Doordarshan: A struggle for relevance

By: |
New Delhi | March 06, 2018 12:23 AM

Once the sole television channel, Doordarshan (DD) has lost its charm. Industry believes good quality content and effective marketing could be the growth drivers.

doordarshan, doordarshan tvIt was in the late ’90s that Doordarshan formally took the plunge to become a 24-hour channel to beat the then-growing popularity of satellite TV.

With close to 900 private channels in the country and the mushrooming of numerous OTT platforms recently, it is safe to assume Indians love entertainment. This glittery world, however, has left public broadcaster Doordarshan (DD) behind.

It was in the late ’90s that Doordarshan formally took the plunge to become a 24-hour channel to beat the then-growing popularity of satellite TV. Since then, the various channels of DD, time and again, have undergone revamp — for both the afternoon as well as primetime slots; the network had even renamed some of its channels to compete with private channels.

More recently, it brought back its old popular show, Circus, which made way for other oldie favourites like Hum Log, Malgudi Days, etc to milk the nostalgia factor. As per reports, Prasar Bharati, which runs Doordarshan and All Indian Radio, also plans to bring on board some senior journalists to compete with private news channels. Doordarshan has a three-tier programming service — national, regional and local.

“DD represents the heritage of our country and it truly reflects the spirit of India. While it is true that with time its relevance has been challenged, I strongly feel that DD has tremendous potential,” says Dhirendra Singh, VP, Initiative, with the belief that with the kind of infrastructure and network DD has, particularly in the remote corners of the country, the broadcaster should focus on enhancing the quality of content to increase its relevance today.

“Good quality content and effective marketing are the key drivers for its growth,” he adds.

If one looks at the numbers, DD’s image has not changed over the years as the broadcaster is facing tremendous challenges to modify its terrestrial imagery, say industry experts. The pubcaster does not figure in the top 10 Hindi GEC channels, as per the data shared by BARC India (HSM, 2+, Weeks 1-5, 2018).

During the TAM era, rural markets were not monitored and therefore advertisers used DD National to target these markets. But with BARC India commencing rural viewership data, DD has lost its monopoly position to FTA (free-to-air) channels. Also, with the growth of DTH (direct-to-home) operators in rural markets, FTA channels have opened up a plethora of quality entertainment options to viewers. This has further reduced the time spent on DD. As a result, advertising on DD has been shrinking over the years.

It is primarily the government institutions and FMCG marketers like HUL or Colgate & Palmolive who want deep reach in rural markets and are using DD for advertising.

As per BARC India, only two FMCG companies make it to the top 10 advertisers list on DD National — HUL and P&G, with 149 and 166 insertions, respectively (All India, 2+, Weeks
1-5, 2018).

The pubcaster is seen as the government’s mouthpiece, wherein it delivers the government’s messages to the people. If one looks at British pubcaster British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), it has withstood the flood of private channels through public funding — in the UK, every household with a television set has to pay a yearly licence fee. Also, it has moved with time and invested heavily in its digital arm, making it one of the most trusted and widely followed sources for news and information across the world. Perhaps DD can borrow a leaf or two when it comes to its digital strategy, as modern media networks have spread their wings to be on multiple platforms simultaneously.

“While DD is delivering good numbers in rural India, it struggles to stay relevant with the changing times.By all standards, content stands as the winner because with digitisation and increasing penetration, FTA channels are delivering stronger viewership versus DD,” says Shekhar Banerjee, chief operating officer, Madison Media. “Even advertisers prefer FTA channels over DD because of higher audience reach.”

Having said that, there are some advertisers who invest in the public broadcaster for rural reach. Says Krishna Rao, category head for Parle Products, “Parle and Doordarshan have always had a favourable synergy and this will surely continue in years to come.” However, he too believes that with the recent penetration of internet and mobile phones in rural India, there is a demand for diverse content. “Modifying their programming to offer more relatable content to viewers is certain to pull more advertisers,” he adds.

DD channels are home to various genres, languages and television programmes with DD National topping the list of its offerings.

According to Zapr Media Labs, the channel enjoys close to 25% of the viewership share within the DD portfolio. The high viewership could pertain to the varied shows — serials, bhajans, news, cookery shows and even news for the hearing impaired (15 minutes daily).

What is interesting is that apart from the hindi speaking markets (HSM), the pubcaster has made inroads in other parts of the country as well. For instance, as per a Zapr study (spread over September, October and November, 2017), Pune had the highest viewership share (17.3%). The top city was followed by Ahmedabad (9.4%), Bhopal (6.2%), Jaipur (6%) and Lucknow (5%), based on actual audience share for DD channels.

Meanwhile, even the Information and Broadcasting Minister Smriti Irani wants Doordarshan to leverage the reach created by DD Free Dish to create quality content and improve revenue generation through advertisements. Speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the 24th International Conference and Exhibition on Terrestrial and Satellite Broadcasting, she said that the total advertising spend for DD is expected to grow from last year’s 9.6% to 12.5% this year.


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