AIR, DD all set for an upgrade as government allocates Rs 850 crore

DD and AIR, both owned by Prasar Bharti, have drafted elaborate plans to enhance broadcast capacity, improve infrastructure and increase the expanse of coverage to match the viewership and listenership of private television and radio companies.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2018 08:45 IST
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Doordarshan,All India radio,Doordarshan revamp
A view from the entry gate of the All India Radio.(Hindustan Times file photo)

Doordarshan (DD) and All India Radio (AIR) are embarking on a ₹850 crore plan to improve their infrastructure, expand coverage and strengthen content in an attempt to compete better with private television channels and radio stations, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

They added that the outlay has been approved by the finance ministry.

DD and AIR, both owned by Prasar Bharti, have drafted elaborate plans to enhance broadcast capacity, improve infrastructure and increase the expanse of coverage to match the viewership and listenership of private television and radio companies. The money sanctioned to both entities will be across financial years 2018-19 and 2019-20.

One of the people familiar with the developments, an official in the ministry of Information and broadcasting, said DD has been sanctioned Rs 200 crore exclusively for overhauling its content.

“As a public broadcaster, DD has the responsibility to air programmes and messages that are socially relevant, which private broadcasters don’t do. DD cannot put out programmes with a certain content that can be money-spinners for some private channels. So the idea is to generate content that can grab eye-balls but still have a healthy mix of issues such as health, empowerment, environment and social justice,” the official added.

DD, which runs 23 channels in the country, earned Rs 318.06 crore from government advertisements and Rs 157.59 crore from corporate ads during the year ended 31 March, 2017. The TV advertising market with close to 900 private TV channels generated an estimated advertising revenue of Rs 27,671 crore. The figure was expected to grow 13% in 2018, according to a forecast by WPP-owned media agency GroupM in its report This Year Next Year (TYNY).

The broadcaster will rely on both in-house talent and expertise from outside to rejig its content and make programmes more commercially viable as well as popular, the ministry official cited above said.

“If DD has to produce shows in the genre of reality TV, it cannot do commercial shows that other private channels have, but will need to innovate. For instance the (DD) Kerala Kendra did a reality TV series on the best schools of the country,” the official added.

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DD will also phase out obsolete technology and practices. “DD already has state-of-the-art equipment and studios, but an assessment will be done of the technologically- aged infrastructure and manpower,” the official said.

The public broadcaster’s flagship channel, DD National, does not feature in the top 10 Hindi general entertainment category (GEC) channels and generated 56.9 million weekly impressions between November 17 and November 23, 2019, as per the latest TV viewership data released by TV ratings agency Broadcast Audience Research Council.

Impressions refer to the number of individuals in thousands of a target audience who viewed an event, averaged across minutes.

At present, the Hindi GEC category is led by Zee Anmol, a free-to-air entertainment channel run by Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, with 839.5 million impressions for the same time period cited above. It is followed by Star Bharat and Star Plus.

DD claims that the reach of its news bulletins in Hindi and English is higher than those of the private broadcasters because of its terrestrial coverage. DD News channel was launched in 2003 by converting DD Metro into a 24-hours news channel. It reaches 49% of the population and 25% of the country’s area.

At AIR, the funds will be used for strengthening the broadcaster in border areas and those affected by left-wing extremism, expanding FM services to more cities, and upgrading technology (including bringing FM on digital platforms).

“The strategy for revamping the technology and production is ready and will be discussed by the Prasar Bharati board when it meets next,” said a second government official, adding the date for the meeting has not been finalised yet.

According to information available on AIR’s website, its home service comprises 470 broadcasting centres, covering nearly 92% of the country’s area and 99.19 % of the total population; AIR airs programming in 23 languages and 179 dialects.

If the public broadcaster overhauls its content, it will be able to compete with private TV channels, said Ashish Bhasin, chairman and chief executive (South Asia) at media buying firm Dentsu Aegis Network Media India Pvt Ltd.

“The old adage of content is king is what applies here. Advertising follows eyeballs and eyeballs follow good content. As a viewer, I’m interested in good content, and not the channel it’s broadcast on. So if DD can put out good content consistently all their other problems will start to go away. Both Doordarshan and AIR have significantly higher reach, especially as we move deeper in the country, towards Tier 3 and Tier 4 cities, which is a big advantage,” said Bhasin.

(Vidhi Choudhary contributed to this story)

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First Published: Dec 05, 2018 07:46 IST