The Competition Commission of India (CCI) may launch an investigation against major television channels to find out if they have abused their dominance or formed cartels against consumer interest in programming advertising slots.
The TV channels may be probed for scheduling advertising slots during programmes in such a way that viewers are denied their right to choose by switching channels and are forced to watch ads.
CUTS (Consumer Unity & Trust Society), a non-profit consumer advocacy group, has prepared a preliminary investigation report on this, which it is expected to present to the CCI.
Ashok Chawla, CCI's chairman, said that though the anti-trust body has not yet received any official complaint on the matter, it would look into it once it receives such a proposal.
"We will look into the specific competition angle in this particular matter," Chawla told Hindustan Times.
Some 500 channels serve 450 million viewers in India.
"We have prepared a preliminary investigation report on television channels and how they have been going in for advertising breaks around the same time," Pradeep S Mehta, secretary-general, CUTS, told HT.
"We would send the report to CCI and would seek a probe into the matter to ensure that consumers are nor deprived of choice," he said.
"Just when you want to flip a channel in search of some content you realise that there are commercial breaks in most channels. This can be frustrating as I am almost forced to watch the ads despite paying a subscription fee to channels," said Jyotika Anand, a resident of Saraswati Vihar, New Delhi.
India's advertising pie was estimated at Rs. 30,000 crore in 2011, of which Rs. 11,600 crore went into TV channels.
As per regulatory norms, channels can use no more than 12 minutes per hour for advertising breaks.
A senior official representing a television broadcasters' association who did not wish to be identified said that due to the time slots available for programmes, most channels go into breaks around the same time.
"It is not a conscious effort. But there is no need for micromanagement," the official said.