Industry POV

Prasar Bharti plans makeover for DD National

25 May, 2016

Prasar Bharati chairperson A. Surya Prakash says Doordarshan will now outsource some general entertainment programmes to external production houses through an auction

New Delhi: Public broadcaster Prasar Bharti is planning a complete makeover of the DD National channel by the end of September to improve the quality of programming and attract more viewers.

A precursor to that was a decision taken at Prasar Bharti’s 16 May board meeting to auction prime-time slots between 7pm and 11pm on the national channel of Doordarshan.

Doordarshan will now outsource some general entertainment programmes to external production houses through an auction.

“We decided to introduce fresh programming to get eyeballs back. Prasar Bharati needs to improve viewership to get up there among the general entertainment channels and to compete with private channels,” Prasar Bharati chairperson A. Surya Prakash said in an interview. “This auction is an experiment for DD National and, if successful, Prasar Bharati will auction slots for other channels of Doordarshan network as well.”

In the latest rural viewership data released by television viewership measuring agency Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) for the week ended 13 May, Doordarshan failed to make it to the 10 most-watched Hindi general entertainment channels or the five most-watched programmes.

BARC, for the first time, released rural viewership data separately for Hindi general entertainment channels and programmes.

Prakash said the way the programmes are financed at Doordarshan is a factor affecting the quality of programmes.

Doordarshan has a policy of self-financed commissions, wherein it buys programmes from producers and recovers the cost from advertising revenues.

“We feel that we are not getting the quality we want,” Prakash said. “This is one of the major reasons that we have invited big players in television production to bid for these slots. We plan to roll out the new programming on 1 October.”

The broadcaster, in a slot-sale policy uploaded on its website, has laid out a set of conditions to be followed by prospective bidders—for instance, a production house will only be eligible to bid if it has logged revenue of at least Rs.5 crore per annum in each of the past three financial years and has produced at least 300 hours of Hindi general entertainment programming in the past two calendar years.

“We are expecting a substantial growth in terms of quality of content on the channel so that Doordarshan can measure up to the level of private players in the country,” Prakash said.

Also on the cards is a new digital platform for Prasar Bharati, a new arm of the broadcaster to cater to the age of digitalization. However, details of the platform haven’t been made public yet.

“It is a little early to comment on this. Prasar Bharati board has asked me to constitute a committee of experts to examine the idea of a digital platform and to present a report to the board. The committee will be constituted this week and will take a month or so to submit its report,” said Prakash.

On the commercial viability of Prasar Bharati, Prakash said that out of a total budget of Rs.4,200 crore for 2015-16, about Rs.2,200 crore came as budgetary support from the government and the rest was internal revenue. The government has allocated Rs.4,083.63 crore to Prasar Bharati for 2016-17.

“Prasar Bharati is on its way to becoming financially independent and stand on its own feet,” said Prakash.

“There often comes a need to balance out things—our responsibilities as a public broadcaster and the need for viewership, but I am quite confident that in the years to come, Prasar Bharati, apart from maintaining its role as a public broadcaster, will be able to generate more and more funds and pay more attention to its internal revenue generation,” he added.

According to the website of DD National, the channel is the largest terrestrial network in the world, covering about 92% of the Indian population and 81% of the country’s land area.

“Doordarshan has an inherent strength of reach and distribution. In terms of content, consistency is the key. So, if Doordarshan is able to revamp its content on a consistent basis, I think it can turn around over a period of time,” said Ashish Bhasin, chairman and CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network South Asia.