Sri Lanka's new trend in advertising - Ahuvath Salli - Kiwwath Salli

Whether one stays at home, travels by bus, train or car or even happens to be a pedestrian on the road you cannot escape from an earful of blares emanating from radios to blast your ear drums, but certainly not for any personal listening pleasure.

Currently in Sri Lanka there are around 37 radio stations operating under licence, which commenced broadcasting in 1993. The only exception is the good old pioneer Radio Ceylon, which has been transformed into Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation. ‘Lak Handa’ (government owned) is also owned by Independent Television Network (ITN). A variety of radio stations broadcast only in one language, Sinhala, English or Tamil, but the majority conforms to broadcasting in Sinhala.

 Later the Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation adopted rather a conservative approach in its broadcasting style which still it maintains adhering to traditional Sinhala and correct grammar in pronunciation by announcers, but the private FM channels have set the trend of broadcasting in a completely different style (more or less in ordinary day- to-day spoken language) which has paved the way as a "benchmark of the entertainment industry".

 Latest digital technology

 Sirasa FM’ is equipped with the latest digital technology, up-to-date transmission equipment and the DJ style broadcasting studios – a totally new concept to Sri Lanka. It was the first to launch a Sinhala radio channel with crystal clear reception island-wide. They were the first to launch a non-stop 24/7 transmission in Sri Lanka, and has gone on record as the "first to launch interactive radio programmes with listeners over the phone", to go on line with a webcast to become "the first ever worldwide Sinhala radio station in the world".

 Some broadcasters use local transmitters to relay their broadcasts. Deutsche Welle broadcasts are relayed via Trincomalee on medium and short wave bands. Trans World Radio India broadcasts on medium wave using SLBC's transmitter in Puttalam. The International Broadcasting Bureau transmits programmes from Voice of America, Radio Free Afghanistan, Radio Free Asia, Radio Liberty, Radio Sawa and Radio Azadi on short wave using Iranawila relay station.

 Development

 Radio broadcasting and commercialisation developed in the 19th century along with electromagnetic waves and experimentation, wireless communication and technical development. In 1894 Italian Gugliemo Marconi initially developed the commercial wireless telegraphy system based on radio Hertzian waves. He later developed portable transmitters and receiver systems that enabled long distance operations and finally his idea of antenna became the first successful 'engineering-complete' in radio transmission system.

In 1896 Marconi received the 'British patent 12039' and established the first radio station on the Isle of White, in an offshore island in England. Subsequently, in 1903 an amalgamation of Siemens and Halske and the General Electric Company formed the Telefunken Company which led the way towards the progress of the radio industry.

Frequency Modulation

 The licensing of public radio stations in the world took place in October 1920 in the US with the very first broadcast going on the air to announce the American Presidential Election results. This was followed by the arrival of Frequency Modulation (FM) of the radio wave, which is commonly used today in many of the modern radio stations. Immediately prior to the FM invention in 1933, by Edwin Armstrong, US Federal Communications Commission introduced the Analog television broadcasting in some parts of Europe and in North America to receive television sound. During the World War II, Germany was equipped with a number of medium-wave frequencies only, which were inadequate for broadcasting. This urged Germany to come up with the novel idea of broadcasting on shortwave bands, which later became popular as VHF.

Copyright and Intellectual Property

In the 1920s the general public got accustomed to the radio as wireless broadcasting became extremely popular. Commercial enterprises, which always kept their eyes open and ears glued to grab every possible opportunity, deliberated in promoting the radio service as a business. However, there were other sections in society who dreaded the drastic consequences on the sale of records and live performances. Such moves and fears made companies which had engaged popular artistes at the time to enter into official contracts and agreements thus restraining their clients from appearing for the radio.

 Seemingly the copyright owners woke up from their slumber and became alert and concerned with their loss from the popularity of the radio and the 'free' music it provided. This made them seek protection out of the already existing copyright law. Finally, the copyright holders for songs had full control over every public performance for profit. The problem became somewhat complex when the radio industry was just contemplating on ways and means of making money from advertising while free music was offered to anyone with a receiver and profiteering out of songs. This made the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers to initiate a licensing fee of $250 from radio stations in 1923 initially, which has ballooned subsequently.

Advertising

There is a difference between advertising and promotion, which are often used by marketers interchangeably. In advertising, a product or service is viewed against competitors to condition the minds of consumers. Brand impartiality and individuality are believed to develop over the longer term. Many advertising exposures, therefore, require the responsive jerk for the consumer to feel towards an offering product or service.

 In Sri Lanka the advertising industry spends hundreds of millions on TV, print and radio advertising. Quite often TV is made the scapegoat to advertise some of the radio stations, mostly when the TV and radio belong to the same organisation. Advertising today has become part and parcel of everyone's life, whether one likes it or not, and it can be a hindrance to a listener of a radio or television viewer. This is due to the fact that advertising is regarded as a tool to sell, woo and condition customers or listeners to a particular brand, a specific product or a service.

In any developed society there is a code for marketing which limits advertising to a number of spots per hour, both on the radio and television, and a maximum permissible percentage in newspapers or magazines not to override the news content. In Sri Lanka unfortunately, from the viewpoint of radio listeners and TV viewers, advertising tends to surpass the programme content to such an extent that half a hour programme, for instance, becomes limited to 10 or 15 minutes the maximum where the rest of the time is eaten up by advertising.

 This has become a most irritating aspect in the eyes of listeners and viewers as programmes are interrupted mercilessly willy nilly to give prominence to advertisements repeatedly to the repugnance of the public. This often happens on TV these days with the announcement of time at every quarter or half hour intervals with a particular brand name. It makes worse, when a cricket enthusiast watches a test match on TV and a series of advertisements are pushed through at the most crucial moment of play e.g. when a controversy arises on the playing field and the matter referred to the third umpire for a decision.

In the eyes of the viewer, he loses all the excitement and entertainment out of watching the match. International TV operators such as HBO have fixed blocks for advertising and some channels even denote through an electronic indicator on top of the TV screen how long the advertising continues. At least this gives the viewer the option of moving out from watching the programme and to have a breathing space to put the kettle on to make a cup of tea or coffee.

Bribing the public

 The most impolite, inapt and boorish means of advertising in Sri Lanka is the adaptation of a down grade method of bribing the public with money openly by the so-called reputed radio stations that employ staff to go round the country and speak to the public at random for millions of viewers to see and pop the question as to what the interviewee's favourite radio channel is? The recipient shows his thirty-two teeth and comes out with the name of the radio channel the advertiser represents.

This is followed by a hearty laugh and an obnoxious display of handing over thousands of rupees in Rs 1,000 notes where the guy from the radio channel comes out with the slogan, 'Kivvath Salli, Ahuvath Salli and the interviewee concludes the sentence by saying Salli Thamai' (it's money whether you say it, or listens)!

This certainly is a cheap way of promoting a service where each radio organisation is trying to compete with one another by increasing their ‘give away money’ while inducing bribery indecorously. The million-dollar question is whether one is inclined to ask these organisations would be that when they claim to be the top brand radio stations of repute in Sri Lanka why on earth have they stoop to such gutter level of advertising despite having the whole world of air space and programme time unto themselves to convey any message to the public in any manner they wish to advertise. After all, it's the quality of programmes that count rather than cheap advertising and belittling themselves.

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