If you grew up in the ‘80s, Doordarshan would have been an integral part of your life. However, subsequent years saw private channels prying viewers away with glamourous sets and big-budget shows, while the public broadcaster became irrelevant for a lot of Indians. In an attempt to bring back audiences and keep up with changing consumption habits, Doordarshan is in makeover mode. There are plans to launch DD Kids, a children oriented channel, by FY18, along with the revamp of DD News and flagship channel DD National.
On why today one thinks of rural India while speaking of DD, Supriya Sahu, who took charge of Doordarshan as director general in June 2016, is aware that this perception needs to change with changing times. “Yes, there are challenges but one mustn’t forget that there are certain things very intrinsic to a pubcaster, which is credibility of information,” she says. With reference to news, there are ongoing discussions at Prasar Bharati about splitting DD News into two separate channels — English and Hindi.
“The day we do it, we hope to make a place in the hearts of the people once again and be in the reckoning,” Sahu says. “Private news channels today, English or regional, have the same look and feel as debate shows where multiple faces have become a norm. DD News, on the other hand, is bilingual and also has certain bulletins in Urdu, Sanskrit as well as for the hearing impaired.” Plans are also on to revamp flagship channel DD National. DD recently conducted an internal exercise to review its programmes along with Prasar Bharati. “People in the age group of 30-45 watch a lot of DD. So there is a huge opportunity,” says Sahu.
An experiment recently that brought back popular old show Circus seems to have paid off as it has become the highest rated show on DD today. Taking a cue from it, the pubcaster wants to bring back shows like Hum Log, Malgudi Days, etc. Sahu emphasises that content on DD still poses an opportunity for advertisers, having performed better this fiscal compared to the previous one (it had closed 2015-16 at `750 crore). Ministries like health, water and sanitation, also want to produce shows on public message through the pubcaster but want to move away from DD’s stereotypical ways. “If we change the concept and produce the programme in a different and interesting manner, then there shouldn’t be a problem to get viewers across ages,” says Sahu. Compared to private channels, DD pales when it comes to look and feel. Sahu wants to build on DD’s visual identity across mediums.
At a time when international and local networks have launched VoD and OTT platforms by the dozen in India, DD has digitised 19 of its 1,416 analogue terrestrial transmitters in tier I and II cities. “These cities will receive digital terrestrial signals on ‘TV on the Go’ app which can be downloaded for free from Google Play Store. All you need is a DVB-T2 dongle available on Amazon,” points out Sahu. The DVB-T2 dongle, which DD is currently distributing for free, allows the viewer to consume 10 channels across 19 cities for free on their smartphones without consuming data.
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However, the pubcaster isn’t very vocal about these upcoming changes because it is still working on its business model, for example, choosing which channels need to be available live on it and whether some space can be allotted for private channels or not. DD Kids, when launched, will be available on the platform, too. After a year of back and forth, the pubcaster is finally preparing the blueprint to launch the FTA kids channel soon, as Sahu mentioned recently at the FICCI Frames. DD is currently working on two things.
First, how can smartphones receive terrestrial digital signals (as a preferred way would be to have in-built chips in mobiles) and secondly, evaluating the business model in association with IIM Ahmedabad. Doordarshan, which operates 21 channels, plans to digitise another 44 cities by 2018.