Government directs cable TV operators to air foreign channels without advertisements from Oct 23Failure to do so attracts the Advertisement (Regulation) Act 2019 provision for penalty up to Rs500,000.
Prithvi Man Shrestha
The government has directed distributors of foreign television channels to broadcast them in Nepal without advertisements from October 23, warning of legal action against those who fail to comply.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology reminded the distributors of foreign television channels that the Advertisement (Regulation) Act 2019 requires foreign television channels to be aired in Nepal without advertisements within October 23 this year and that the law has already given them one year to make the preparations necessary for airing foreign content free of advertisements.
“The concerned agencies are requested to air foreign television contents without advertisements as per the spirit of the law,” the ministry’s statement reads.
Cable TV operators screen pay channels and free-to-air channels on Nepali television sets.
While the free-to-air channels, even if they carry advertisements, are shown to viewers without charge, foreign pay channels play advertisements of various multinational brands.
However, the pay channels can also be aired without commercials after levying certain charges on viewers. Such a provision is acknowledged by the government as Clean Feed. As per the law, those violating the clean feed policy are subjected to pay up to Rs500,000 as penalty.
The ministry has also said that agencies like Indian Broadcasters Forum, Discovery Networks and BBC News had requested the government to postpone the date of implementing the policy. The ministry, however, has made it clear that the law itself gave enough time to air content free of foreign advertisements.
“There is no option but to air foreign channels without advertisements from October 23,” Gokarnamani Duwadi, spokesperson for the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, told the Post.
Advertising agencies have welcomed the government’s move saying that it helps increase Nepal’s advertising market hugely and creates employment opportunities for Nepali artists, players and other public figures.
Rabindra Kumar Rijal, president of Advertising Association of Nepal, a grouping of advertising agencies, said it would help double the advertisement market over the next two years.
“Currently, Nepal’s annual advertising market is estimated to be worth around Rs12 billon. This is expected to reach Rs24 billion in two years,” he added.
With foreign television channels airing advertisements, multinational companies no longer need to spend on advertising in Nepal. When foreign channels are barred from airing advertisements, multinational companies will be required to spend big in Nepal for visibility of their products and services in Nepal.
This will create employment opportunities for Nepali artists and public figures for the publicity of foreign products and services in the country.
“Some multinational companies have already moved to create local advertisements,” said Rijal. “It will also be a big win for the Nepali media industry when the advertisement market grows,” said Rijal.
However, cable operators said foreign television channels have started preparing content free of advertisements. “I think all the contents may not be available within the deadline set by the government,” said Dhruba Sharma, president of the Federation of Nepal Cable Television Entrepreneurs.
However, this policy could put millions of rupees invested by cable TV operators at risk if the government fails to stop the Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) operators from providing access to their customers to download applications to watch foreign television channels.
The cable television operators’ set-up boxes only have the option to air the channels approved for downlink but the IPTV operators offer download applications that give their customers access to the channels which otherwise cannot be accessed through cable TV services.
“This will deny us the level playing field to compete against them and may ruin our operations,” Sharma said.
Duwadi said that the government was ready to listen to the genuine concerns of cable television operators. “We have been facilitating foreign channel distributors for the import of equipment required to implement this policy,” said Duwadi.
The government appears to be determined to implement the law this time around. “We have made it mandatory for those who air foreign channels in Nepali television sets to commit to air advertisement-free foreign channels while renewing their licence,” said Duwadi.
They have to renew their licence before the new fiscal year begins. “Most of them have got their licence renewed only agreeing to implement a clean feed policy,” he said.
Cable TV operators have time and again fretted over the implementation of Clean Feed and have thwarted previous government attempts saying that the costs of downlinking (broadcasting) foreign channels free of adverts would be much higher than the existing rate as the channels would have to streamline their content to particularly serve Nepali viewers.