Television

'DD Sahyadri has been successfully exploring the pubcaster's autonomy to unleash useful information'

Another tranquil evening is setting in the imposing Prasar Bharati complex, situated at Mumbai‘s upscale Worli area.As I enter the DD Kendra Mumbai (DD Sahyadri) office, an eerie silence accompanied by that unmistakable government office aura surrounds me. The staff has slowly started packing their bags, and walking through the vacant corridor, I wonder if that terrible traffic jam has cost me my appointment with the Kendra director Mukesh Sharma.

Meet the man though and any notions that he oversees a culture of ennui are dispelled. Sharma has just come off major brainstorming session with his key officers. As I am ushered into the spacious cabin, Sharma displays no signs of the fatigue. Over a cup of black tea, that Sharma himself prepared, he switches on the cheerful chat. He has been running the show at the Mumbai Kendra in this fashion since the last six years and the way DD Sahyadri evolved during this phase says it all.

In the course of the conversation, the former filmmaker‘s uninterrupted journey of six years as DD Sahyadri director is unveiled frame by frame.

A UP-ITE COMES TO MUMBAI TO LEAD DD‘S MARATHI DRIVE

I have come all the way from Lucknow to Mumbai to head DD Sahyadri. There was a bit of apprehension in my mind when I took up the assignment. Reason, obviously the language and cultural barriers. To think like a Maharashtrian when it comes to conceptualising and ideating programming sounded a difficult proposition. However, I solved the situation successfully by following the strategy of ideating quality programmes and then banking on the local team to do the job perfectly.

I also realised that, I could use my film background to my advantage in this position. Being a filmmaker and producer myself, I think in the same wavelength that my producers think and that came as a huge bonus. My career background helped me to interact with my clients in a better way and overall it helped a lot to increase the Kendra‘s productivity.

THOSE EARLY DAYS

When I joined on 4 May 2000, DD Sahyadri was in a terrible state then. Poor connectivity, substandard programmes and low grade technical infrastructure had placed us lowest in the Marathi channel chart, behind ETV Marathi, Alpha Marathi (now Zee Marathi), Tara Marathi and Prabhat. I wanted to change this.

I started with the connectivity issue. The issue was discussed with the cable operators and the DD Public Relations (PR) machinery was effectively used to improve the relationship with all concerned. Within six months, we were seen, heard and known. DD Sahyadri discovered its own identity and that made a huge difference. I have never sold the channel as Doordarshan. I always marketed it as Sahyadri.

To improve the programming, I did a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities & Threats) analysis of the channel and identified my target group (TG) as citizens and not consumers. I decided to run Sahyadri like a real public channel. To reach out to the masses, phone-in programmes were conceptualised. This was something new in those times. I realised that, DD Sahyadri‘s USP should be, ‘a channel that reaches the masses and empowers them -- especially women -- through its programmes‘.

PROGRAMMING LANDMARKS

Our first ever phone-in programme Hello Sakhi, has completed six years as a daily show now. So, I can say, DD Sahyadri has about 1500 hours of women empowerment programming unleashed in Maharashtra. The programme gives expert advice on issues such as legal, career, education and health and the programme was first its kind when it was introduced in 2000. Even phone-in programmes were a rare affair then, whether on DD or satellite channels.

Then came Hello Doctor in 2001, again targeted at the masses. We also kicked off the Navratna Awards, which felicitates nine talented Maharashtrians, in the same year. Another award property Navjot Sahyadri Che was initiated in 2002 in association with Unicef. Then in 2003, we introduced Lux Hirkani Awards to honour ‘women of substance‘. As an appreciation towards our achievements in establishing event properties, Prasar Bharati asked us to produce an award show Prerna Puraskar and then New Year programmes for the national network. The New Year programmes are produced at a cost of about Rs 2.5 million and we record a profit of about Rs 7.5 million out of it.

Since Mumbai is the hub of Indian cinema, I brought the entire Films Division from Delhi to Mumbai. The division has now become a significant player in Prasar Bharati‘s revenue plans as it functions in harmony with the DD marketing division in Mumbai.

Overall, DD Sahyadri launched about 25 programmes during this six-year period. These cut across all the programming genres such as talk shows, game shows, events, musicals and soaps. I would say, DD Sahyadri gave a significant contribution to television in its infancy by introducing such diverse genres to the masses and the huge success these shows recorded underlines their popularity.

REVENUE REALISATIONS & FUTURE PLANS

Some time back, I realised that, DD Sahyadri was wasting its air time during the breaks between programmes. We used to simply display some message on the screen informing viewers about the next programme coming up. I introduced five minute programmes in these ‘lazy‘ slots and started telecasting programmes such as Hasnavari Gheu Naka (Jokes Apart). The popularity of the programme attracted advertisers and now the five minute slot has 1.5 minutes bought by advertisers.

In 2005, Prasar Bharati introduced the Self Financing Scheme (SFS) successfully in the national channel. The logical extension of the scheme has been to regional channels and DD Sahyadri was chosen as the first regional Kendra to implement the scheme. The SFS scheme gives DD the power to market its shows and earn the returns, while producers are paid a fixed amount for their work.

The system delivered very well for DD Sahyadri in the 2006 fiscal. We recorded revenues of Rs 280 million in the 2005-2006 fiscal, which comes to about 28 per cent of the Kendra‘s revenue. By marketing our shows in-house, we could triple our returns. As we move towards a 100 per cent implementation of the system, DD Sahyadri is targeting revenues of about Rs 300 million in the 2006-2007 fiscal,

On 2 October 2006, on its 35th birthday, DD Sahyadri will activate a complete switchover from the sponsored to commissioned model for its show slots. We will bring all our programmes under SFS by marketing them ourselves. Presently, sponsored programmes constitute about 20 per cent of our schedule and from 2 October onwards, there won‘t be a single sponsored programme in our line up. Right now the plan is in the initial phase of implementation and we are working towards achieving the goal.

DIRECT TO HOME (DTH) & DD SAHYADRI

According to a study conducted by Tam recently, about 2.5 million DTH boxes were sold in the country. The study showed Zee had the maximum number of DTH customers in Rajasthan, while DD‘s DTH is most popular in the rural areas of Maharashtra. That is a testimony to DD Sahyadri‘s strong hold over the masses in the All Maharashtra market.

DD Sahyadri has also taken an active part in marketing the DD DTH. In fact, I presented a DD DTH connection to Sachin Tendulkar during the Navratna Awards ceremony.

DOORDHARSHAN IS AGEING

On the lack of young talent in Doordarshan: Since 1992, DD hasn‘t made any fresh recruitment. The average age of DD employees is now 55 years. We have no new generation backing us. The government must look at this with all the seriousness required.

SETBACKS

Overall, DD Sahyadri - during my tenure - didn‘t have to backtrack from any of its major initiatives. However, one programming initiative did let us down. Inspired by the national network‘s successful 11 pm Bioscope experiment, where a movie is telecast over three days on DD1 part-by-part, we started a similar initiative for the 8 pm slots on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. But it didn‘t appeal to the viewers and we were forced to pull it off.

PARTING SHOT

As the DD Sahyadri director, I have been trying to do this balancing act of selling the channel as well as contributing to society. Through our various properties which are targeted at the common man of Maharashtra, DD Sahyadri has been successfully exploring the pubcaster‘s autonomy to unleash useful information. As a responsible broadcast official, I am working towards an effective broadcast policy in a digital multi-channel era in the context of social education.

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