CEO | 10 Feb 2012
Taking feed from Lok Sabha TV for a few minutes is alright and we are not raising any objections to that. But when you completely lift my content to get eyeballs on your channel, then it is not done. Lok Sabha TV’s USP is that it has exclusive rights to showcase the sessions in Parliament… So if you are taking content from my channel, you should pay for it.
Rajiv Mishra joined Lok Sabha TV as Chief Executive Officer in December 2011. He is a broadcast/ media professional and founder of Electronic Media Rating Council of India. His contribution to TV ratings methodology in Europe has been recognised by ITU/EBU in 1996 at Geneva.
Mishra has earlier worked for Hindustan Times, Star TV, TV Asia of USA, Yes TV, BAG Films, Reliance Infocomm Ltd, CineMaya Media Inc and P&M group. He is a nominated member of various media advisory bodies in various ministries of Government of India.
He is also the founder and the first President of the Association of Radio Operators for India (AROI). AROI is the industry representative body of all FM radio broadcasters/ stations of India. He has recently been nominated as Member-Working group IV of Planning Commission for Information and Broadcasting/ IT/ Telco and Convergence sector of India. The group will develop policy paper on Radio/ Television/ Telco and will also develop a strategy paper for audio/ video on hand held devices and India’s digital switchover plan.
In conversation with exchange4media’s Nitin Pandey, Mishra speaks at length about the functioning of Lok Sabha TV, the growth plans, content plans and functioning of public broadcasters in India.
Q. After a long working experience with various private sector broadcasters, what prompted you to be a part of a public sector broadcaster?
During my graduation, I had studied a lot about public and private sector broadcasters – the kind of restrictions, freedom and autonomy both of them have. I remember, we used to have several visiting faculties in the college from all around the world. And one of them was the then DG of BBC, Sir Michel Checkland. Once he was citing various examples of functioning of the BBC. To explain the kind of freedom public broadcasters enjoyed in Britain, he referred to an incident. When Margaret Thatcher was the Prime Minister of Britain, she once decided to air a particular programme/ drama in the BBC in which she had acted when she was young. In this regard, a letter was written by the PM herself to the DG of BBC. But after seeing the programme, the DG refused to air the programme. After a few days, the PM summoned the DG and asked the reason for not airing the programme. The DG replied that the programme quality was not as per BBC’s standards, hence he could not broadcast it. In India, I wanted to see for myself how public broadcasters worked.
More or less the same situation is faced by public service broadcasters in many countries. In India, the perception outside is that there is lot of pressure on government-funded channels from bureaucrats and politicians. And now when I am working with Lok Sabha TV, let me assure you that this perception is completely false. Though Lok Sabha TV comes completely under the office of the Lok Sabha Secretariat, our programming decisions are free from any interventions. We are just like the Speaker of Lok Sabha – apolitical. Lok Sabha TV is very neutral.
Q. You have said that there is wrong perception regarding public broadcasters. How do you go about changing this perception?
My programming line-up says it all. There are many private channels who are loud, but we are balanced and genuine. We are not Left, Right or Centre. Our job is to create awareness amongst the masses and spread information with a balanced point of view.
Q. There is also this perception that since it is a government-funded channel, it will not raise questions on the anomalies in government policies or the wrong doings of the government. In Lok Sabha TV, what has been your strategy to deal with such situations?
It never happened with us. We are a very free channel. I believe that the greater pressure is on the private channels, usually from the corporates who advertise with them. I don’t think that the kind of freedom that we (Lok Sabha TV) enjoy, any other channel can ever have.
Q. From the content point of view, what has been the positioning of the channel? Lok Sabha TV is certainly not a mass channel. Do you agree?
I do not quite agree with that. Earlier, the overall look of Lok Sabha channel was very serious, which used to give the impression that our channel is targeted only at the ‘intellectual’ kind of people. But I believe that a serious channel doesn’t mean that I should always look ‘gloomy’. I am going to target the entire masses through this channel and we have already started that process. We are a focussed and serious channel, but will be more vibrant to get eyeballs. If you look at it, in India, the private sector television industry is in a transition phase. And they are not very focussed. Take the example of the news channels. They are supposed to show news, but during the day time they are just copy-pasting the programmes of the general entertainment channels.
Q. As CEO of Lok Sabha TV, how concerned are you about TRPs?
We are not at all in the TRP rat race. There are several in the industry who have raised questions on the way ratings are done. Currently, the TRP system in India is not very mature, and it will take almost 10 more years to reach a level of authenticity. Hence, I don not believe in TRPs at all. Having said that, TRPs do matter because media planners and buyers need some amount of data to make their media plans. But I think media planners should themselves do some research and then decide on their media buying plans. They should not be completely guided by TRPs.
Q. As per recent media reports, some media majors have not paid Lok Sabha TV for footage taken from it for as long as three years, with pending bills amounting to over Rs 3 crore. What is the recent development on this?
I am seriously working on that. Taking feed from Lok Sabha TV for a few minutes is alright and we are not raising any objections to that. But when you completely lift my content to get eyeballs on your channel, then it is not done. Lok Sabha TV’s USP is that it has exclusive rights to showcase the sessions in Parliament. Lok Sabha TV is a must-carry channel for any cable operator, hence I am there in each and every household. So if you are taking content from my channel, you should pay for it.
However, to make the deal fairer, we are working on a rate chart. For national and regional broadcasters the rates will be decided accordingly, so that nobody has to suffer unnecessarily, because we will also keep in mind the affordability factor.
Q. But the point of view of the private channels is that at the end of the day Lok Sabha TV is funded by the government exchequer. And the content they are taking from it is in public service...
This is not at all logical. We do get advertisements, we pay our cameramen, the editorial team and other staff. We also pay the uplinking cost. Hence, I need money to run Lok Sabha TV. I want to pay my employees a good amount of money because I need good human resource. We don’t want to be completely dependent on the Parliament exchequer. And I am not asking for a hefty amount. We want a logical amount to be paid by private channels for airing our content. Is it rational that you get higher GRPs on my content, for which you get advertisements and money, but you don’t pay the source of content at all?
Q. In 2006, when Lok Sabha TV was launched, it was said that it expected to meet the operational expense through advertising, which was initially open to public sector units only. How is it working out for the channel? Is the policy still the same? Can we expect any change in this policy in the coming days?
We are following the same old policy till now and would like to stick to that for the time being.
Q. When you target advertisers for your channel, isn’t there a fear that it can cannibalise into the ad share of other public sector broadcasters like Rajya Sabha TV or DD National or vice-versa?
I don’t think so, because over a period of time, the ad pie has grown sharply. There is a set of audience for DD, for Lok Sabha TV and for Rajya Sabha TV. And now there are various genres of TV channels. If you can find your TG in the market, then there is no such fear at all.
Q. Under your leadership, what are some of the changes expected in Lok Sabha TV this year?
More and more new programmes, consolidation of prime time programming line-up, use of new technology to improve viewing experience. And certainly, we will make Lok Sabha TV more informative and entertaining.