New e-auction policy will be a win-win for all: Shashi Shekhar Vempati, Prasar Bharati

Vempati, CEO Prasar Bharati speaks about the new e-auction move and about the 14 news channels on Free Dish that help take their reach beyond the urban pockets

by Ruhail Amin
Published - Jan 18, 2019 8:31 AM Updated: Jan 18, 2019 8:31 AM
Shashi Shekhar Vempati

Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati recently announced its revised policy framework for the use of its satellite network, DD Free Dish. 
54 slots on DD Free Dish will be e-auctioned to private players after a gap of almost 16 months after they were put on hold in August 2017. The e-auctioning will begin in February 2019.

Explaining the rationale behind the new move and how the public broadcaster was looking at leveraging its reach, we spoke to Shashi Shekhar Vempati, CEO Prasar Bharati about the new move and more.

Edited excerpts:

What are the big changes that the new e-auctioning policy entails compared to its earlier version?

Back in August 2017, the auctions were put on hold pending a review because the ministry is also a stakeholder. If you recall, earlier the auction slot fee was broadly based on two categories: news and non-news.

So what had happened was that the non-news was a very broad category and invariably the slot fee went up to a level which only some commercially viable channels could afford, while certain other genres of public interest could not afford those.

Similarly, since the DD Free Dish base predominantly concentrated in the Hindi speaking belt, again most of the content was Hindi oriented and there was little representation for other regions and other languages. So part of the rethinking was how do we restructure the slot fees so that there is low entry point for those genres which are underrepresented.

So what you see in the new policy is that those two categories have been broadened into five categories. So we are able to get premium for the commercially high potential genres and languages, and a low entry point for infotainment, devotional and other genres including languages. So it is an exercise to ensure that we make it a win-win for everyone.

In your view, what are the biggest differential values that Free Dish offers to broadcasters?

There is KPMG and EY report on how the whole genre of Hindi entertainment and Hindi news channels has benefited from the Free Dish phenomena. There are 14 news channels on Free Dish already and it is important for them because it takes their reach beyond the urban pockets.

What are the big focus areas for Prasar Bharati in 2019?

I think a big focus has been digital and if you look at the way broadcasting is evolving, the way convergence is happening between traditional broadcasting and digital based platforms. So this is a new reality we need to prepare for, which also means a change at our end is required. So more of our content will now be digitally available and that is what we are focusing on.

Also, a lot of our operations have become IT enabled and we also have to think what will be our manpower model for the future because a large part of our workforce will retire in the next five years. So these are the changes that we are preparing for and a lot of momentum has picked up in the last few months.

How has the response to privatisation of radio news been so far?

It is very positive, the President of AROI (Association of Radio Operators of India) Anuradha Prasad has been very supportive and AROI as a body has been very supportive. Now we have to work with the individual operators so they start getting the content.

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