The Year of Rapid Change

By Ranjan Thakur

The year 2013 witnessed a large number of activities in Prasar Bharati and Doordarshan.  A major achievement of Doordarshan was in rebranding its Free-to-Air DTH services as ‘DD Freedish’ which highlights its USP of being Free-to-Air.  Earlier, the name DD Direct Plus did not catch on because the rural audience could not connect with the name.  The name ‘DD Freedish’ now adequately conveys the USP of the product and the DTH service which is quite popular and far ahead of its paid rivals, is likely to increase its popularity further.

The project of commissioning of enhanced capacity to 120 channels up from the present 59 channels is likely to be completed by March, 2014 and will substantially enhance the popularity of the product.  It is expected that given the background of the ongoing digitisation process in the country, a large number of cable users will shift to the DD’s Freedish in 2014 especially during the Phase III and Phase IV of the digitisation process when it will start touching the semi-urban and rural viewers.

 A matter of great satisfaction for Doordarshan has been the successful auction of the channel slots for the private channels on the DD’s Freedish platform.  A series of steps, including staggering of the auction process, enhanced the revenue of DD by nearly 40 per cent from the previous rounds of auction.  Presently, the platform is commanding an annual carriage fee of Rs 6 crore per channel due to its large reach.

DD looks forward to the conclusion of the process of launching its international channel, DD India in the territory of Europe.  DD has received a very lucrative offer from one of the major operators in Europe for placement of DD India w.e.f. January, 2014, which is likely to be accepted with the approval of the Prasar Bharati Board soon.  DD India has already been launched in Canada and will be launched in the territories of Korea, Middle East and Central Asia in Early 2014. 

The availability of DD India over the entire Europe including northern parts of Africa will substantially enhance the popularity of DD India globally.  As the stakeholders are aware that a global channel requires substantial investment, DD proposes to expand the global footprint of DD India in a phased manner after analysing the experience in Europe, Korea, Canada and Central Asia.

Doordarshan is in the process of finalising its FPC for the expansion of its international channel which will be a mix of news and general entertainment.

Doordarshan also successfully upgraded the four regional channels of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan during 2013.  These channels were working in four hour terrestrial mode only while substantial investment in infrastructure, equipment and manpower had already been made.  In order to effectively utilise the investment made in these locations, a decision to upgrade these channels to 24 hour cable and satellite channel was taken and implemented within a period three months without any major investment. 

The current TAM data indicates that while DD-Bihar and DD-Uttar Pradesh are already No 1, DD- Madhya Pradesh is No 2 while DD-Rajasthan is No 3, in their respective states in terms of popularity.  The upgradation of these four state channels is a major step forward to tap the regional television market.  DD now proposes to move on to upgradation of DD-Jharkhand, DD-Uttarakhand, DD-Chattisgarh and DD- Himachal Pradesh on the same pattern of the four channels.  It was our experience that the viewership of terrestrial channels was adversely affected in cable and satellite territories which needed to be addressed.  Given the success of the four regional channels upgradation, Doordarshan is confident that this process will be completed shortly and these channels are likely to be quite popular in their territory.

We (at DD) expect the next year to be an exciting year when a number of these initiatives will start yielding results for DD with substantial enhancement of revenue besides sourcing of quality software.

DD has enhanced its role in the industry’s body namely Indian Broadcasting Federation and has a place on the Board of Directors after quite some years.  DD expects to play its rightful role being the only public broadcaster in the country and share its experiences while lending its strength to the industry body.

DD is on the Board of Directors of the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), an initiative of the industry to develop alternative TV ratings.  DD has substantially increased its role in BARC and as the industry is aware, an alternate television rating system based on the audio watermarking technology is likely to be initiated by June, 2014.

Doordarshan has set up a professional Audience Research Unit to analyse the available data related to the television rating points.  In the process, Doordarshan has shut down its Doordarshan Audience Research Team (DART), an in-house system.  The present practice of a professional Audience Research Unit has now brought DD at par with its private counterparts.

Amongst several other major initiatives, Doordarshan is in the process of finalisation of external partners for monitoring its channel’s popularity of various networks, especially cable as there have been concerns that the law of the land is not being followed in this regard.  DD expects to partner with professional agencies in order to monitor the violations of the law which is likely to improve its viewership as in absence of any carriage fee being paid by DD, cable operators tend to put DD channels in the difficult to watch remote places.  DD has finalised the process to appoint a professional agency to provide electronic programming guide to its channels on all cable and DTH platforms besides upgrading its own EPG system on DD’s Freedish.

Doordarshan is in the last stages of finalising the process of outsourcing its corporate advertisement sales of DD News which has faced some difficulties in the recent past.  The hiring of a professional agency is likely to improve its marketing of commercial time.  DD has also floated an RFP to improve its billing system which would network the entire Doordarshan Kendras for effective marketing, monitoring and billing of the commercial ad time.  DD has also focused on the Government business through its Development Communication Division and it is expected that a record increment of 40 per cent in Government revenue received by DD will be registered in this current financial year.

DD has finalised its new commissioning guidelines which are based on the industry accepted practices of Advertisement Funded Programme, revenue sharing and simulcast.  These new guidelines are expected to source better quality programming for DD while allowing outside producers to share the positive revenue gained from quality products.  This policy will also not require DD to commit itself to funding low quality and low cost programming.

DD is working towards the amendment of the mandatory sharing of Sports Signals Act, 2007 as the present Act requires all sporting events of national importance to be carried on DD National only, where the opportunity cost makes the present arrangement financially unviable.  DD was proud to have won the exclusive broadcast rights for the recently concluded World Chess Championship in Chennai.  DD has won some major legal battles for the transmission of sports in India as the entire validity of the mandatory sharing of sports Signals Act, 2007 has been questioned in courts.  The recent legal victory of Doordarshan in regard to ICC T-20 World Cup Championship in June, 2013 was a shot in the arm for DD.

DD has decided to e-auction its film slots in order to bring in transparencies to the entire system and also enhance revenue by allowing the bidders to buy slots on the best prices as deemed fit.

We expect the next year to be an exciting year when a number of these initiatives will start yielding results for DD with substantial enhancement of revenue besides sourcing of quality software.

(Ranjan Thakur is additional director general - programmes, Doordarshan. The views expressed in the above article are the author's personal views)

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