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Need a Break from the Breaks

Television watching in India becomes a daily torture for the common viewers. Frequent and long advertisement breaks frequently interrupt the viewing and TV audiences loose all the enjoyment. The viewers pay subscription fee for watching news & entertainment programs but instead they are being compelled to watch a lot of ads.
Obviously, the viewers getting irritated frustrated and feel helpless. In private conversations, they express their anger but don’t know how to get rid of the problem. They definitely expect that somebody should take up their cause and must do something about it. But telecommunication regulatory authority of India who tried once, failed miserably.
We all know that most of the TV channels are bombarding ads day & night but data also speaks loud and clear about this disgusting trend. According to the centre for Media Studies 35% to 48% air time is being consumed by the ads only.
In last two years situation has worsen further. During the festival seasons share of the content in total air time goes down to 15-20 percent. Each episode of any popular TV serials contains only 15-18 minute stuff and rest is filled by the ads. The two hour movies take 3-4 hours to complete.
Most of the established news channel’s half an hour bulletins or programs have around 15-18 minutes content. Apart from that several ads in the form of graphics on the screen disturb the viewing continuously. If we add telemarketing shows and paid programs like Baba’s discourses then we don’t know what will be the actual ratio. Obviously it is very unfair to the audience who is paying from the nose.
On the other hand, there is a broadcaster community who simply doesn’t care about it. As a result the breaks are flooded with the ads. Whether it is a news channel or general entertainment channel, they really don’t bother about the audience and continue to put as much ads as possible. If someone raises the question they will give reasons like financial problems and slow down in the Industry.
If any government body tries to regularize this, they immediately raise the red flag and start sloganeering of self regulation. They also raise the issue of so called interference from the government or the current international practices to shield their interests.
This is the background we should keep in our mind when we discuss the resistance from the broadcasters they have shown against the regulation enforced by the TRI in regard to the fixing of duration of advertisements for the TV channels. Few years back, when TRI first time tried to enforce it, the broadcasters made a lot of hue and cry. Consequently, TRI had to stop the implementation and restart the consultation process.
It is not like that one fine morning TRI got up and decided to issue an order in this respect and broadcasters became shocked to see it. On the contrary, the TRI was asking for adherence to a regulation which is already there. The Cable Television Networks rules 1994 have this provision from the very beginning, but broadcasters are ignoring it up till now. They even not awakened when the TRI started consultation.
We should also see the international norms. In most of the western countries including US, same duration for the ads is already fixed and all the channels are following it strictly. After all, unlike India they don’t have freedom to break the rules easily and take their audience for granted. Though, everything is not perfect there also but since consumer rights groups are very strong there and regulations are also in place to take care of audience interest there are some protections for TV audience as well.
In brief, we can say that all the stake holders of the TV industry must bear in their mind that not industry but audience is supreme and its interest must be protected in any condition.

(Dr. Mukesh is working in SGT University as Dean and Professor, Faculty of Mass Communication & Media Technology)

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