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Prasar Bharati CEO unveils ambitious global plans

14-February-2005
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Prasar Bharati CEO unveils ambitious global plans

The head of India's public service broadcaster - one of the largest anywhere - is planning to take his television and radio channels to the vast Indian diaspora.

KS Sarma, CEO of the Prasar Bharati Corporation, is in London to publicise a global tender for the worldwide distribution of Doordarshan television and All India Radio (AIR) channels.

"I expect a very good response," Sarma said. "I want to take our channels to wherever there is an Indian population."

Sarma's ambitious plan is to deliver 13 television and 12 radio channels in national and regional languages through local carriers that will have to bid for the contract by March 1.

Sarma says the plan is aimed at meeting a long-standing demand for Doordarshan and AIR programmes by the Indian diaspora that currently only has access to private Indian television and radio channels.

According to the Government, the diaspora is over 20 million strong and found in almost every part of the world. There are a million ethnic Indians in 11 countries and at least 100,000 in 22 others.

The Prasar Bharati tender comes after an abortive attempt to provide two free Doordarshan channels to the diaspora through a private career that Sarma said proved too expensive.

The tender covers 49 countries in North America, Asia (including the Middle East and central Asia), Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Africa.

Refundable deposits for bids for the television channels range from around $40,000 (for North America) down to $5,000 for some of the smaller countries and $2,000-$3,000 for radio channels.

For Sarma, who took over as CEO three-and-a-half years ago, the bid to reach the global Indian comes after the successful penetration of some of the more remote and inaccessible regions within India - something he felt fell squarely within the mandate of a modern public service broadcaster.

"If we are rally a public broadcaster worth our salt, I must reach everyone," Sarma said.

He said the Direct-To-Home (DTH) service, providing 33 free channels through set tops and dishes that have to be purchased, had marked a "real revolution" in public service broadcasting, benefiting 20 million households that are in remote areas with no television signal and another 45 million who had no cable access.

"This will change the broadcasting landscape in India," Sarma added.

According to Sarma, of the estimated 202 million households in India, at least 90 million own a television set, which gives a rough minimum viewership of 450 million.

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