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Prasar Bharati CEO on convergence and public b'casting

Pubcaster needs to think ‘digital first’ to keep pace with evolving tech

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MUMBAI: Prasar Bharati’s CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati, while dwelling on convergence and its relevance to India’s pubcaster, opined that it was important to understand the changes happening in terms of media consumption and distribution to evolve and plan for the future ahead.  

“As a public broadcaster, we really have to face these forces of convergence if we have to transform ourselves for the next decade and beyond. Historically, our work force was trained to operate in the world of broadcast engineering and now they have to make the shift to digital and information technology,” Vempati said, adding why it was important for his colleagues to think “digital first” in terms of creation, packaging and presentation.

Dwelling on the convergence happening at various levels of the Indian media and entertainment sector, Vempati said it was happening at three levels --- at the consumer consumption level, platform and distribution level and regulatory level.

“The convergence at the consumer level is way ahead of both the platforms and regulatory frameworks,” he stressed while delivering an address at the CII Big Picture Summit 2019 at New Delhi yesterday.

According to Vempati, while the industry debated convergence and its pros and cons, the consumer was embracing the trend without a fuss, adapting to the various ways of consumption of the media.  

Analysing the effect of these changes from a pubcaster’s point of view, he said Prasar Bharati was looking at the immediate outcome of the transformation on how content is discovered, measured and, more importantly, monetised.

Without mincing words, he admitted that the content industry was today kind of trapped in a binary outlook where content monetisation was restricted to either advertising revenue or driven by subscription.

Giving an example of consumer embracement of convergence, Vempati said Prime Minister Modi’s `Mann Ki Baat’ (Thoughts from the PM) was a prime example of convergence of technology. It is heard not only on All India Radio, which remains a primary source of dissemination of such messages but also consumed online and on traditional television.

Dwelling on the reach of media --- electronic and online --- Vempati said, on one hand, there was linear TV, which is measured with set sample panels, and on the other hand there was the digital platform where measurement happened real time. On the issue of audience measurement, he said, TRAI has recently issued a consultation on how there was a need to re-think audience measurement. “So, I think there is another area of transformation that is likely to happen in the near future,” he added.

On the topic of audience measurement and its fallout on ad revenues for TV channels, Vempati said experience has highlighted that the consumer wants a more flexible pricing model, especially when popular programmes like cricket matches are telecast by private sector TV channels, which demand that the consumer pays to watch.

There is a need to look at a combination pricing model, which enables consumers to watch popular programmes, including sporting events, at a comparatively lower price or on FTA platforms like Doordarshan.

“As a public broadcaster one of the greatest learning for me has been that if you have quality content there is an audience for it,” Vempati said giving an example of Rajya Sabha TV, a parliamentary news channel that is not actively marketed and promoted, but has over a million followers online.

The pubcaster has not spent a dime advertising it anywhere and it is not even measured by BARC India, but on YouTube Rajya Sabha TV has a following that’s legion simply because of quality content it produces, Vempati said.

Emphasising how technology and pubcasting can merge to deliver useful services, Vempati gave the example of a pilot project undertaken by Doordarshan in Bengaluru, in association with private sector players like Microsoft, to deliver to government-run schools educational programmes on DD’s digital terrestrial network that was lying under-utilised.

“It’s a great example of convergence and transformation,” Prasar Bharati CEO said, adding that it also meant regulatory framework had a lot of catching to do as policy-makers viewed broadcasting and telecom services in silos, which is not the case now.

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