Clean feed TV channel ends unfair competition
Clean feed refers to TV feed without any extra on-screen digital graphics or text in their broadcasts. Section 19(13) of the Cable Television Network Management Act 2006 prohibits the transmission of advertisement by foreign television channels in Bangladesh.
There is no opportunity for foreign televisions to broadcast any kind of advertisement in Bangladesh since 2006. It has been 15 years since the enactment of the law. Different governments since 2006 could not implement the law and failed to provide reasons for such non-implementation as well. The present government notified the distributors about the ban on foreign channels with regard to advertisements in April 2019. The government discussed this issue with the cable operators and agents many times and lately directed them to be compliant with the law by September 30, 2021.
The reason for this is the loss of government revenue. The government does not receive any revenue from the advertisements aired on foreign channels. According to the Minister for Information, Bangladesh had missed out Tk 2000 crores in investment due to un-regulated and free advertisements on foreign channels. Bangladesh is yet to assess the loss of market for local manufacturers and loss of revenue due to free promotion of foreign products.
There are two types of television channels in practice: one is the pay channel, where the viewers pay for watching some particular channels. The other type of channel is the free to air channels where viewership is free. Unfortunately, the channels are charging Bangladesh viewers for both pay and free channels. The subscribers are paying for the channels and the channels are earning money from advertisements which is illegal according to the aforementioned provision of the 2006 Act. The multinational and Indian companies were enjoying free promotion of their products in Bangladesh and the Bangladesh viewers were paying the cost of transmission as well.
The same channels provide the distributors of other countries with clean feed, i.e. no advertisement – they can do the same for Bangladesh. The distributors may also clean the feed by cutting off the advertisements. It should be noted that India does not allow any Bangladesh programme to display advertisements. As such, Bangladesh Television (BTV) provides India with clean feed. Some programmes, such as Ityadi, which is very popular in India, are sent with advertisements but the Indian server cuts the advertisements off before broadcasting.
Indian TV stations provide Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries with clean feed. They broadcast only Middle Eastern advertisements there, even by dubbing into Arabic. The broadcasters must not give whatever feed they have to a big market like Bangladesh. A former Director General of BTV said that advertisements aired in Bangladesh by foreign channels are different from others. Viewers in Kolkata will not view these advertisements. It means these advertisements specifically target the viewers in Bangladesh.
Many foreign channels are being aired after paying for the advertisements in India. Such channels come to India without advertisements and are shown to Bangladesh filling the content with Indian advertisements there. Most Indian channels charge Bangladesh viewers but also feature advertisements.
Multinational companies (MNC) have thus never felt the need to use local television channels as a medium to reach out to Bangladeshi consumers and take advantage of investment in India for both Bangladeshi and Indian market. On the other hand, if a local brand has to acquire space in a market, it has to spend huge amount for branding and popularising their products in Bangladesh. Contrarily, an MNC that can broadcast its advertisements in foreign channels with more outreach, can target a wider audience.
Besides, the Clean Feed Policy will help expand the domestic advertising industry. It will require domestic advertisers to invest in more and thereby produce more commercials to fill the slots in channels with clean feeds.
Our neighbouring countries like India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Pakistan have already imposed restrictions on foreign TV channels without clean feed. Bangladesh has been quite late to implement the policy and is still facing resistance from local cable operators and other stakeholders. Undoubtedly, the government has taken a bold decision in implementing the Clean Feed Policy, and it is expected that this would facilitate a level playing field to both local and foreign manufacturers.
THE WRITER IS A LEGAL ECONOMIST.