Sunday, September 28, 2014
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Programme mismatch has been the bane of Doordarshan
DD has been spending on the terrestrial network which viewers are leaving and continues to focus on entertainment while people expect it to deliver information 
 
A MAJOR change has taken over the Indian skies. Gone are the days of aluminium rod antennas decked with torn kites. The small direct to home (DTH) dish antennas of today signify the shift from terrestrial (over the air) transmission to satellite telecast. In India, this also implies easing out of the national public broadcaster Doordarshan (DD). While most would like to believe stiff competition from private channels and lack of autonomy are the only reasons for DD’s downfall, a five state study conducted by the Media Foundation throws up some interesting findings.
 
Demand-supply mismatch in programmes and focus on redundant terrestrial transmission are hurting DD’s and hence nation’s interest. India spends Rs 3,600 crore a year on its public broadcaster, most of which is spent on paying salaries and maintenance of the network. Doordarshan, the study found, focuses on entertainment as it helps generate ad revenue. But viewers prefer private channels for their entertainment needs and expect the public broadcaster to serve its real mandate of providing information. The study included focused group discussions with viewers in villages of Chhattisgarh, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat and Delhi, which when analysed with programming schedule of DD’s four regional and one national channels solve the puzzle of dwindling audience and increasing costs. 
 
Demand-supply mismatch in programmes and focus on redundant terrestrial transmission are hurting DD’s and hence nation’s interest. India spends Rs 3,600 crore a year on its public broadcaster, most of which is spent on paying salaries and maintenance of the network. 
 
Terrestrial gets all the money 
 
Though the shift from terrestrial to cable and DTH is quite evident, in numbers DTH grew from 6 per cent of rural TV homes in 2006-2007 to 29 per cent in 2012-13. Rural cable homes grew from 30 per cent to 43 per cent over this period while terrestrial TV homes dropped from 64 per cent to 24 per cent. In urban areas, only 1-10 lakh cities (2 per cent) and towns (6 per cent) retained terrestrial TV by 2012-13. 
 
Source: Francis Kanoi
However, terrestrial television still accounts for heavy investment in terms of ground engineering personnel and equipment replacement. According to the Pitroda committee report, the operational cost of distributing Doordarshan’s signal was Rs 723 crore in 2011-12. Of this, 88 per cent was spent on terrestrial distribution, even though it reaches only 8 per cent of the audience. Only 7 per cent of the cost went towards reaching the 53 per cent of the audience in cable and satellite households. And only 6 per cent was spent on reaching the 37 per cent DTH households. 
 
Fortunately, the same terrestrial network offers DD an advantage which if utilised properly can turn the tables. But more on that later. First, let’s understand why people are moving out.
 
Of the total budget, 88 per cent was spent on terrestrial distribution, even though it reaches only 8 per cent of the audience. Only 7 per cent of the cost went towards reaching the 53 per cent of the audience in cable and satellite households. And only 6 per cent was spent on reaching the 37 per cent DTH households. 
Give what they want
 
DD’s focus has been on revenue generation through entertainment shows. The fact, however, remains that viewers prefer private channels for their entertainment needs due to better production quality.
 
All across the five states, people demanded agriculture, health, employment and education-based programming from DD since none of the private channels offer that. Quite contrary to that, programme time provided for entertainment on DD National was nearly four times the combined share of agriculture, education, health, information and science and technology. The volume of teleshopping on DD Oriya was more than the combined share of health, agriculture, education, sports and current affairs.
 
Even when DD tries to reach out with information-based programmes, lack of repeat telecast goes against it. At 7 in the morning when farm bulletins get telecast in Andhra Pradesh, farmers are in the fields and not in front of the TV sets. On the other hand, DD’s regional channels lose out to local private channels when it comes to offering latest news. The share of news is less than eight per cent across all DD channels mapped in the study. The 24 hour DD News channel does not cater to regional interests.
 
The most deprived segment is youth who are unable to get information about jobs and tutorials on TV. The programmes on science and technology did not go beyond 1 per cent of the total telecast on any of the five regional and national DD channels studied. For many youngsters, Discovery and National Geographic remain the only source of knowledge-based programmes which also indicates why people are shifting from terrestrial network to cable and DTH. 
 
The most deprived segment is youth who are unable to get information about jobs and tutorials on TV. The programmes on science and technology did not go beyond 1 per cent of the total telecast on any of the five regional and national DD channels studied. 
 
Why DD ignores information
 
It will be expected that since DD gets government funds, it should not focus on entertainment programmes and instead play the role of information provider on government schemes, health and education. But the fact remains that most of Doordarshan’s budget is spent on staff salaries. There’s a 15,000-strong engineering force to maintain the 1,400 terrestrial transmitters which are not of much use now. 
 
For 2014-15, around 55 per cent of Rs 1,823 crore budget for DD will be spent on salary and staff related expenditure while around 19 per cent will be for administration. This leaves only Rs 275 crore for software programme expenses on 33 channels. This means the channels are expected to raise a large part of the expenditure from its own sources. In 2014-15, the broadcaster has been set a commercial revenue target of Rs 1,710 crore which will be met only from entertainment programmes. There’s a great need for DD to improve its informative shows so that they fetch good revenue on the lines of Discovery and National Geographic. 
 
For 2014-15, around 55 per cent of Rs 1,823 crore budget for DD will be spent on salary and staff related expenditure while around 19 per cent will be for administration. This leaves only Rs 275 crore for software programme expenses on 33 channels. 
 
Another question to ask is, is it only the public broadcaster’s duty to offer information? In present scenario, where private channels have captured a large share of audience, should not they be asked to beam a proportion of informative shows in their programming as a part of social responsibility? 
 
 
From broadcaster to platform provider
 
With shift in technology and viewers, Doordarshan may play role of a major platform provider than just a broadcaster. Most TV viewers have moved to cable or DTH transmission, but the recent compulsory shift from analog to digital signal is pinching the low-income families hard. The earlier informal payment system to the cable distributor kept the rental low but now not only subscribers have to shell out extra money to buy the set top box but the bouquet of entertainment channels they want to watch comes at a higher price. 
 
Free Dish (earlier known as DD Direct) offers the most affordable option in such a situation as no monthly subscription is required. The only hiccup has been that the channels being offered don’t cater to entertainment needs of the viewers, including children who control the remotes in most homes. DD National in the month monitored for programming break up (August 2012), had less than 1 per cent of its programming hours devoted to programmes for children. Though expansion of the bouquet from the current 59 channels to 97 has been cleared, DD charges a hefty carriage fee which has been the most repulsive factor for the private channels. 
 
Free Dish (earlier known as DD Direct) offers the most affordable option in such a situation as no monthly subscription is required. The only hiccup has been that the channels being offered don’t cater to entertainment needs of the viewers, including children who control the remotes. 
 
Return of terrestrial 
 
Though the TV audience has shifted from DD’s terrestrial network, it still provides an upper hand to the public broadcaster. DD is currently working on replacement of 1,400 analog transmitters with 630 digitised ones. The digitisation will help DD offer seamless TV transmission on mobile and other handheld devices, which are the platforms of choice at least for young, urban viewers. DD is willing to get private channels on board its network thus making it a platform of choice and a good revenue generator. So, a network shunned by masses can actually turn out to be the flavour of classes.
 
The digitisation will help DD offer seamless TV transmission on mobile and other handheld devices, which are the platforms of choice at least for young, urban viewers. DD has been focussing on getting private channels on board its network thus making it a platform of choice and a good revenue generator. 
But here’s a glitch, the Planning Commission sanctions funds only for 60 transmitters per Five-Year Plan. So by the time, all 630 transmitters are digitised, it might be too late because you never know how the technology and delivery platforms will change in next few years. But at least the metros, where most upwardly smartphone and tablet users are based, can be covered easily.

Comments

Thats the most exhaustive piece on Doordarshan. Much like many other government organizations, the salaries always take huge chunk of budget. Added to this, when the employees are wrongly placed on redundant postings and are not technologically upgraded, it becomes pain in neck. Earlier as a
kid and now as a parent I look towards DD for clean and quality educative pieces. I remember learning differentials in physics through an afternoon NCERT programme on DD 1. And then we had tarram too... teaching us the basics of kampan and modulations of noise. I bet today children of same age do not
have such clear ideas of simple concepts of physics.

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