Television

"We can go to advertisers and say it pays to advertise on DD" : KS Sarma CEO Prasar Bharati

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KS Sarma, the 50-something chief executive of Prasar Bharati, overseeing the functioning of Doordarshan and All India Radio, is not new to the system. A few years ago, he held the additional charge of director general of DD in his capacity as the joint secretary (broadcasting) in the information and broadcasting ministry.

Nevertheless, as only the second full-fledged CEO of the corporation modeled on the lines of British pubcaster BBC, Sarma has his plate full. His single-point agenda: get DD and AIR back to their rightful places at the top of the chart. Simple it may sound, but it is a difficult task. DD?s revenue share has been plummeting over the years what with satellite channels eating into its kitty and with employees who still think they are part of a government outfit. Sarma may well have to tighten his belt for some tough decisions and difficult times ahead.

In this interview with indiantelevision.com, Sarma holds forth on a wide range of topics from programming initiatives to funds crunch.

Excerpts...

Now that you are here for your second innings, what is the agenda?



You cannot really call this my second innings at Prasar Bharati. Earlier, as part of the I&B ministry, I merely had additional charge as the DG of DD. This time round, I have been appointed the CEO. I have just completed three months here, but feel that a lot has to be done. We have lined up some initiatives but most of them have to be approved by the board of the Prasar Bharati before they are implemented.

What are the initiatives that you are looking at taking which will arrest the slide of DD and AIR?



Top on the priority list is the programming initiative. No broadcaster can overlook content because that is what will drive other things, including revenue. I agree that DD specially has not been doing very well, but do not forget that it has a reach which is the envy of all. If we can exploit this reach of DD through good programming, then we can make an impact.

But for good programming, you need to invest a huge amount of money. Does Prasar Bharati have the resources, unlike private satellite channels which spend millions of dollars annually on acquiring programmes ?



We at Prasar Bharati have to work within some limitations. But I am happy to say that the government has granted us an additional Rs 1000 million which is for programming. We have been holding meetings at DD with various DD kendras to devise a strategy for acquiring fresh and new programmes.

I can give each DD Kendra anything between Rs 10 to 30 million, depending on the size of the centre for programming. With this fund each DD Kendra can acquire programmes at local levels as also go in for royalty programmes.

Then we have decided that Prasar Bharati will go in for outright purchase of serials and other programmes that means that the rights will rest with us. For example, if we feel that even a serial which has run its course on a satellite channel and can turn out to be good for DD audiences, we?ll buy such programmes too.

Then, we?ll start commissioning programmes too, a process that had been stopped sometime back.

Commissioning of programmes can mean re-surfacing of allegations of nepotism and favoritism, something which had been rampant in the corridors of Mandi House (DD Delhi headquarters).



This time round we are attempting to plug the loopholes. For example, we will not accept any unsolicited material from any producer no matter how big his or her reputation is. We will also increase the entry barrier that will ensure only serious and good players come to us with proposals. Moreover, we are in the process of drawing up a list of genre of programmes that will be adhered to when programmes are commissioned and/or accepted.

My attempt will be not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to see that favouritism is not resorted to while commissioning programmes. Prasar Bharati will have three panels to select programmes from outsiders, including a technical panel that will also evaluate the financial capability of a producer.

Moreover, when we commission a programme, we will insist that the producer concerned uses DD facilities wherever available. This will be a mandatory clause for other programmes too that will be produced by outsiders for DD. This way I?ll ensure maximum utilisation of infrastructure that, at present, is being under used by almost 30 per cent.

"If we can professionalise the news operation some more, we can give the private channels a run for their money in

this category too. "

You said there is a need to exploit the reach of DD through good content. How will you do this?



The reach of DD and AIR too is substantially higher than that of any other channel. But this point has not been properly conveyed to the world. We are in talks with TAM people to see how this can be rectified. They want us to invest too in a venture that envisages increasing the number of peoplemeter cities to 200. We are looking at this proposal where we may have to invest Rs 7,000 in each of the peoplemeters. If this is done and the findings are with us that DD programmes, as well as news, is watched, then we can go to advertisers and tell them `it pays to advertise on DD?. But such proposals will have to be approved by the board.

Is there a proposal to re-launch DD News that had been closed down earlier this year?



There is definitely a proposal to re-launch DD News. If all goes well and the board approves it on 3 July, then we may look at the re-launch on 15 September that happens to be the birthday of DD. We have realised that there is not enough time to be given to news on DD National channel. And at this time news is a hot topic. Though there are many critics, but a majority of people still rely on DD for news. So, the credibility factor is still high. If we can professionalise the news operation some more, we can give the private channels a run for their money in this category too.

"I can give each DD Kendra anything between Rs 10 to 30 million, depending on the size of the centre for programming. With this fund each DD Kendra can acquire

programmes at local levels as also go in for royalty programmes."

Are there any other initiatives in the pipeline?



For the first time, we have decided that we?ll float a global tender for procurement of equipment by Prasar Bharati. Earlier, we use to source the same from public sector undertakings (PSUs) like Bharat Electronics Ltd, but now PSUs will have to compete with foreign companies on every front. And mind you, Prasar Bharati?s requirements annually run into millions of rupees.

Both DD and AIR seem to have lost out to private channels and organisations where telecast rights of sporting events are concerned. How will this be corrected, considering DD lost out on the World Cup soccer rights recently and may also lose out on the ICC-organised cricket matches to a private channel?



Unlike private channels, we cannot commit huge amounts for a single event without getting necessary clearances. Remember Prasar Bharati is answerable to Parliament and every move is scrutinized minutely.We are again looking into that issue too.

So, money is a problem with Prasar Bharati. It is also said that the funds crunch has resulted in non-payment of dues that has piled up to several millions of rupees, including payments to casual reporters with DD. What is your comment on this?



I am not aware whether casual reporters of DD have not been paid. But to cut a long story short, we do have a cash inflow problem. Prasar Bharati board is seized of the matter and we?ll soon correct this. I am in the process of signing a MoU with the government that will facilitate release of funds allocated to Prasar Bharati in two tranches itself to ease the cash inflow problem.

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