Three-pronged strategy for DD Sports: Prasar Bharati's KS Sarma

NEW DELHI: Prasar Bharati Corporation may soon start playing some hard ball game to exploit the opportunities on Doordarshan (DD) Sports channel. This would include auctioning off prime time to private players.

"We have drawn up a three-pronged strategy for DD sports, which includes prime time auction under a `golden hours' scheme and collaboration with other sports channels on the programming front," Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma told in an interview.

The third leg of the strategy is to ensure that DD's regional centres whip up more sports-related television software, which would also include indigenous sports.

Prasar Bharati is an autonomous body, modeled on the lines of the British Broadcasting Corporation, which manages the functioning of India's pubcasters DD and All India Radio (AIR).

According to Sarma, revenue augmentation plans have been drawn up for various DD channels, including DD Sports, as the gap between Prasar Bharati's earnings and annual expenditure is huge running into several hundred million rupees. For example, Prasar Bharati's expenditure on DD Sports alone is approximately Rs 1,000 million annually.

As part of the road map for DD Sports, two hours between 8 pm to 10 pm. would be auctioned off to private players interested in strutting their fare on DD Sports.

Few years back when Prasar Bharati had gone in for such auctioning of time on its entertainment channel, DD Metro, it had netted for a year over Rs 1200 million (Rs 1.2 billion).

However, it is another story that in the DD venture, which marked Australian media tycoon Kerry Packer's maiden business forays into India, Packer had burnt his fingers along with his Indian partner HFCL.

But considering the pull of sports in India, especially cricket and growing interest for golf and tennis, Sarma believes that private players would be attracted to DD Sports. But for the prime time DD would insist on new programming and not allow repeats and archival material to be aired.

That there is a serious need to augment the revenues of DD can also be gauged from the fact that this year DD would not be able to show the upcoming Davis Cup tennis tournament live on any of its channels as the asking rate for telecast rights is too high. The rights holder for the Davis Cup matches --- Ray Media promoted by former CNN India head-turned entrepreneur Ashis Ray --- has quoted a figure of $ 60,000, which is a 'bit too high for Prasar Bharati.'

As far as collaboration with sports channels like ESPN and Ten Sports is concerned, Sarma feels certain other time band on DD Sports would be made available to them where they can showcase programming from their library.

"Most sports channels have huge libraries and we would make available to them the platform of DD and later may go in for revenue sharing on mutually agreed terms," Sarma said, adding that talks would be opened up with private sports channels soon.

DD Sports is the only free to air sports channel available in India. The others like ESPN, Star Sports and Ten Sports are all pay channels. The first two, sold as a package, last week reiterated that the two channels would be available to cable operators for Rs 32.

Till last year, DD Sports too, was a satellite-based pay channel whose distribution had been outsourced to Modi Entertainment Network (MEN). After a messy court case, lasting several months, Prasar Bharati managed to formally disassociate itself from MEN. The move to turn FTA had been part of a bigger plan to exploit the scenario in a post-CAS (conditional access system) regime.

Prasar Bharati also annually spends huge amount of money acquiring sports-related content that can run up to 600 hours. This year too such content acquisition has been done from a Switzerland-based company, IEC, at the rate of Rs 27,500 per 30 minutes of software.

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