AIR hopes to expand reach, revenues with satellite radio feed

All India Radio, considered to be one of the most powerful pubcasters in the world and the low-profile cousin of Doordarshan, is all set to give the private FM radio broadcasters in India a run for their money and popularity. AIR will soon be made available on cable television as part of an exercise to generate additional revenues and increase its reach.

"We have a proposal to offer domestic consumers in India AIR through cable TV," a senior official of the Prasar Bharati Corporation said, pointing out that the effort is to increase the reach of AIR through various media. 

The expansion mode also includes Prasar Bharati holding negotiations with the Indian Railways to offer the AIR's FM service on long distance running trains like the Rajdhani and Shatabdi Express. A pilot project undertaken in this regard has yielded good results, the official said, adding, "We are about to finalise the deal with the Railways."

The radio-through-cable TV initiative will mean that Indians can tune their cable TV to a frequency where the TV screen will appear blank, but the channel will carry audio feed.

"Radio over cable is very popular in the West, specially in the hotels," the official explained, adding once this gets popular, AIR can exploit the commercial opportunities too through advertisers who would want to target a particular set of clientele.

AIR's gross advertising revenues for 2000-01 were Rs 878.3 million while for 2001-02 they were Rs 969.8 million.

It may be worth mentioning here that during its early broadcasting days in India in the early 1990s, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled Star Group (then called Star TV) used to beam a satellite radio channel called Sky Radio which was accessed by cable operators and re-distributed as an audio channel broadcasting mostly music to cable subscribers. This was at a time when most Star channels, including Star Plus airing English programming, were not available in India as 24-hour TV channels.

Prasar Bharati feels that the radio-over-cable is an initiative, which is worth exploring considering the amount of content it generates and the huge library at AIR's disposal.

Considering that AIR is receiving more financial help from the government (courtesy Planning Commission's recommendations accepted by the government) this financial year for programming initiatives, Prasar Bharati can go in for innovations. AIR's programming budget has been increased from about Rs 10 million during the last financial year to Rs. 200 million during the 2002-03 fiscal. 

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