Specials

The slumbering giant is awakening

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*Gets Rs 1 billion for fresh programming

*Successfully markets the India-Windies cricket series itself; seals ICC cricket terrestrial telecast deal

*Puts in place strategies to augment revenue

*Bid to re-launch DD News flops

*Goes in for a programming guide

Prasar Bharati Corporation (PBC). One of the biggest broadcasters in the world. Assets at its disposal is worth about Rs 54 billion, the reach covers over 90 per cent of the population and the infrastructure at its command can be the envy of most private broadcasters (radio and TV). But even these awesome facts have failed to deter private players from making hay in India, while Doordarshan and All India Radio struggle to cover the gap between the huge running expenses (pegged at Rs 10,508.3 million during 2001-2002) and the revenues that are generated (estimated to be worth slightly over Rs 7 billion).           

      

"We have increased our budget for content production to Rs 80 crore, out of which half will go towards inhouse production. We will depend more on inhouse production for content improvement. We will have dedicated teams for such productions. Besides, each regional kendra will have one team."

Prasar Bharati CEO K S Sarma

(The Financial Express 4 September 2002)
   

            

As a senior official of India's information and broadcasting ministry said, "Every time Prasar Bharati comes with a proposal to us, it also extends its other hand to get some financial help."

But in the midst of this gloomy scenario are oases of efforts that showed in 2002 that if it has the will, Prasar Bharati can still land deadly punches on the face of the competition. An example: fed up with outside marketing agencies taking DD for a ride, DD decided to do its own marketing and mopped up Rs 510 million in ad bookings for the India-Windies cricket series in September.

As Prasar Bharati's chief executive KS Sarma had told indiantelevision last year, "I have communicated to the government that if Prasar Bharati has to live up to its role of a public broadcaster, revenue pressure should not be there."

The government responded and sanctioned Rs 1 billion to PBC to be spent on programming of DD and AIR. Apart from mapping out a proper mechanism for acquiring programmes - commissioned or off the shelf - PBC, in turn, reacted fast and put in place a strategy which includes the following:

- To optimally utilise its infrastructure facilities;

- improve its marketing mechanism;

- make sustained efforts to obtain funds from various government departments for making in-house programmes.

It has also sent out notices to several outside agencies which owe DD and AIR money to the tune of Rs 1648.2 million and Rs 66.9 million, respectively.

Not content, PBC got some big names to head various advisory committees, including ad guru Alyque Padamsee and former Zee Telefilms chief executive and marketing whiz Vijay Jindal. The latter is chairman of the advisory marketing committee of Prasar Bharati and such appointments have shown results. Instances: reportedly roping in Siddharth Basu to make a yet undisclosed mega show and bringing flexiblity to DD's commercial policy for quick reaction to the market.

            

"My task will be to bring in revenue maximisation to Doordarshan. Our first priority would be to sell all unsold airtime, which is available in plenty. My job is also to enhance the profile of Doordarshan among media planners and advertisers."

DD Marketing Committee Chairman Vijay Jindal

(The Times Of India, 1 August 2002) .

    

Prasar Bharati has suffered due to its shortcomings in the "street smartness" department which Sarma and the director-general for DD SY Quraishi (Sarma doubles up as the D-G of AIR too) have tried to correct in 2002.

"Though in all television homes DD has 35 out of Top 50 programmes (according to TAM data), in C&S homes we are nowhere there (exceptions like cricket telecast, notwithstanding). There are several reasons for this and one of them is that manipulations do take place," Quraishi has gone record as saying, while launching into an offensive on competition and TRPs, a la private media companies.

Surprised? Quraishi also took potshots at news viewership data pointing out that DD news attracts far more viewers than its "nearest rival" Aaj tak which has claimed to be the country's `subse tez' and best news channel. Between 8-9 pm, DD captures more than 93 per cent of people who are watching news in all TV homes, while the nearest rival Aaj Tak has below 5 per cent viewership, asserts.

The confident posturing vis-?-vis the news broadcasting scenario notwithstanding, the need for a full news channel is certainly felt by Prasar Bharati (DD News was shut down on 25 January 2002). But Sarma diplomatically says he does not have "adequate infrastructure" in place at the moment for a full-fledged news channel.

But as part of a vision plan, Sarma wants to educate DD viewers and AIR listeners through good entertainment and non-fictional programming. DD's project narrowcasting was one such endeavor in 2002 where tie-ups have been finalised with about eight agri universities.

Trying to cope with its image of a pubcaster, Prasar Bharati has also started a project involving cable TV and DTH in remote areas, starting off with north-east India, apart from beefing up infrastructure and coverage countrywide, while allowing AIR to expand its FM radio coverage.

Then, of course, there are Prasar Bharati's initiatives to bring out a programming guide, going in for barter ad deals with print media companies like The Indian Express and Malayala Manorama and undertaking pilot projects in DTT.

Still, the revenue figures speak their own tale. During 1999-2000 DD's revenues stood at Rs 5,971.9 million, while that of AIR was Rs 808.4 million. During 2000-2001, DD's revenue was pegged at Rs 6,375.1 million (an improvement from the previous year), while AIR's dipped to Rs 739 million. During 2001-2002, DD earned Rs 6,152 million (indicating a dip in earnings), while AIR's revenues increased from previous year to Rs 966.8 million. By the time this financial year closes, Prasar Bharati expects that DD would have mopped up about Rs 6,250 million, while AIR is expected to do another Rs 1,000 million.

Can Sarma and his team do a Houdini and turn round Prasar Bharati? Keep tuned in to our site throughout the year for the probable answer.

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