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HomeArticlesAre we losing on Doordarshan?
Tuesday, 14 November 2017 07:56

Are we losing on Doordarshan?

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India’s public service broadcaster Prasar Bharati is in a bad shape and is getting ready for a revamp, due since long. At present the organisation is unable to utilise all its resources efficiently to earn a decent sum and wants to change all that now. 

Its first step towards that would be a manpower audit — a recommendation of the 2014 Sam Pitroda expert committee on Prasar Bharati. The committee’s report, submitted to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry in January 2014, had stated the need to undertake a comprehensive manpower audit and HR planning exercise to map workforce requirements for the future in line with Prasar Bharati’s mandate.

According to official sources, the revenue earned by DD and AIR is much less than the regular expenditure of Prasar Bharati towards the salaries of employees and the internal extra-budgetary resources of DD and AIR. Prasar Bharati, along with DD and AIR, has an estimated 49,000 employees passed on to it by the I&B Ministry in 1997, after it was given the autonomy.

 Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati says that the PM is determined to give Doordarshan and AIR a much-needed makeover and as part of that, he had constituted a group comprising secretary-level officers to propose ideas and measures to modernise the various wings of Prasar Bharati.

Apart from pruning the manpower, designing a new logo, there has been a massive exercise of digitising archives, cataloguing and putting together metadata. Some material from the archives has been put on the official website for sale. The next step is to be able to syndicate some of the popular content and make them available on-demand on platforms like Hotstar, Netflix and Amazon Prime.

 Popular television series such as Malgudi Days, Circus, Bharat Ek Khoj etc. had a recent rerun on the channel, bringing back those nostalgic days to the viewers assuring the pubcaster a long lost viewership. But can that happen and how soon can it happen?

The present state of the pubcaster is not so good. Vempati says, “TV viewing habits are changing. Linear TV's biggest advantage will be to have live content. As for premium content, viewers today want to watch shows at their own convenient time". So he has decided to use the OTT platform but of other private companies. How will it benefit DD is yet to be seen as it has always lost when it allowed private companies to use its resources.


What happened to Digitisation of Terrestrial TV?

Prasar Bharati digitization is undergoing for many years but without any solid results. Doordarshan has 1400 transmitters all over the country and for years are lying in shambles as it has not kept up with changing technologies and the government does not want to lose control over it. There have been talks of digitization of terrestrial transmission with DVB-T technology since 2003 and due to undue delays in the bureaucratic procedures nothing could be achieved. In the mean time DVB-T became obsolete, replaced by DVB-T2 and Prasar Bharati was forced to issue fresh tenders for DVB-T2. Now we are told that 16 TV stations have been upgraded to new digital technology but commercial transmission are yet to commence. Not only this we have not yet created any manufacturing support in the country for DVB-T2 set-top-boxes, dongles and supporting mobile phones etc.

Now government has decided to encrypt DD Free Dish signals forcing every household to buy a new digital CAS enabled set top box to receive the signals, meaning that its 20 million existing subscribers will have to abandon their existing STBs and buy new ones for ` 1500 to 2000. This will further give a boost to the private broadcasters riding on this platform as they can exactly count on the viewership and demand ad revenue accordingly.


Private FTA channels enjoy DD Free Dish ride at the cost of Doordarshan

Last month the MIB has asked the broadcaster to suspend e-auctioning of slots on DD Free Dish, the FTA DTH network, which were mostly picked up by large private broadcasters until further notice. The last e-auction took place in July this year.

Earlier the viewership rating agency TAM set up by the international Pay broadcasters did not realm into the Doordarshan territory of rural and semi-urban areas where it is estimated that 58% of TV households exist. BARC the new rating agency set up by the government and the industry started measuring TRPs in rural areas and changed the whole scene. Suddenly DD Free Dish increased its reach to around 25 million households, faster than the growth of the entire DTH industry in the past few years. This has catapulted the FTA platform to the most desired category where riding on it, the private broadcasters could make a real kill in advertising, otherwise difficult in a crowded ‘pay’ TV market on cable and DTH.

As reported by The Tribune in July last, the national broadcaster was losing great amount of revenue to a large number of private channels which had piggy-backed it on its “Free Dish” which was launched to take its channels to the masses through the Direct-to-Home (DTH) mode where terrestrial signals could not reach.

Reports said private broadcasters, while paying an average of about ` 6-8 crore per annum to DD-Free Dish were earning ` 500-700 crore per channel in advertising revenue due to the high reach obtained via DD-Direct while relegating DD channels to the category of unwatched channels. This resulted in DD losing hundreds of crores in its own potential advertising revenue.

A review of ratings of channels on DD-Free Dish indicated that the ratings of Doordarshan were not even 10% of the ratings of the private broadcasters. The top rated 15 channels on DD-Free Dish platform had ratings which ranged from 50-80 and almost all of them were private TV channels.

At present, DD Free Dish platform carries 80 TV channels, including Star Utsav, Sony Pal, Zee Anmol, Rishtey and news channels like Aaj Tak, ABP News, Zee News, News 24 etc.


How Doordarshan was made to lose its clout

Doordarshan once upon a time was on top of the chart with best of the serials, like Mahabharat, Ramayana, Humlog, Khandan etc. Even after the emergence of cable TV, Doordarshan News and its other entertainment channels remained as popular as before till the Ministry came under the influence of private ‘Pay’ TV broadcasters. The government modified policies to help make people receive all pay channels. When CAS amendment was brought in to encrypt pay channels, private broadcasters were allowed a freehand in flouting the masses, in whatever ways possible, aggregating their pay content in bouquets. CAS was deferred as viewers went for FTA channels rather than pay for PAY channels. However, Cable Operators were made to pay for the bouquets that included both Pay and FTA channels. This again left Doordarshan alone as it was not placed in any bouquet being a ‘Sarkari’ channel.

Since 70% of TV households are from low income strata, ARPUs remained very low. Moreover these low income subscribers preferred to watch Doordarshan without paying any subscription. Even cable operators in these far flung areas operated small analogue networks offering only FTA channels including Doordarshan channels. However, now their services have been blocked by the government in the name of digitization.

At the same time when CAS was deferred, Direct-to-Home (DTH) licences were given to pay broadcasters to operate DTH services bypassing Cable TV networks without sharing their revenue with them. This was a big setback to DD Free Dish as consumers of private DTH players did not carry all DD channels under the pretext of non-availability of transponders. Since these DTH companies provided all popular Pay TV channels in bouquets at attractive prices assuring of better reception and value added services, consumers started shifting from DD Free Dish to DTH networks.


For Poor people Doordarshan vanished with Analogue Switch-off

In March 2017 after six years, DAS was declared completed and analog TV was ordered to shut down, further blocking the analog transmission of Doordarshan through small Cable TV networks operating in rural areas and hinterlands where no digital infrastructure was available. It is estimated that almost 40 million analog TV households are affected by this.


Watching sports of National Importance on DD channels on cable also banned

The Supreme Court in August upheld the Delhi High Court's verdict barring Prasar Bharati from sharing with cable operators through Doordarshan (DD) channels the live feed of cricket matches of which private broadcasters ESPN and Star had the exclusive rights. This deprived millions of cable subscribers of watching sports matches of National importance who could not afford to pay for the high priced ‘Pay’ channels. 

This pushed Doordarshan further into an abyss from where it has not been able to come out. Due to lack of ad support, its revenues fell and content deteriorated further.

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