MAM

Sleeping giant DD about to stir

Conditional Access System (CAS) is definitely changing the name of the game for the national broadcaster too.

Last Saturday, Doordarshan director general Dr SY Quraishi met up with media planners and buyers as part of an interaction organised by Creative Channel. Dr Quraishi spoke about various issues -- such as myths created by C&S channels' sales teams about DD; DD's new programming initiatives; post-CAS plans; communication and advertising campaigns, amongst other issues. The following are some excerpts from Dr Quraishi's speech:

Doordarshan (DD) is a sleeping giant. The core management team - the creative and the bureaucracy - has done a lot of introspection to prepare for the post-CAS scenario. We had arrived at the conclusion that there has been a recent shift from a creative entity to a time selling organization. The focus for DD is to ensure that it remains a creative organization.

We have appointed several consultants such as Alyque Padamsee - we have other specialized consultants on our marketing advisory committee and our health advisory committees amongst others. Most of the senior professionals we approach are always happy to counsel us. They are sad and concerned that DD is perceived to be weak - and not getting its due.

However, the point to note is that DD is a national broadcaster and we don't have any vested interest. Nearly 50 per cent of India still depends on DD. The audience in C&S households might be fickle and disloyal but the audience watching DD is loyal. In terms of sheer numbers, the audiences watching DD are much more than those watching C&S channels.

Myths about DD:

Most of the myths prevailing about DD have been created by vested interests - by the sales teams of C&S channels.

1) Households watching DD don't buy products:

Take for instance the myth that buyers of products and services only watch C&S channels. Our research shows that 89 per cent of Hindustan Lever Limited (HLL) products are sold in rural areas.

2) DD programmes don't feature in C&S homes Top 100 lists:

There are false myths about DD programmes not featuring in the Top 100 lists of C&S homes. A study of the last six months shows that the Top 100 list has at least 36 DD programmes; the Top 50 list has at least 18 DD programmes.

3) DD's distribution and connectivity in metros is weak:

Despite the tall claims of distribution and connectivity, more than 48 per cent of Mumbai and Delhi still don't get C&S channels. There are people who didn't have cable TV because they could not afford it. Some of the people in the upper socio-economic class prefer to avoid subscribing to C&S channels for various reasons - be it the issue that C&S television might hamper their children's studies; or the fact they watch minimal television; or concerned about values and morality.

DD will also offer DTH (direct to home) services to the people of the country. Our research shows that there are at least 100 million people in the country where no form of television (either satellite or terrestrial) reaches. In some of the border areas, it is difficult to install expensive antenna towers due to security reasons. The people living in such areas - even North East India - will benefit from DTH.

4) DD's programming is sub-standard:

The point remains that DD is still conservative and we have comprehensive programming guidelines. We shall never air the so-called "bold, revealing" films. We have a duty and responsibility to uphold values and morality related concerns and sensibilities.

Some of the advertisers urged us to come up with saas-bahu themes - however, as a policy decision, we have decided to stay away from such offerings.

We are now formulating our strategy to launch a mega serial with a social purpose and objective. We want this soap/programme to be an antidote to the erosion in moral values of society. It will use an entertainment format to deal with issues such as: empowerment of women, child abuse, reproductive rights of women, violence against women or children. This show will initiate a debate in the living room as well as the bedroom. We shall launch the show in three months time and are already talking to several top producers to present concepts to us.

mega serial with a social purpose Road (20 June),

We feel that we can lure viewers with film programming. We have developed several film slots - for instance, the Friday and Saturday night slots. Recently, we have aired several new films - Dum, Shool, Bandhan, Hera Pheri, Daag - The Fire, Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa, Anari No 1. We will telecast Road on 20 June. We shall also have film festivals - say a Govinda or a Raj Kapoor film festival. The growing TRPs (nearly 15-20 per cent over various target groups) of feature films shown on DD in the last seven or eight months shows that we are on the right track and viewers are lapping up the fare. However, we shall not shy away from the fact that our viewers would also want different fare - be it old films or meaningful art cinema or cross-over films.

5) DD doesn't cater to varied tastes:

We have a holistic approach to programming. It is our duty and responsibility to cater to different tastes - we have a channel (DD Bharati) totally dedicated to children and lovers of classical music and arts. There is a select audience for this kind of content - perhaps around one per cent of the total pie but this one per cent of viewers is a very loyal audience.

6) CAS was created to help DD:

There was a rumour that conditional access system (CAS) has been introduced to favour DD - this is again a work of vested interests. The post-CAS era will highlight DD's strength. It will reveal the truth about channels that claim to have grossly misrepresented exaggerated viewership figures.

The post-CAS era is an opportunity for DD. The redistribution of the audience, the uncertainty will redefine the ground rules. DD will start with an advantage as compared to several leading C&S channels. However, content will still be the primary driver.

Content will rule once consumers are free and empowered to choose as per their liking. It will ultimately be the content and the quality of programming that will ensure viewership and ad revenues. However, being the national broadcaster, DD will not enter any rat race.

7) DD news is not watched:

Another myth revolves around the "news" related programmes. The splash of hoardings, advertisements and multimedia campaign seems to have given the wrong impression to advertisers. The C&S news channels seem to have created a perception that they are being watched more than DD News. Our research shows that 90-93 per cent of people in the country watch DD News between 8-9 pm.

The nearest competitor - self proclaimed sabse tez channel had a share of less than five per cent. In fact, our consultants felt that the first step that should be undertaken by DD (during its revamp mode) is to change the format of DD News. We have recently appointed new DD anchors.

Also, there is this false propaganda that C&S news channels are 24-hour. The DD News bulletins are updated and fresh even at 1 am and 2 am - the rival channels are either showing repeats or recorded news. Most of the C&S channels show news on demand - if you miss the 9 pm bulletin, you can see the same on the 10 pm or 11 pm bulletin. Most of the DD affiliate regional kendras have an average of four bulletins every day; DD Kolkata has eight and DD Bhubaneshwar has seven. I shall ask DD Sahyadri officials to add two more bulletins in an attempt to counter the threat of private channels (ETV Marathi and Alpha Marathi).

Problems faced by the DD team:

Our core problem still relates to the fact that there has been a freeze on staff intake since the last 10 years. Over the last decade or so, our activities have increased by 590 per cent whereas the staff has increased only by 10 per cent. There are several requests by people and their elected representatives to cover several events of national or regional relevance.

There are rumours and allegations about Mandi House actually being a hotseat of corruption - involving commissioning programmes. The core management team has taken a serious view of the allegations. The procedures are more transparent now - we even post details on our website and reveal the names of the shortlisted players. We request all the constituents - media and advertisers - to help us identify problems and bring such cases to our notice.

The core management team has also initiated action against DD staff members who accept outside assignments and do moonlighting. We recently discovered that one of our cameramen handling sports programming had two passports. He used one passport to travel abroad and handle programming work for rival channels. He was temporarily suspended. When I visited the Abby awards in March 2003, I discovered that one of the cameramen covering the event was a DD employee. He had been posted in North East but had flown down to Mumbai feigning illness and taking leave. When he spotted me, he tried to evade me but couldn't do it for long - action has been initiated against him.

We have forged barter alliances with several publications and are planning to do a multi-media spin around our programming.

But all said and done, we are still a poor organisation. We have to revive the past glory of DD and are gearing to accept the challenge.





Also read:

DD to pitch itself as attractive platform to push mid-level brands

Creative Channel to market Saturday Hindi feature film slot on DD

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