Television

Aastha, Swami Ramdev's HD TV plans

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MUMBAI: Most spiritual and devotional channels operating in India have a bagful of problems: limited revenues, low production budgets, which have led to very poor production values for their shows. Programmes and shows are shot with standard definition cameras with cheap sets as backdrops.

This, at a time, when most of television land is moving to high definition and a select few towards 4k high dynamic range productions – both of which give better quality video – which can play out better on HD and 4K sets, making for a near realistic viewing experience.

Swami Ramdev and Acharaya Balkrishna’s Patanjali Ayurveda has been giving FMCG multinationals in India a bit of a headache by eating away at their market shares in several product categories.

Now the yoga guru-turned-entrepreneur is hoping to capture global audiences with his brand of yoga keeping in mind prime minister Narendra Modi’s penchant for it.

Aastha – as is known to many – is among the leaders in the spiritual television space in India. And it is a channel that is part of Swami Ramdev’s empire.

Over the past year or so, an HD revolution has been taking place silently in Noida where Aastha TV’s studios, playout and uplinking hub are located. Swami Ramdev has pumped in more than Rs 50 lakh into infrastructure – including 10-12 Sony PMW 200 cameras and post production facilities – which has helped facilitate production of programmes featuring him in high definition.

Two multi-camera teams have been trailing the yoga guru filming him at gatherings, camps and seminars where he has led his disciples in asanas. Almost 700 hours of Yoga have been filmed in HD so far.

“We wanted to upgrade and keep pace with technology,” says Aastha Broadcasting Network CEO Pramod Joshi. “We were producing and transmitting in SD which has limited demand in international markets.”

Joshi acknowledges that the shift to HD came at the urging of Reed Midem’s India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka representative Anil Wanvari (also the founder of the indiantelevision.com group) when the company exhibited at annual trade show MipCom in Cannes, France.

He points out that there here are no plans to roll out a HD channel for now, since the focus is on building a library first with Swami Ramdev’s yoga practice. Simultaneously, the channel’s programmers have been giving a nudge to other prime gurus who have taken slots on Aastha to upgrade their productions.

“We know there is a lot of demand for Indian spirituality and yoga worldwide,” points out Joshi. “With this step up in quality, we believe many more networks will want our programming. We are also open to dubbing the content in other local languages.”

Currently, Zee International airs programmes featuring Swami Ramdev practising and teaching yoga at his camps. Enquiries from other overseas networks have been coming in.

In addition to yogic exercise and spiritual TV shows, Joshi says that Aastha is also looking at filming spiritual tourism documentaries by partnering with different state tourism boards. “There is a lot of India interest and these documentaries will go a long way in helping both Indian and international visitors understand India’s diverse belief systems and places of spiritual worship better and from a regional perspective.”

Finally, Aastha, like other Indian networks which are looking at licensing and syndication revenues, is hopeful that its HD production will find cachet with international buyers. “Swamiji is known worldwide,” he says. “That’s to our advantage. We hope in the next year or so, licensing and syndication of our content will scale up. “

When it does, Astha’s investment in HD will start paying off.

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