Prasar Bharati: A ‘successful’ year gone by


Since 1995, Doordarshan has been trying to build bridges of communication with Indians living abroad and also to showcase its diverse culture, values and rich heritage to the world by launching its international channel.

From March 2011, Doordarshan started availing of the service of ISRO's INSAT-4B in both KU band and C band. However, the inadequacy of not being able to locate any significant global partners to distribute and connect DD to homes overseas continued. Doordarshan did make renewed efforts through Indian Missions to distribute its international channel abroad, but it could make little progress in this last mile distribution, because of several reasons. On the other hand, countries like Japan, Germany, China, Russia and France, invested heavily to ensure a global reach for their international channels.

Over the last one year, concerted efforts made by Prasar Bharati to locate viable global distribution platform to DD India has resulted in an agreement with Deutsche Welle (DW), the international broadcasting arm of the German public broadcaster for a slot on the DTH platform of EUTEL SAT Hotbird 13 B. It is an extremely popular DTH platform and in Europe it was the logical choice for DD India to launch its overseas services afresh. Hotbird 13B has a total number of 1543 TV channels of which 1117 TV channels are free-to-air. A total of 124 English channels are available on this satellite, prominent amongst which are BBC, CNN, CCTV, RT, France24, VOA TV, Euromans, Sky News, Bloomberg TV, Al Jazeera, etc.  DD India will be in the basic package of the DTH service. The projection of India’s viewpoint to the global audience being  a dire necessity, Prasar Bharati has found a suitable platform with DW on extremely favourable terms on reciprocal basis which is no mean achievement.Placing DD on Hotbird DTH platform will also give it full access to the Middle Eastern GCC countries, where Indians work and reside in large numbers. The telecast trials are likely in a few days and formal launching is expected shortly.

It was a feather in its cap and moment of honour for India when the Prasar Bharati CEO, Jawhar Sircar, was elected as vice president of the Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) in 2014 with its presence in 63 countries, boosting its international presence.

Doordarshan team has come up with new serials in the current year attracting more eye balls in the afternoon session of DD National creating a new record heralding resurgence of the public broadcaster towards fulfilling its mandate with renewed vigour away from market driven commercial initiatives. Meeting the aspirations of the people of Telengana, dedicated DD Yadagiri from Hyderabad and DD Saptagiri channels from Vijayawada for Seemandhra have become fully operational. Other major initiative was upgradation of  four Hindi channels as 24 hours channels as DD Rajasthan, DD Madhya Pradesh, DD Bihar and DD Uttar Pradesh  from the respective capital DD Kendras giving local look and feel enriching  the telecast with regional flavour.  The basic infrastructure to operationalise DD Kisan channel has been put in place by Doordarshan.  Concerted efforts are on to enrich the channel in the coming year meeting the aspirations of all the agro-economic zones with due importance to related fields and provide wholesome content to the agrarian population of the nation.  

A major decision in 2014 was to optimise the huge advantage of Digital Terrestrial Transmitters from the four metros which are ready and from other important state capitals in cluster with ability to provide a bouquet of 20 attractive TV channels along with a combination of audio channels from each location with perfect digital output reaching the hand held smart devices equipped with tiny dongles or chips which are under field trials already. The technology is capable of live streaming content without buffering and circumventing 'server down' possibility fully.

Doordarshan was in news for amateurish display by some casual assignees  highlighted in media exposed huge vacancies of creative professionals  in Prasar Bharati and absence of a vibrant mechanism to service the HR functions for cadre restructuring, removal of service conditions related anomalies, conduct of regular departmental promotion proceedings, induction and appointment of creative professionals after strict professional evaluation. After Dr Surya Prakash joined as chairman, the proposal for Prasar Bharati Recruitment Board gained impetus and its establishment looks to be on course.

Prasar Bharati chose to strengthen its popular Vividh Bharati network in the metros by simulcasting in FM mode. While Kolkata has already commenced its operation, other metros are awaiting the launch. AIR's 86 odd local radio stations across the country have already started simulcasting Vividh Bharati across the nation spicing up AIR's airwaves in the cause of uniting India.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monthly Mann ki Baat – a heart-to-heart and intimate sharing of thoughts with the people living in every nook and corner of the country - is a shot in the arm for Prasar Bharati and AIR undoubtedly has emerged a clear winner in reaching the whole nation through all its channels. The programme has received spontaneous response from thousands of listeners spread all over the country including far flung areas. The broadcast has done the vastest disseminated public service through territorial, satellite and web modes.

While AIR has decided to webcast all primary channels from all its capital Kendras, it has started field trials of its most popular Vividh Bharati as part of its internet bouquet of FM Gold, FM Rainbow and Urdu Service.

The dream of CEO Jawhar Sircar is to connect the whole of India through FM-station utilising its existing terrestrial towers all over the country for mounting FM antennas and cutting costs and simulcasting its primary service to ride over shortcomings of Medium Wave transmission.

For Prasar Bharati, creative dynamism has remained a challenge with innumerable competitors in the field. But its new team is optimistic to accomplish its mandate as a national public broadcaster to inform, educate and entertain the masses at home and abroad and achieve conspicuous deliverables in the new year.

AIR has become the torchbearer of the Prime Minister’s clarion call for ‘Swachh Bharat’ i.e. Clean India mission through its extensive campaign so that it becomes a truly peoples’ movement and the Prime Minister’s dream of clean India by 2019 becomes a reality. To lend support to the mission, AIR launched extensively several programmes on all its channels, in a variety of formats. The objective is to bring about attitudinal changes and behaviour modifications in the way of life of people while making them aware about environmental hygiene and cleanliness.

Apart from promos, jingles and slogans on the theme, a multi-episode serial in Hindi entitled ‘Des ApnaUjla-Ujla’ has been launched w.e.f. 2 October 2014.

The yeoman service rendered by All India Radio (Radio Kashmir, Srinagar, Jammu) during the recent devastating deluge, which helped in saving hundreds of lives, connecting families, keeping the morale and spirit high of the population hit by the worst ever natural calamity and prevention of outbreak of epidemics in the aftermath of the disaster, have all come for lavish praise from every quarter including the Chief Minister of J&K and the cabinet secretary to the government of India. AIR’s uninterrupted service during this unprecedented disaster became all the more laudable as all other sources of information like print media and other electronic channels had come to a grinding halt in the State during those trying days.Similarly, AIR’s role in effective disaster management communication during the rescue, relief and rehabilitation operations at the time of recent Hudhud cyclone in the Andhra coast and particularly Vishakhapatnam also won accolades.

Vividh Bharati, the old faithful, is avidly listened to even today in the face of stiff competition from rival media, especially private FM radio stations. Described as All India variety programme (Akhil Bharatiya Panchrangi Karyakram), it was initially radiated on two high-power shortwave transmitters at Mumbai and Chennai. Later, the service was progressively extended to 37 centres. Today, it is a veritable national service owing to its country-wide reach, with several stations/transmitters carrying the service:-

  • Exclusive/dedicated Vividh Bharati Channels                            37
  • Local Radio Stations (10:00 am to 5:00 pm)                               65
  • 100 Watt FM Relay Centres                                                         82

Almost all these stations operate on the FM mode. Till recently, in the four metros, the service was available only on the emaciated medium wave transmitters. AIR has recently launched dedicated FM transmitters in the metros as well. Availability of the service on 102 FM transmitters, not to mention the 100 watt FM relay centres, has further enhanced the exposure to Vividh Bharati, owing to proliferation of FM receivers, car radios and mobile devices. To begin with, Vividh Bharati was an urban phenomenon. Today, it is able to penetrate deep into the country side and is an ideal vehicle for those eager to capture the rural markets.

The fact that Vividh Bharati simultaneously reaches a vast section of people of all hues creates a psychological bond of togetherness, building up cohesion and common values.

The year 2014 is the 75th anniversary year of external broadcasting in India and the 50th anniversary of its Urdu service. The External Services Division (ESD) is truly the extended arm of foreign policy and public diplomacy. The traditional modes of shortwave and medium wave transmission have been largely replaced during the year by FM and internet radio bringing about a turnaround during the year. The highlights of the revamping of the ESD are:

  1. Enhancing the level of engagement with the MEA particularly the External Publicity/ Public Diplomacy Division on an urgent basis, MEA will carry details of important programmes scheduled for broadcast in the General Overseas Service (GOS), the flagship service of ESD in English as well as other services in their bi-monthly magazine ‘India Perspective’.

  2. Modernisation efforts of ESD like creation and maintenance of multi-media websites with live internet radio and Radio on Demand components. Trial runs for the websites have been completed and GOS has already been informally hosted and ready for launch.

  3. ESD has also created three round-the-clock web radio portals, featuring live streaming of all the services. These have also been tested and ready for formal launch.

  4. With a view to reaching out to the Indian diaspora and involving the PIOs in the development agenda of the nation and making them true brand ambassadors for the country, multi-media websites for the Indian language services of ESD like Hindi, Bangla, Gujarati, Tamil and Urdu are being developed, with content specifically designed to the respective  target areas.

  5. General Overseas Service is targeted to the English speaking listeners all over the world with the exception of USA, Canada, South-America and the Caribbean. To reach these uncovered areas, a dedicated multi-media website ‘airworldservice.org.in’ has been launched during the year. The programmes of GOS are also available on the web radio portal of ESD. A GOS programme on Gandhian Philosophy has recently won the best programme award for the year 2014.

  6. To augment reception quality of cross-border and neighbourhood services targeted to South-East Asia and some countries in the East Asia from Chinsura (West Bengal) and to Pakistan, Afghanistan and some CIS countries from Rajkot, transmitters were upgraded. This will go a long way to support the new initiatives of the Central Government to strengthen its relations and engagement with the countries in the neighborhood and also undertake counter-propaganda and perception management programmes in a more effective manner. 

  • The News Services Division (NSD) of All India Radio is one of the world’s largest news gathering and dissemination apparatus.
  • Harnessing mobile technology, NSD launched free AIR news SMS service to the public in several regional languages viz. Asamese, Dogri, Gujarati, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Nepali, Sanskrit and Tamil, besides English. The number of people registered for the Service has crossed 5 lakhs, with nearly 80% opting for the regional languages.
  • Substantially increased its presence on the social media, reaching out audiences far and wide. Popularity of AIR’s Facebook page can be gauged by the fact that the number of likes increased from 7 lakh in May, 2014 to 17 lakh in November, 2014. 
  • Twitter handle @airnewsalerts is also gaining momentum day by day, from 2,15,000 followers in May, 2014 to 3,70,000 in November, 2014
    • To further strengthen its reach, NSD joined another online audio platform sound cloud in May 2014. Sound cloud is an audio platform which is used in over 200 countries and has a global reach of 317 million per month. Within short span of time, it has become popular and has nearly 5.4 lakh plays so far, with an average of around 20,000 plays and 800 downloads per week.
  • To lend support to the Mann Ki Baat programme, NSD has been carrying content of  the PM’s speech in all bulletins, national as well as regional, the later carrying the regional language version. SMSes, based on the content, are sent in several languages to the people who had registered for the service. A special static home page was created on www.newsonair.nic.in with a link to take people directly to live webcast page of ‘Mann Ki Baat”.  A special window was created for the webcast of the speech, uploading the text of the address on the website. PM’s speech was live tweeted both in Hindi and English simultaneously. What is more, it was posted on Sound Cloud, generating unique plays within a short span of time reflecting its appeal
  • A variety of CDs based on the prized possessions in the treasure trove of AIR’s archives was prepared, released and uploaded on AIR’s Youtube. Significant among these CDs are the audio cuts of Mahatma Gandhi, Bharat Ratna and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Marian Anderson and Dr. Martin Luther King (Jr.).
  • CDs based on recordings of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel are ready, with refurbishing in its final stage.
  • CD containing recordings on various subjects by Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, Lal Bahadur Shastri, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan is being prepared. Refurbishing of these recordings is in final stage.
  • 300 hours (approx.) fresh recording received from AIR stations have been digitized with detailed metadata. 3000 hours (approx.) of archival recordings have been deep archived with detailed metadata in Storage Area Network (SAN).
  • AIR has a humongous network of 590 transmitters serving 414 stations, covering virtually the entire population of the country.
  • Under an ambitious digitalisation programme, 31 old medium wave transmitters and five shortwave transmitters have been replaced by new DRM transmitters.
  • Archival facility was setup at Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai, facilitating digitalization and restoration work
  • Under the Special Package for J&K and North-East, several new FM transmitters are being installed.
  • Modernization and automation of existing Regional News Units.
  • The dream of Prasar Bharati to connect whole of India through FM-isation, utilising its existing terrestrial towers all over the country for mounting  FM antenna cutting costs and simulcasting its primary service to ride over shortcomings of  medium wave transmission, especially the dwindling number medium wave receivers, is fast becoming a reality through a phased progamme launched by AIR.
  • While AIR has decided to webcast all its primary channels from all its capital sations, it has started live streaming, on a trial basis, to take field trial of its most popular Vividh Bharati service as part of its internet bouquet of FM Gold, FM Rainbow and Urdu Service.  This has helped in taking the service to listeners overseas, especially the Indian diaspora, clamouring for it.

(These are purely personal views of Prasar Bharati principal adviser Brigadier (Retd) VAM Hussain and indiantelevision.com does not necessarily subscribe to these views.)

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