Smriti Irani exhorts DD to leverage reach better

NEW DELHI: Minister of Information and Broadcasting Smriti Irani at a public platform yesterday posed a question that may not be palatable to all but would bolster the confidence of Doordarshan bosses. She asked why the pubcaster couldn’t better leverage its own taxpayer-funded vast infrastructure for revenue generation the same way as private sector broadcasters had done.

“The tragedy was that private broadcasters grew at the cost of [pubcaster] Prasar Bharati [riding DD’s FTA FreeDish platform],” Irani said, asking further, “How can we leverage the infrastructure that the taxpayer has paid [for] so that good content is available [and] there is increased ad spend because of sheer power of reach of Prasar Bharati?”

According to her, India’s total advertising spend is expected to grow from 9.6 per cent last year to 12.5 per cent this year.  

Irani, speaking at the Broadcast Engineering Society-oraginsed BES Expo 2018, went on to raise several other issues on the need of marrying good business model with technology, inadequate capacity and capability to manufacture locally STBs and the importance of broadcast engineering in the development of India’s media industry.

DD’s KU-band DTH service, marketed under FreeDish brand, has been in the news lately with private TV channels questioning the pubcaster’s decision to not renew contracts to be on the FTA platform on expiry. Since then, DD has been giving temporary extensions to TV channels, waiting for broadcast disputes tribunal TDSAT, moved by some by some aggrieved TV channels, to give a final ruling on the matter.

Bringing up the issue of FreeDish at a media event, Irani looked at a natural process of sending a message across to the private sector TV channels (over 800 on last count) and the mandarins of Prasar Bharati, which, by an Act of Parliament, is an autonomous body but relies heavily on government for funds.

“The tragedy was that private broadcasters [on DD FreeDish] ended up taking a huge chunk from the ad pie not only from the ad spend of private sector, but also from government institutions like the DAVP [agency responsible for handing out government ads] on the basis of strength they leveraged from Prasar Bharati’s own infrastructure,” the minister pointed out.

According to Irani, if Prasar Bharati, the managers and owners of DD, leveraged its infrastructure better, it would result in not only increased advertising revenue for the pubcaster but also reducing the burden of the taxpayer. She added that the government had allocated over Rs 2,500 crore to Prasar Bharati to fund its activities that also include DD’s sibling the All India Radio.

Admitting that online consumption of video is increasing in India—40 per cent of entertainment is consumed online—and there is a growing demand in the digital arena for broadcasting, the minister asked whether Indian consumers, both rural and urban, have been sufficiently educated about digitisation of entertainment and the convergence happening in the country.

While exhorting the stakeholders to collaborate with phone handset manufacturers to get additional numbers on video consumption patterns in terms of quality, quantity and genre, Irani said, “Data cannot have only [a] few masters… [one of the] greatest liberators in terms of data is the expanding reach of digital tech.”

Bemoaning the country’s inability to manufacture locally good quality, cost-effective STBs in adequate numbers, Irani said, “That engineering anomaly needs to be addressed.”

Though India is still far from digitising fully its 183 million TV homes, industry observers say the country imports almost 90 per cent of the boxes from China and ASEAN countries not because of engineering inability but lack of financial incentives.

The BES Expo is one of the biggest broadcast technology shows in India. Nearly 300 companies from 25 countries will display their products in this year directly or through their dealers and distributors in India.

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