Nepal adopted the same policy but revenues from the ad market declined due to losses suffered by the industry
On October 1, people woke up to find all foreign channels were gone. There was no sports, no news, Hindi dramas or English ones, no cartoons for the pandemic stricken parents to occupy their children with. There were only local tv stations available.
Uproar on social media followed quickly by the news by the Information and Broadcasting Minister Hasan Mahmud saying no one would be allowed to run foreign TV channels without “clean feed” in the neighboring countries like India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Pakistan.
"I informed the matter of implementing clean feed broadcasting to my Indian counterpart during my recent visit to India."
The minister on Thursday said that mobile courts would be conducted to ensure the decision. “Legal actions will be taken against the distributors and operators who have the downlink approval of those channels.”
He added that the cable operators had been informed about the decision in August. “The excuse of foreign channels not sending clean feeds will no longer be tolerated,” said the minister.
This policy however is from 2006. It has been 15 years in the making now.
What is clean feed?
The government asked cable operators to stop broadcasting those channels until they could ensure “clean feed” transmission.
For the television, a clean feed is a video signal that does not have added graphics and text.
In this context though, the clean feed policy calls for foreign channels to streamline content according to region, i.e., not air commercials meant for one region in other regions.
“Clean feed essentially means the channels cannot have any advertisements. Neither foreign nor local ads can be broadcasted by foreign channels,” says Cable Operators' Association of Bangladesh (COAB) Founding President SM Anwar Pervez.
Why is clean feed an issue now?
In a speech to reporters on Sunday, Information and Broadcasting Minister Dr Hasan Mahmud said that the sky of Bangladesh is open and anybody can broadcast programs through their channels following the country's law.
“According to the law, the foreign channels' programs can be aired only without ads, and many countries follow that law,” he added.
Sub-section 13 of section 19 of the Cable Television Network Management Act, 2006 prohibits the broadcasting of advertisements through any foreign channels for the viewers of Bangladesh.
"We had given them enough time as we started talking about it two years ago and we took initiatives to implement the law earlier,” Mahmud added.
The minister also recently said the government had missed out on Tk2,000 crore in investment due to unapproved advertisements on foreign channels
And clean feed is not a new concept either.
Like Bangladesh, Nepal has also adopted a clean feed policy earlier.
But the country did not seem to get the intended results from the policy — government revenues from the ad market declined due to losses suffered by the industry.
Instead of meeting the revenue target after implementation of the policy, it went down by Rs2 billion, Federation of Nepal Cable Television’s President Sudir Parajuli told a Nepalese daily.
This was caused by a significant drop, nearly 25%, in monthly cable subscription renewals after the clean feed policy left viewers with access to very few foreign TV channels.
Moreover, clean feed is going to be hard to implement.
COAB Founding President SM Anwar Pervez said a clean feed is “almost impossible”, as there are only a handful of foreign channels that do not broadcast ads.
“Even if we have to run a clean feed, we will incur extra costs, which will be a burden for both the consumers as well as the service providers. And although local channels will be benefitted at the end of the day, for the consumers, it is an inconvenience.”
A win for local channels?
Deepto TV CEO Fuad Chowdhury said local channels will obviously benefit from this move.
“My mother, the other day, said she was forced to watch Deepto as she does not have access to foreign channels,” he said, adding that the clean feed policy will create space for local channels and creators to up their game in filling the gap.
“We are already expecting a jump in TRP ratings from the existing 63% on our primetime show,” he added.
However, this golden opportunity needs to be used wisely, Chowdhury warned.
He referred to the case of the Bangladesh Film Development Corporation, which despite getting opportunities in the form of protectionism, was unable to produce quality content and missed out on getting revenues from the local consumers.
It was also unable to develop the movie industry.
Abdullah Al Kafi, vice president of GREY Bangladesh, sees this as an opportunity for the local channels.
“When foreign channels used to air their content including commercials, many MNCs used to maximize their advertising budget by airing their commercials on foreign channels,” he said.
“But now, when the foreign channels will air clean feed in Bangladesh, there is a high chance that those MNCs will bring back that additional budget which they used to spend under foreign channels,” he added.
Ziauddin Adil, the CEO of Top of Mind — one of the top players in the ad sector — said that nearly all countries have clean feed policies and local businesses have only benefitted from those.
“Even for Nepal, there was an initial drop in subscriptions but local brands, corporations, and the ad sector actually benefitted,” he added.
Adil also explained that if a local brand has to acquire a market, it has to spend at least 15% of the expenditure on promotion, whereas, an MNC that has its ads broadcasted in foreign channels with more reach has to spend several folds less to acquire the same market.
“For example, Parachute advertises both locally and through foreign channels, whereas Jui can put ads on local channels only. So naturally, any local consumer who also consumes the content of foreign channels that broadcast ads will be more conditioned to buy products of the MNC than the local business. This also causes foreign MNCs to spend even less on promotion when they enter the local market,” he said.
There are several multinational brands that the local audience could identify even before they entered the local market, such as P&G, Nivea, and KFC, he noted.
Viewers’ interests ignored
As cable operators stopped broadcasting foreign channels, viewers reacted with anger.
Rafqan Rafi, a football fan who usually enjoys the La Liga, Premier League, UEFA Champions League and other European football league games, is not a fan of this policy.
“I pay the cable bills regularly but cannot enjoy the football matches through TV anymore!” he said.
Sujoy Roy, another football fan who has subscribed to Akash DTH told Dhaka Tribune that he paid for the subscription but is now unable to watch any Premier League matches.
Earlier on Sunday, Supreme Court lawyer Khundkar Hasan Shahriyar sent a legal notice to the Information and Broadcasting Secretary Md Mokbul Hossain and COAB Convener SM Shamsur Rahman Shimul, saying that he will take necessary legal steps including moving a writ petition before the High Court against them if they do not resume broadcasting foreign TV channels within a week.
In the legal notice, he said millions of people in Bangladesh pay necessary fees for watching foreign TV channels, but they are now being deprived of enjoying the programs.
Shahriyar told Dhaka Tribune that the implementation of this law on a month's notice is causing sufferings at the consumer level.
“This law was passed in 2006 but has not been implemented in the last 15 years. And what has been going on for 15 years has somehow become a custom,” he added.
“So, it is not possible to change it on such a short notice. In this case, the Ministry of Information cannot avoid its responsibility. They should have been more enterprising earlier,” he further said.
The lawyers said a committee should have been formed with all the stakeholders at least six months before this sudden implementation.