Television

'We are not a business model-oriented channel' : Suneet Tandon - Lok Sabha TV CEO

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 'The no-confidence motion against the UPA government last month gave Lok Sabha TV's ratings the much required boost as well as an opportunity to rake in money by sharing its feed with privately run satellite news channels.

Indiantelevision.com's Anushree Bhattacharyya caught up with Lok Sabha TV CEO Suneet Tandon to find out more on his plans for the channel. Interestingly, Tandon was elevated as CEO less than a week before the crucial vote. He was earlier the channel's executive director-marketing.

Excerpts:

How has the channel fared in the two years of its existence? What are major changes that have taken place?

The first year was devoted at consolidating the position of the channel. And in its second year, we established the channel's presence. People now know who we are.



There are channels that spend large amounts on advertising and marketing. We have not gone that route, yet we have carved out our very own position. All this has happened primarily due to the coverage of Lok Sabha sessions as well as other programmes like debates, discussion and documentaries.

What is the composition of Lok Sabha TV? Apart from Somnath Chatterjee (whose brainchild the channel is), who are members of its governing body?

The channel owes everything to the Speaker. But the channel is institutionalised under the overall power of the Lok Sabha. Under the Speaker, we are headed by the secretary general. In addition, there is also an advisory council to guide the functioning of the channel and is chaired by the Speaker. The vice chairman of the council is the deputy speaker of Lok Sabha. The council also consists of leaders from all the major parties in Parliament. So there is also that structure which has been set up to help offer the balance.

How much investment has been made into Lok Sabha TV?

Well, at this point of time, it is difficult to speak about the figures as I don't have them with me right now.

The channel has to depend on the audio-visual unit of the Lok Sabha secretariat for its expenses and infrastructure. Do you face any constraints in funding since you do not have a business model as such?

We are not a business model-oriented channel. We are a public service channel for which funds are made available by the Parliament from Parliament's own funds. Though there have been no constraints on our funds, it is our desire that we don't want to become a burden on anyone. We need to do it in an economical and careful manner and are very conscious of that. We do not try to spend liberally just for the sake of spending.

How many hours of feed were sold by Lok Sabha TV for the two days (during the Trust Vote)? How was the business on these two days for the channel?

We did not sell any number of hours of feed as such. News channels picked up largely the important segments. We had earlier informed all the news channels about the rates. We had adopted Doordarshan's practice of sharing feeds for important events in Parliament.

We are using the same rates used by DD. Apart from charging Rs 1 mn beyond every five minutes of feed, there is also a provision for a one-time payment. For the one-time payment, a news channel has to pay Rs 3 mn in advance and can use the feed for any three important events, which makes it Rs 1 mn for every event.

'We also try to spread cultural awareness not in terms of entertainment but by spreading awareness for our classical heritage and folk heritage. We also air awardwinning films on our channel'

Since it's all about garnering TRPs, how does a channel like Lok Sabha TV manage to catch the attention of viewers?

By being a credible, sensible and balanced channel. We are not trying to attract the attention of viewers and TRPs by showing any sensational news. We like to deal with our viewers intelligently and try to reflect their concerns because this channel is meant for the thinking citizens of this country. We are very conscious that Lok Sabha TV has to reflect and balance all shades of political opinion. And I must say that there is a lot of feedback that we have got saying that people like watching our channel because we don't sensationalise anything.

Do you keep an eye on the ratings of Lok Sabha TV? Are the ratings satisfying enough?

Yes, we do. We have subscribed to Tam (television audience measurement) every week. Considering the niche nature of the channel, it is very satisfying. Lok Sabha TV is neither a news channel and nor is it a GEC, yet our ratings have been consistently more than CNN and BBC. Also in metros like Delhi and Mumbai, our ratings have been better than many of the established news channels. It's actually a good reason to be happy for a young channel which does not offer any traditional sensation to its viewers.

The channel's viewership soared on 21 and 22 July. Do you feel that Lok Sabha would have been able to garner more ratings if you had not shared the feeds?

Of course. Those two days were extremely important for Indian democracy. And had we not shared the feed, we would have got as much viewership as that of all the channels put together? all those who took our feed and our viewership.

Apart from covering the Lok Sabha, what else does the channel concentrate on?

People have begun to look at us as in terms of quality discussions, debates and documentaries on socio-economic, constitutional and government issues. Moreover, we also try to spread cultural awareness not in terms of entertainment but by spreading awareness for our classical heritage and folk heritage. We also air awardwinning films on our channel.

At any point of time, have any member of the Advisory Council or the Speaker shown an apprehension on maintaining balance while covering any session?

No within the Parliament the balance is maintained by the Speaker himself or whosoever is in the chair at that time. And our duty is simply to cover what has happened. And as far as rest of the programmes are concerned, we have not yet faced any significant criticism. But if there are any observations, we take corrective actions.

In terms of programming, what are the changes that you would like to bring about?

Every television channel has constantly tweak its programming and look for new ideas to develop interesting programmes. I think we need to give a little more emphasis on fresh programming. And I would also like to see if we could have some more involvement from other states and cities. We also have phone-in programmes where we have toll-free numbers and people can call from anywhere in the country.

Though there is a website dedicated to Lok Sabha, there is no online property for the channel. Any plans to develop a dedicated web portal for Lok Sabha TV?

Well, that is something that we can certainly consider taking up. During the time of the debate, many people who had logged on to watch a simultaneous webcast had found that our server had reached its maximum capacity as people from all over the world had logged on it. The servers for loksabha.nic.in got jammed. So, yes, may be there is a need to set up a separate website and increase the bandwith.

What lies ahead for Lok Sabha TV?

Technically, we are already at power with any other channel. Our visual quality is as good as any other channel. Yes, we would definitely like to have more interesting programmes and would also like to increase our scope of operation.

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