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DD’s struggle to stay afloat: How will the White Elephant of broadcasting be revived?

31-August-2015
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DD’s struggle to stay afloat: How will the White Elephant of broadcasting be revived?

The BJP government has made it amply clear that it has ambitious plans to revamp Doordarshan, the public broadcaster under Prasar Bharati, to make it more appealing to viewers. It has also sought to make it a profit-generating organisation and make it financially autonomous. While competition from private players has caused problems for the public broadcaster in terms of viewership and revenues, DD is trying to maintain its relevance on TV screens today.

Recent deals and e-auctions revenues

Creating appealing content has been one of the major concerns for the public broadcaster. In recent times Doordarshan has inked deals with international broadcasters to create content jointly and exchanging TV content with these international broadcasters. Recently it signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Russia’s top pay-television broadcaster Digital TV Russia (DTR). The collaboration was on high quality joint production, exchange of TV programs and marketing and distribution of content. In August last year DD had an agreement with Deutsche Welle, the German public service broadcaster. The agreement saw its programming carried through 120 million households in Europe, Northern Africa and Central Asia for a reported Rs. 90 lakh. The public broadcaster in August launched five new shows which were to have high value production unlike the earlier content. The broadcaster is said to be spending five times more than what they used to. For instance each program’s expenses will go up to Rs. 8 – 8.5 lakh per episode said Deepa Chandra, ADG, DD National in a media report. 

Prasar Bharati also had the 21st e-auction of Doordarshan’s free-to-air (FTA) DTH platform. This brought in revenues of Rs. 23.2 crore from six channels added to the DTH platform. DD looks to target 112 channels over the next few months that will be carried on the DTH platform through these e-auctions. According to media reports, it earned Rs. 4.1 crore from Colors Rishtey and Rs. 3.9 crore from Star Utsav slots.

DD had also launched a mobile app in May for DD News as it looks to create content and expand availability of its content on wider platforms. These all developments come in efforts to create better content on the scale of private players and to attract advertising revenues.

Efforts to make DD self-sustaining organisation

The government wants to gradually reduce the amount of taxpayers’ money that goes into the public broadcasting system. According to the last five-year broadcast plan which ended in March 2012, MIB had reported that it had generated revenues of Rs. 6,000 crore from Prasar Bharati and had spend more than double the amount i.e. Rs. 12,200 crore in the same period. The public broadcaster has been dubbed as the white elephant for the government. DD employs about 33,800 staff, which is the highest in the world.

During the budget session this year the government had increased the allocation to DD by Rs. 600 crore to Rs. 2,824.55 crore for 2015-16 from Rs. 2361.54 crore in 2014-15. The government had also allocated an additional Rs. 200 crore investment in the public broadcaster.

Problems still persist in revenue generation

Though there has been a lot of effort to revive the public broadcaster by putting in significant investment in a hope that it generates valuable revenue, in recent times the public broadcaster has come under the scanner for its ability to generate enough revenues and the mounting expenditure. In a recent media report, it was pointed out that while the revenues had declined by nearly 13 per cent in 2014-15, the expenditure too had risen by 15 per cent. The report said that the expenditure had grown from Rs. 1,608 crore in 2012-13 to Rs. 1,850 crore in 2014-15, while the revenues had declined to Rs. 993 crore from Rs. 1,137 crore in the same period. It also said that many of the other government ministries are reducing their ad spends on the public broadcaster. It is said that the Health Ministry had withdrawn Rs. 100 crore that it had earmarked for publicity campaigns on Prasar Bharati. Similarly, the Agriculture Ministry had also informed the MIB that it is reducing its spends on the public broadcaster by half from Rs. 145 crore to Rs. 70 crore. This was supposedly due to the loss of confidence and trust in entrusting the funds to the public broadcaster as its ratings were low. Jawhar Sircar, CEO, Prasar Bharati had denied this and had cited other reasons for this decision taken by the ministries.

However, Minister of State (MoS) for I&B, Rajyavardhan Rathore had admitted to the expenditures were high for Prasar Bharati given its public service role and manpower, but said that the public broadcaster needed to conduct a self-analysis and must come up with various models to increase its viewability as well as revenue generation.

As the public broadcaster increases its efforts to revamp its content to make it more appealing to viewers and advertisers alike to generate more revenues, the spends too of it will increase. Hence, it remains to be seen whether these efforts from it will bear fruit in terms of it being profitable and being revenue autonomous. 

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