DD News targets self-sufficiency in Year 3 of operations

NEW DELHI: India's pubcaster Prasar Bharati, which oversees the functioning of Doordarshan and All India Radio, is showing rare courage of accepting challenges set by the government that funds its operations.

Maybe stung by the criticism of the finance ministry, which had earlier turned down a proposal from Prasar Bharati on huge funding for the relaunch of DD News, the channel has set itself revenue targets over the next three years so that at the end of the third financial year self-sufficiency can be achieved.

"We have taken up the challenge of generating revenue from DD News so that self sufficiency can be achieved at the end of the third year," Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma today told journalists on the sidelines of announcing an initiative to start voice training (for radio) culture through the Staff Training Institute of AIR.

According to Sarma, the revenue target for the remaining period of the current financial year, ending 31 March, 2004, is Rs 20 million. For the year 2004-05, the target would be Rs 200 million and for the next year the goal is to try mop up Rs 540 million.

"If we manage to stick to this revenue generation target, we'd make DD News self-sufficient," Sarma said, adding, "We thought why not try it?"

Now that DD News has to depend on lessened government aid (the pruned sanctioned amount from the remaining period of this financial year is Rs 200 million), as part of a revenue generating move, Prasar Bharati would outsource programming for "at least five hours daily" on sponsorship basis.

"To attract revenue we are looking at people who can sponsor programmes (on DD News)," Sarma said.

An added sop is the attractive (read low) rate card at which DD News would hawk time. The rates being fixed are Rs 30,000 per 30-minute programming during prime time and Rs 5,000 per 30 minutes for programmes during non-prime time. The available free commercial time would be between 210-240 seconds per 30 minutes.

The type of programming that are likely to be outsourced to private producers include business news and programmes on beauty and health and entertainment.

Though Sarma did not disclose names as "negotiations are still on," he said that some private producers have already evinced interest in buying bulk time on DD News.


Sarma also said that DD is negotiating to get the India telecast rights for the Athens Olympic Games through the Asia Broadcasting Union (ABU), which is an organsiation made up of a clutch of Asian broadcasters, including national broadcasters.

The total cost of acquiring telecast rights of the Olympics would be over Rs 260 million, out of which Rs 110 million has already been paid by ABU, on behalf of DD, to the International Olympics Association (IOA).

"Well, there are certain constraints on getting permissions for the money need for full coverage of the Olympics. At the moment ABU is acting on our behalf," Sarma explained.

According to Sarma, DD also negotiated at very short notice the telecast rights for the Asia Cup hockey tournament that concluded recently in Malaysia where India emerged the champions.

"Since we negotiated hard, Indians managed to watch the final live on DD Sports," Sarma said, adding that DD Sports also managed to sell airtime for the Asia Cup worth Rs 350 million. The telecast rights cost DD Rs 150 million.

However, because DD had an accumulated outstanding over three years worth Rs 850 million against the Asia Cup telecast rights holder, the revenue generated would go towards covering up that deficit.

Reiterating what he had told earlier in an interview, Sarma said that for DD Sports a strategy has been drawn up and that would have to be approved by the board of Prasar Bharati. This includes hawking time on DD Sports to other sports channels like ESPN and Star Sports to showcase new programming.

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