On June 24, 2019, every TV channel in the Nepali household suddenly went blank or included a request to contact their cable operators. It was a protest by the cable TV operators in the country, following a warning 24 hours beforehand. The 24 hours cable-blackout was an attempt to show us what the new Advertisement Bill, if enforced would look like, according to Sudhir Parajuli, the then president of the Federation of Cable TV Association of Nepal. This is a bill regarding the “Television Clean Feed Policy“, and the Nepali government is determined to turn it into a policy.
|Actually, the clean feed policy dates back to 2073 B.S. It was then published in the “Advertisement Regulation Act 2076” on Kartik 8, 2076 B.S for implementation.|
But first, what is Television Clean Feed Policy?
Clean Feed, in its most basic form, means Television feed without any additional digital on-screen graphics or text in their transmissions. A TV station with a clean feed does not carry any television advertisements or breaks, or even underlying marquee texts on the screen. This is different from the Free Air Policy. For the record, under this, foreign TV channels require no subscription charge as they serve ads on their feed.
Here, the Television Clean Feed Policy is a part of the aforementioned Advertisement Regulation Act 2076. This rule implies that all foreign TV channels should stream without any advertisements since the viewers pay for the channels already; which is what makes it different from the Free Air Policy. In other words, the TV operators in Nepal that downlink foreign channels have to deliver an ad-free viewing experience.
The fundamental of the Clean Feed Policy is that foreign advertisements shouldn’t be fed to the Nepali people. Since we’re already paying for the channels themselves, having to watch their ads on top doesn’t align with consumer rights. Also, most of these ads bear no relevance at all in Nepal. And if foreign channels want to broadcast advertisements, they should make advertisements in Nepali language and local settings, so that it’s relevant for us viewers.
Of course, that’s not really feasible in a jiffy. Hence, the Clean Feed Policy. So, the government is vying for foreign channels without any ads. And if Nepali broadcasters so want, they can insert their own commercials in them, just like the Clean Feed Policy prevalent in India. If we are to receive the clean feed, i.e. foreign channels without any ads, we will have to pay an extra amount of money.
The Preparation & Implementation
As the Advertisement Regulation Act 2076 implies, technically, the television clean feed policy was already implemented since last year. However, since its implementation is practically impossible just then and there, the Nepal government had prepared for a year’s buffer period. Under this, the clean feed policy was instantly applicable to all the new TV channel operators established on Kartik 8, 2076 B.S, or later.
But, to the existing companies, it had provided 1 year for making necessary preparations; like bringing in new technology, equipment, etc. And now, the allocated one-year-long preparation period has ended, therefore resulting in a widescale implementation of the said policy.
Why Television Clean Feed Policy in Nepal?
According to The Kathmandu Post, the Clean Feed Policy states that “Apart from a few exceptions, almost all of the foreign channels carry commercials made by multinationals and conglomerates for which Nepali viewers are paying monthly charges, while the domestic advertising industry is shrinking. Hence, the need for implementation of clean feed.”
The fact that companies do not need to pay anything to air their advertisements has downed Nepal’s advertisement industry by a great margin. Nepali TV viewers have a fascination with the Indian channels, as they are the major source of our entertainment. And this leads us to watch Indian advertisements, but we don’t really mind as they’re kinda entertaining although irrelevant. So, it’s obvious that those companies don’t really think of advertising on Nepali channels.
Without advertisements, TV channels can’t create better content. So, to tackle this issue, the Government is moving forward with the Clean Feed Policy. It wants to ensure that Nepali TV channels develop and make contents that attract Nepali viewers. Without foreign ads, international companies will have to invest their money in Nepal, so there’s that too.
So, isn’t Clean Feed Good?
Well, there are two sides to this policy:
- what the government is trying to implement
- the complaints of the Cable TV Operators
The TV operators argue that Clean Feed will increase the overall cost of cable TV. We talked to a representative of the Federation of Nepal Cable Television Association and he directly implied that the implementation of the clean feed policy will likely result in a price hike. That is pretty reasonable, as the TV operators will have to pay foreign channels more than the current prices, and also have to invest in more manpower, newer software, etc. to cope with the evolution.
It’s because acquiring clean feed means foreign broadcasters (or Indian, as they supply most foreign channels here) will have to streamline the contents to make sure they run without adverts. And this cost will directly affect the customers.
Besides the possibility of a price hike, another bigger threat remains as well. While complying with the clean feed policy, the Federation handed an 11-point memorandum to Hon. Mr. Paarbat Gurung (Minister of Communications and Information Technology) demanding regulations against OTT (Over The Top)-based TV and video streaming apps/platforms. Such services are freely operating in Nepal, unchecked, unmonitored, ungoverned – and more importantly, they go directly against the clean feed policy of monitored TV, video content.
These include all the IPTV services like NetTV, and also some TV operators that provide pirated or unlicensed foreign content on their platform for free; just to boast a diverse set of features besides basic TV channels.
Minister Gurung assured that if necessary, NTA (Nepal Telecommunication Authority) should make appropriate adjustments and direct ISPs in order to make the clean feed policy implementation successful. Mr. Dhurba Sharma, current president of the Federation of Nepal Cable Television Association asserts that such OTT, mobile app-based TV broadcast should either be properly regulated just like cable TVs or be legally disbanded altogether. With cable television operators and even foreign channels (who were initially hesitant towards the implementation of clean feed policy) on board, this seems to be the next step for the government.
According to Mr. Gokarna Mani Dawadi (Spokesperson, Ministry of Communications and Information Technology), the early steps for regulating the OTT-based TV, video streaming platforms are already in the works. Furthermore, Mr. Dawadi adds that a separate committee/board for regulating advertisements will come to life soon. The board will be further studying the possibilities and opportunities of a post-clean feed policy Nepali advertisement industry.
A classic Nepali predicament
While we’re already nearing the end of the allotted buffer period, apparently, the “supportive box” of most foreign channels are yet to arrive in Nepal. Some are stuck at the customs and those that are here, they’re still pending official approval from the government. Here, a supportive box is a tool required by the local TV operators to implement the clean feed policy. According to Mr. Dhurba Sharma, the supportive box of Sony TV network, and channels like Discovery, Animal Planet have arrived.
But, the supportive box of Star Television, which is Nepal’s most broadcasted TV network, is still not here. In order for these boxes to enter the country, they have to get approval from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies. Yet, Mr. Sharma says that since most of the approval requests for them remain unprocessed at the Commerce Ministry, almost 80% of TV channels may not work on Kartik 8 — the day of reckoning!
Clean Feed Policy: Pros and Cons
Right now, we cannot exactly say what is what. Because clean feed, overall, is a good policy. Either we get foreign channels without any ads, or we promote the Nepali advertising companies; which indirectly promotes Nepali brands among the consumers as well. Furthermore, it creates employment opportunities for Nepali citizens as well. Television advertisements obviously require manpower. They require people to develop the concept, writers to write the scripts, videographers, editors to shoot, edit, and post-process them.
When the Nepali ad-agencies get these types of works, they also start getting creative and competitive. That also aids in the growth of the Nepali ad agencies. So with the snowball effect, this means the Nepali economy would rise up. Nepal’s advertisement industry is currently valued at NPR 12 billion. And, it is expected to rise as much as 50% after the implementation of the television clean feed policy.
However, the problem lies in the fact that clean feed, currently, not feasible in its entirety. As stated above, the government itself and other concerned parties aren’t in full-sync yet. Furthermore, this might even generate low average revenue per year per user, at increased costs to foreign channels. This might lead them to stop beaming their channels in Nepal altogether. This means the government will lose revenue from annual license fees from all the channels.
In addition, it also adds the cost to customers – at least in the early stage; which is another load to Nepal’s TV viewers.
Still, this is not the government’s first attempt to implement the clean feed rule in Nepal. But they were never successful. Right now, it all depends on how the government manages to handle cable TV operators’ request; and regulate all three: DTH (Direct To Home), MSO (Multi-System Operator), and IPTV in harmony. If they want to succeed with this policy in Nepal, they’ll have to come up with appropriate policies regarding independent Indian DTH operators, and its increased costs. So, it might take some time to get stable. Right now, we can only hope that it works out for the best.
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