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Prasar Bharati's Shashi Shekhar Vempati on DD India revamp, OTT plan, TRAI tariff regime

DD India's re-categorisation as an English news channel boosted its rank in BARC data.

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MUMBAI: Shashi Shekhar Vempati is the first private sector executive to have a place on the Prasar Bharati hot seat. He is also one of the youngest CEOs at the organisation and in 2017 propelled it towards becoming a corporate 21st century public broadcaster.

The pubcaster isn’t buckling under to the digital wave. The new Prasar Bharati under his vision is ready for the digital era. Recently, Doordarshan revamped DD India to an English news channel. In the latest week’s Broadcast Audience Research Council data, DD India is ahead of all private English news channels in the core target audience of NCCS AB: Males 22+ individuals.  

Indiantelevision.com caught up with Vempati to talk about the success of DD India after the revamp, tariff order and Doordarshan’s OTT platform plans. Here are the excerpts:

How has DD India made it to top slot in English news list? Any change in programming line-up?

I think this needs a little bit of clarification. We have always known that the English viewership base of DD News was always quite high, but then DD news being a bi-lingual channel over the years, was being measured and reported in the Hindi genre. So, as a result, there was no reflection in BARC data of the size of the English viewership.

What has really changed is that last year the Prasar Bharati board took a decision that we will have an English news channel in addition to the Hindi news channel and we will eventually position it as our offering to the international space as well. The reason is India doesn’t have a strong global voice unlike BBC, Al Jazeera, Russia Today and CGTN. So, with that in mind, we re-positioned DD India as the English news channel, where the English content of the news generated by DD News will also go.

Over the last six months, BARC has started measuring it, but they have not reported it. They started reporting it from January in the English news genre. What was already a reality is now getting publicised.

How many hours of English content is there on the channel?

Close to 70 per cent of the Fixed Point Chart (FPC) is English news and the rest is English documentaries as of now. But the work is in progress and over the next few weeks we will increase that and it will become a full-fledged English news channel. The next big thing will be DD News and DD India becoming full-fledged Hindi and English news channels respectively.  

What is your point of view on mandatory sharing of sports feed with the public broadcaster? Will we see IPL this time on DD?

See when ever such a consultation happens, MIB takes feedback of all the stake holders, so our role comes much later. At this time there is no such proposal to share IPL matches. If there is anything we will let you know.

CCEA recently approved the ‘Broadcasting Infrastructure and network development’ scheme of Prasar Bharati. How do you plan to use the budget allocated for it?

The scheme approved by CCEA will include some expansion, modernisation of studios and upgrading of satellite infrastructure. We have a long pending modernisation. (These are some long pending modernisation. Provisions have been kept for modernisation of existing equipment/facilities in studios which are essential to sustain the ongoing activities and also for High Definition Television (HDTV) transmitters at Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata.)

What is the status of the proposed Doordarshan OTT platform? What type of content will the platform have?

Sometime in 2019, we will get to it. Right now our priority is news. It is a little early to comment on that. Firstly, we have to get our basic digital assets in place, which is what we are doing right now with the rollout of our iOS and Android apps which happened on the budget day.

We have about 55 or more active YouTube channels. Digitisation of the archive is happening. At some point in 2019 we will put out the OTT platform for some of the premium content and rare archive and upgraded content.

What’s your take on the TRAI tariff order?

I think India, as a market, is clearly innovating on pricing and this tariff order reflects that. It shows the move towards greater subscription-based revenues for the media industry and I think it is a positive move in that direction. From both consumer and the broadcaster standpoint it is a positive move. It also gives flexibility to the consumer.

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