January 2016



The Cable Act established more than 20 years ago, that TV channels must restrict their advertisements to a maximum of 10 minutes per hour.

However, broadcasters have blatantly flouted this law for decades and the Government has turned a blind eye to the issue.

Some broadcasters have preferred to interpret the law as permitting a total of 10 minutes ads per hour, consolidated over the day, the week or month or even the entire year!

A few years ago there had been a public outcry with even the TRAI pointing out that some news channels carried ads for more than 50% of the time during Prime Time.

The TRAI then declared a fresh norm where channels are permitted to carry no more than 12 minutes of advertisements Per Clock Hour.


Most premium Hindi GEC channels have adhered to the TRAI's generous Ad Cap.


However, the '12 minute per clock hour' TRAI dictate has been challenged by the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) in the Delhi High Court.

The NBA has contended that the TRAI does not have jurisdiction to regulate commercial airtime on television channels.

The matter has been pending in court, for almost 2 years.


0n 18 January 2015, the I&B Minister Mr. Arun Jaitley told the Press "My ministry a couple of years ago came out with a statutory law that no channel will telecast advertisements beyond so many minutes. I have been struggling, in my own mind, since then as to how this meets the challenge of Article 19 1 (a)."

There is certainly no conflict with Article 19 1 (a) legal experts opine.

A cap on advertisement time carried on TV channels is imposed in most countries worldwide, and several countries even prohibit ads completely on Pay channels.


The case has been dragging on for almost 2 years. For the past 12 months, not much of the matter has been heard in court.

In the last 2 hearings on 8 and 23 September 2015, the NBA had sought the adjournment on the ground that the matter was under discussion with the Ministry to seek certain clarifications.

When the matter came up for hearing again on 27 November 2015, the I&B ministry informed the Delhi High Court that it was in talks with the News Broadcasters Association and other stakeholders on the issue of the advertising cap of 12 minutes per hour.

Consequently, the Court put off hearing of the matter to 11 February. This is the first time that the Ministry has put in an appearance in the petition filed by the News Broadcasters and others against the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and others.


The Delhi High Court Bench observed that the matter had been pending for some time and therefore it will hear and conclude the case in the next hearing, scheduled for 11 February 2016.


Meanwhile in an intervention, Home Cable Network (P) Ltd (a New Delhi MSO) said it wanted to intervene as it was directly affected by the outcome of the present petition. Lawyer Vivek Sarin appearing for Home Cable said in the intervention application that "Ordinary subscribers are unduly burdened with unjustified charges when the cost of operating the channels can be recovered from the advertisement revenue. The said cost includes notional profits also."

The application wanted the NBA petition to be dismissed and added: "Pay channel broadcasters are profiteering at the expense of subscribers and the DPO's. There is no justification for changing monthly subscription when commercial advertisements are inserted. The Standards of Quality of Service (Digital Addressable Cable TV Systems) Regulations 2012 (with Amendments thereafter) is justified to the extent they are applicable to Pay Channels. The pay channel broadcasters cannot charge the subscription fee while inserting commercials into the content or in the alternative, the subscribers have to be compensated for the revenue earned on the basis of their being subscribers of the channels."


In its latest report, the TRAI has found that 112 private TV channels have exceeded the 12-minute limit per hour, particularly during prime time. The data has been compiled using data submitted by the broadcasters themselves, for the 7 PM to 10 PM time slot & for the period June 29 to September 27, 2015.

In several cases, channels have aired 20 minutes (30%) of Ads per hour in prime time.

Harassed TV viewers can only hope that the matter will now be resolved either by the I&B ministry or the Delhi High Court by 11 February 2016.