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Doordarshan needs radical overhaul

MUMBAI: Doordarshan, India’s public service broadcaster, needs a radical overhaul of its programming structure as it bids to keep pace with private television channels.

The shake-up, essential for finding more audiences and revenues, will involve new ways of building and sourcing content. A government-appointed expert committee, headed by technocrat Sam Pitroda, has recommended partially doing away with the tendering and bidding systems to select outsourced programmes. Also, a flexible financial approach to content creation needs to be adopted.

Splitting DD News into separate 24×7 Hindi and English news channels, converting DD Sports into a hybrid sports and movies channel, and introducing teleshopping bands for commercial exploitation are among some of the other suggestions made by the expert committee.

The programming structure overhaul

According to the panel, a clear demarcation between Prasar Bharati’s commercial and non-commercial properties needs to be made in terms of programming and time bands. A notional, monetised value must be assigned to the public service properties delivered by the broadcaster on each of its channels for overall revenue generation.

Given that Prasar Bharati’s expenditure on content creation is very low, a larger share should be devoted to this purpose. Moreover, it needs financial flexibility to be able to invest quickly and efficiently in the creation of quality content.

For outsourced programmes, flexible systems of selection of programme providers and negotiations about costs, duly supervised by oversight committees including experts, are required to improve the quality of content.

“The current tendering and bidding systems do not attract the best talent in direction, screenplay and scripting, which affects the quality of content and programming,” the committee report said.

The panel also highlights the need to procure award-winning art films, NSD productions, TV adaptation of theatrical presentations to enrich DD Bharati, initiate collaborative arrangements and syndications to get content from other niche channels like Discovery and History Channel, and have more simulcast programmes like ‘Satyamev Jayate’ and ‘Saraswatichandra’ as they bring in good revenue.

Content must emerge from a vision reflecting an ideal channel mix defining the scope and reach of the broadcasts, DTH, satellite and terrestrial. The current mix needs to be analysed and adjusted to the ideal composition, with content designed as per the image and thrust of each channel.

Giving importance to prime-time content treatment similar to that of the private broadcasters, Doordarshan and All India Radio (AIR) should develop a fervour that transcends to marketing, thus promoting viewership.

“As we are dealing with public funds, value for money becomes paramount. Concept, treatment, production design, values and cinematography that create content excitement have to be our primary concern,” states the panel.

Restructuring DD channels and AIR stations

There is a need to review the bouquet of stations and channels at DD and AIR to assess if any restructuring is needed. DD News, for example, can be split into separate 24×7 Hindi and English news channels to target specific audience segments like children, women, youth, rural/agricultural, environment, health and culture.

To build credibility, the committee suggests roping in famous personalities to endorse DD News.

The panel also stresses the importance of introducing business news in Hindi apart from English, creating time bands or launching exclusive educational television services with greater contribution that could include partial funding by central and state universities to fight the menace of increasing illiteracy in rural hinterlands.

Relooking at DD Sports, the panel point outs the possibility of airing films when prime sports are not being telecast.

With channels such as Zee earning around Rs 60 crore ( Rs 600 million) from teleshopping, the committee also recommends the launch of a teleshopping channel in the non-primetime band.

The move is necessary for the bouquet of channels on DD Direct Plus (Prasar Bharati’s direct-to-home service) as most rural audiences have migrated to DTH. In the case of AIR, the number of stations could be reviewed, along with their content, reach and cost benefits.

Freeing Prasar Bharati cadres from the government

Prasar Bharati was conceived with the aim of keeping AIR and DD free of the shackles of the government. The news presenters and those having editorial responsibilities were intended to be committed to objectivity, maintaining a balanced approach to the process of dissemination of information. To ensure this, Prasar Bharati must have its own news cadres, answerable to the broadcaster in matters related to content, service conditions and postings.

Each station should have a duly empowered channel head from within the organisation to provide administrative and financial supervision. Furthermore, each channel should also have content, technical and packaging heads who can be either from within the organisation or outsourced.

The human resources sector needs to be focused on. The panel recommends a training plan that will both train new talent and refresh Prasar Bharati cadres.

Need to phase out terrestrial broadcast and spend on content

The growth of Prasar Bharati over the last three decades has seen a heavy expenditure on infrastructure for terrestrial broadcasting, instead of an expenditure on content.

The committee maintains that with the growth of satellite, cable, DTH and broadband internet access, there is a need to phase out terrestrial broadcasts over a period of time in consultation with the other expert groups. This could gradually pan out in about five years. This move would then release considerable funds that could be used for strengthening the content of Prasar Bharati and release permanent assets for monetisation.

However, this would not be extended to FM radio, which needs to be expanded and has already begun its course of experimentation with Digital Radio Mondiale (DRM).

New media usage

Following the completion of digitisation, Prasar Bharati should launch VOD/AOD content on the internet and also exploit mobile technologies to provide additional services in order to connect with the new-generation audiences.

The expert panel recommends a strong marketing strategy for selling archival products by working out a revenue share model with national and international marketing houses and e-commerce sites.

The committee’s other suggestions include a focus on social media platforms to engage and connect with the new-generation viewers, and a citizen journalism segment in all major news bulletins which can be editorially curated on an ongoing basis.

Putting research on DD and AIR websites for transparency

To bridge the gap between the people and DD, more research needs to be used. To inform all programme decisions and strategies, it is important to commission independent research, which is qualitative and quantitative in nature. Apart from that, public consultations, audience panels and annual tracking studies will complement the commissioned studies.

With the television audience rating system being under the scanner now, the expert group suggests making the results of all the research available on the DD and AIR websites to ensure openness and transparency in decision-making.

The panel also emphasises the need to revamp the Audience Research Unit (ARU) and pay attention to audience priorities. Each station should undertake audience research with regard to audience needs, content analysis and impact for which budgets should be earmarked for each station.

A tie-up with a leading international research agency to improve DD/AIR research data so that it is more acceptable to advertisers could also help in the long run.

“Research and audience studies need to be used strategically in programme development and also in promotion. New media initiatives can be aligned with compiled viewer feedback from respective programmes to engage and further build viewership,” the committee states.

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Panel under Sam Pitroda suggests how Prasar Bharati can become an independent public service broadcaster