To meet the increasing competition from the private Satellite TV Channels and to fulfil its public service commitment of covering the entire population during the Next Five Year Plan, Prasar Bharati is putting its strategy in place to launch multi-technology offensive.
Doordarshan has already introduced Digital Terresterial Transmission (DTT) technology and Direct to Home (DTH) technology on experimental basis in Delhi and North-East respectively. In fact, DTT is the hottest of the technologies being tried out by Doordarshan, which has chalked out plans for phased roll out across the country.
Doordarshan has set up a transmitter in Delhi for starting DTT operations. More such transmitters will come up in three other metros by June, as part of Rs. 30 crore project. Says DG, Doordarshan, S.Y. Quraishi, "Currently only one Doordarshan Channel - DD National is going all over India through terresterial transmission DD Metro is only covering half the country through terresterial mode. But by turning digital, we'll be able to send a bouquet of about half a dozen channels".
DTT is a local and cheaper alternative to DTH. With the help of transmitters, signals are compressed to such an extent that transmitters are able to beam atleast half a dozen channels in place of one channel currently available through the analogue mode. Digitised signals will enhance the systems capacity to accommodate other channels.
Initially, the installation cost of DTT will be restricted to the cost of a set top box to be placed atop the television set to digitise signals from the antenna. Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) will be finalising the technical specifications of these boxes, which initially cost around Rs. 3500 but the cost will later come down once the volumes pick up. These boxes will be needed only till such time the DD transmitters get digitised. The task force on 'Conditional Access System (CAS) headed by Rakesh Mohan, joint secretary in the Information and Broadcasting Ministry has already given a go-ahead to the new technology.
DTT has several advantages over DTH. It allows greater and direct connectivity to the viewer, delimitating the need for satellite dish antennas as required in the case of DTH platform. Also set top box for DTT are much cheaper than the set top boxes needed for DTH. DTT may also double up as FM radio station thus proving to be a lucrative business for local advertisers. And since it is efficient in the use of spectrum, it offers better picture quality, besides allowing Internet access in addition to various other value-added services.
The biggest advantage accruing to the viewers through DTT will be that, they'll be able to bypass cable operators who have of late been constantly increasing the cable subscription, much to their discomfort.
I&B Minister Sushma Swaraj says that CAS will bring in the much needed transparency in the entire broadcasting operations. "On one hand broadcasters are accusing cable operators of depriving them of precious revenue by under declaring subscriber base. And on the other hand, consumers are finding themselves burdened under high cable subscription. We've to protect their interest", she says. There are large scale implications of DTT technology. DD has plans to lease the projected extra capacity to private networks, who will have the advantage of reaching out to record 70 million homes including 37 million urban homes. Once that happens, viewers will be able to get
private channels through DD antenna.
While DTT is hot on Doordarshan's agenda, the public broadcaster is trying out DTH technology as well. In North-East, it's currently experimenting with DTH and KU band technology. Says S.Y. Quraishi, "We're going in for parallel experimentation with both DTT and DTH technologies. Our aim is to give maximum number of channels to maximum population so that we've a complete bouquet of information and entertainment".
Doordarshan's rethink on DTH is significant, particularly when no foreign or Indian investor has been coming forward in view of twin caps of 20 percent for broadcaster and 49 percent for FDI. The government is now reportedly exploring the possibility of reviewing the DTH policy, especially after the intense lobbying done by global media barons – News Corp's Rupert Murdoch and AOL Time Warner's Gerald Levin during their recent visit to New Delhi.
Another important technological initiative being taken by Prasar Bharati is 'narrow casting'. Informs S.Y. Quraishi, "We have s elected 12 states for narrow casting on experimental basis. In each state, one place has been adopted particularly to promote local programming 'say in agriculture with 10-15 km radius - a sort of area specific Krishi Darshan programme to educate farmers. To start with, 12 LPTs have been identified for telecasting agriculture programmes twice a week. As these programme gain popularity, we'll not only increase their frequency but also extend these to larger parts of India".