed a petition by the broadcasters. The next date for hearing is March 13.

A senior member of News Broadcasting Association (NBA), which had filed the petition, said the Trai order was not practical. “We have been saying this since the beginning that implementing the ad cap is not possible until we get the benefits of digitisation,” the member said.

Digitisation ensures that cable operators don’t under-report subscriber numbers, which determine ad rates that channels can charge.

“It is difficult for broadcasters to carry 12 minutes of advertisements because we have more and more of retail advertisers and they cannot afford high ad rates (stemming from the time limits). Yesterday’s high court order is a relief and we will gain some extra revenue for the coming quarter,” the NBA member said.

While some broadcasters refused comment on the case saying the matter was sub judice, others felt the restrictions threatened the industry’s viability by shrinking its source of revenues.

“The court has given relief and the hearing will start in March next year but there is nothing to celebrate and nothing to lose,” said an official of a leading broadcaster.

He explained why the court breather wouldn’t help as much some of his peers expect it to.

“If some channels feel that during this period they can make money, it is wrong. Business is bad now, digitisation hasn't panned out fully. Television (audience) measurement tool is not in place and with the Lok Sabha elections round the corner, few corporate entities want to spend.”

Trai had proposed the cap in a set of guidelines issued in May this year. Under the norms, ads should be capped at 10 minutes per hour. Another two minutes was allowed for commercials promoting the channel itself or its shows, taking the overall cap to 12 minutes per hour.

Some channels had approached the Telecom Disputes Settlement and Appellate Tribunal against the directive. But the body said the matter was outside its “jurisdiction”. The NBA then approached the high court.