India is unique in the way different trends co-exist: Shashi S Vempati, Prasar Bharati

At a talk on ‘Digital Broadcasting and Future of Journalism’, Vempati, Prasar Bharati CEO, spoke about the role played by public broadcasters in the emergence of New India and other issues

e4m by Neethu Mohan
Published: Feb 28, 2019 8:33 AM  | 5 min read

Public broadcasters need to re-invent themselves to stay relevant, said Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati at a talk organised by IIT Kanpur on ‘Digital Broadcasting and the Future of Journalism’ under the News Indian Manthan Leadership talk series on Wednesday. 

Vempati spoke on a gamut of issues, including the general state of public broadcasting, the role played by public broadcasters in the emergence of New India, the recent initiatives taken by Prasar Bharati and how they were preparing for the Digital era. 

On the general state of public broadcasting, Vempati said: “When we were growing up, we had one channel, one radio station, now it is a different environment. More so, in the last 10 years media consumption has undergone a radical change. Broadcasters across the globe have been feeling the same because everything has become Digital and On Demand. WhatsApp, Netflix and Amazon Prime have re-written the rules of how media is being consumed. This is not the era when the entire family gathered around TV sets.”

Vempati also shed light on how different trends co-exist in India. “India is unique. The story of new India is not about one government scheme. It is the story of how many different trends co-exist, how technology has evolved and how economy has grown, reflecting the length, breadth, diversity and complexity of India as a country. That’s how we are looking at a new India.”

On the changes in the country’s TV viewership, Vempati said: “Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) does a survey every year, which shows how the demographic in this country has changed. The survey in 2016 and in 2018 has shown dramatic changes in the country in terms of how electrification has led to a shift in TV penetration. Even though Digital is growing, TV viewing has also grown along. There was a large part of the country which did not have 24x7 electricity and with more homes getting electrified, TV viewership is on the rise.”

In India, Print media is still growing as opposed to most other countries, Vempati said. “There are several trends happening in India at the same time. At the top end of the society, there is a shift towards Digital and On Demand content, while traditional media continues to dominate in the bottom of the structure. So both trends co-exist,” he added. 

According to Vempati, public broadcasters must re-invent themselves to stay relevant. He also spoke about the funding of channels for public broadcasters.  “Funding models of public broadcasters vary across the globe. India’s model of public broadcasting is unique in the world. In case of BBC, there is something called a licence fee. So if you want a Television set you have to pay the fee and that goes to the public broadcaster. The same method is followed in Japan too.”

Speaking about the funding of India’s public broadcasters, Vempati said: “In case of India, it is very unique. The funding model in India is slightly hybrid where the wages of employees comes from the government, while the cost of operations must be funded by public broadcasters themselves. So we need to generate ad revenue to fund our operational cost and no public broadcaster in the world does that.” 

He also shared his insight on the challenges of public broadcasting in India. “In case of Doordarshan, there are 24 satellite channels and a large number of terrestrial stations. In the case of All India Radio, it is a complex network running into few Hindi stations. The major challenges lie in the number of languages and dialects in which content is created.”

Speaking on how Prasar Bharati is preparing for the Digital era, Vempati said: “Historically most of our terrestrial network, both TV and Radio, used analogue technology. One of the shifts that we started a few years back was to move to Digital terrestrial TV. Similarly, about 38 radio transmissions have moved to Digital transmission.”

The on-demand section is another interesting story, where we have significantly increased our Digital presence. We have two news channels-DD News and Rajya Sabha TV-with millions of subscribers on YouTube. Today, the content on YouTube is available in languages like Garo, Khasi, Dogri and several other dialects. That has increased the Digital footprint of the public broadcaster.”

Prasar Bharati has more than 270 active social media handles and early last year it integrated AIR with Amazon Alexa, Vempati said. 

“The future of digital broadcasting is convergence. In recent times, DD India has caught the attention of a number of people and our intention behind carrying DD India was not to fight a domestic battle with other private broadcasters. We wanted to take DD India global. We took the first step last week when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in Seoul. We had an MoU signed with the Korean public broadcaster KBS and Prasar Bharati. As part of that MoU, DD India will be carried in the Korean OTT platform and KBS will be carried on Free Dish-DTH. This is a baby step for creating a global voice for India,” Vempati signed off. 

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