Feevees feel pain of commercial cut

Regulator Comfer sets rules over ad time

BUENOS AIRES – Argentina’s broadcasting watchdogs have slapped a limit of three commercial breaks per film on feevee channels in a first step to bringing them in line with restrictions on terrestrial webs.

“Cable channels have become cheap advertising, without limits,” Julio Barbaro, head of the regulator Comfer, tells Variety. “It is time that cable channels have the same limits as free-to-air channels, which are 12 minutes (of advertising) per hour.”

Comfer had wanted to ban ads altogether during films beginning April 1.

That sparked concern from movie channels like Cinecanal, Space and TNT as they stood to lose 40% of ad revenue. After talks with Barbaro, they agreed to the current limit, which cuts potential losses by more than half, according to industry estimates. Until now, they ran an average of three breaks per hour, each with three to six spots.

Long a bastion of direct-marketing firms and public service announcements, feevees doubled their share of TV ad revenue to 12% in 2003 from 1993

In the past two years, they have come to rely on ad coin to keep afloat because a 65% slump in the local currency has driven down carriage fees in dollar terms.

Feevees, however, face more restrictions. Barbaro wants to regulate cable advertising so it is fairer competition with radio and TV broadcasters. The latter rely on ads for most of their revenue, whereas feevees also get a monthly fee for the service.

“We are thinking of limiting advertising on all cable channels, not just during movies,” Barbaro says. “If free-to-air channels have a limit of 12 minutes per hour, cable channels must have the same. If free-to-air channels pay a tax on each minute of advertising time, then cable channels must do the same.”

These and other limits will be incorporated into a new broadcasting law that Congress is set to begin reviewing “in the next few months,” he says. Among other things, it proposes setting quotas on foreign programming and restricting foreign ownership of broadcasting licenses.

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