PrasarBharati: Programme, demand mismatch

BY SevantiNinan| IN Research Studies | 17/09/2014
The challenge of public broadcasting - I: There is technological and programming mismatch between viewers' needs and Doordarshan's output,
says SEVANTI NINAN’s three-part study. PIX: DD~s terrestrial transmission outpost in Bhimavaram.

Unnamed sources in the new government have let it be known that theModi government is going to examine the continuing relevance of PrasarBharati.

Perhaps the question to ask is, is public broadcasting still relevant in India? The country is saturated with television but has a poor human development index ranking. It spends Rs 3600 crore a year on a public broadcaster but the poorest segments of its population list several unmet information needs.

Agriculture, health and education-based programming, for instance, are quantitatively low in Doordarshan’s priorities, but ranked high among expressed viewership needs. Employment enabling programming which is mentioned frequently as a felt need does not figure in the content break up.

Can the right kind of programming on the right delivery platforms make a difference to India’s human development index? Could the decades of investment in public television be made to deliver more effectively? What is the research showing?

There is a technological as well as a programming mismatch today between viewer needs and Doordarshan’s output. The fact is that digitisationis serving to push people further off the public broadcaster. Terrestrial television still accounts for heavy annual investment in terms of ground engineering personnel and equipment replacement. But Doordarshan’s terrestrial transmission has lost audiences quite sharply to cable and DTH.DDs own DTH presence is growing but is hampered by the fact that the private channels people want to watch are not on this platform.

In the country’s rural areas direct to home broadcasting grew from 6 per cent of TV homes in 2006-2007 to 29 per cent in 2012-13. Rural cable homes grew from 30 per cent to 43 per cent over this period. Over the same period terrestrial TV homes dropped from 64 per cent to 24 per cent. (As for urban areas, the only categories of cities in which terrestrial TV retained any audience share by 2012-13 were the 1-10 lakh cities (2 per cent) and towns (6 per cent.) (Francis Kanoi Marketing Research.)

A regional rural audience on satellite would still have access to the regional satellite channel of Doordarshan if it wanted public service programming of the kind DD is mandated to do. But does it get the programming it wants on these channels? Is it compelling enough to draw an audience? The evidence from the ground suggests that content drives technological choice. (More of this later in this series.)

What DD offers today is shaped by the Planning Commission’s allocation decisions. Prasar Bharati’s television arm receives hardly any Plan support for its programming costs and is expected to raise it from its own sources. That boils down to doing entertainment programming which gets advertising. In 2014-15 of the Rs 3600 crore budgeted for Prasar Bharati the government will give Rs 1890 crore as a grant, but the broadcaster has been set a commercial revenue target of Rs 1710 crore. What that means for how Doordarshan allocates its programming hours becomes evident from the charts below.

There is little systematic research these days by Prasar Bharati itself beyond a diary based system of ascertaining viewership in rural areas. A 2012 mapping of content put out by four regional channels of Doordarshan and DD national provides one set of indicators. And focus group based audience research among low income groups including scheduled castes and scheduled tribes in five states between 2012-2014 offers other indicators. This was conducted by the Media Foundation in Delhi with partner organisations and individuals in the states of Gujarat, Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Delhi. The content mapping was based on measurement of 18 hours of daily programming over 31 days, except in the case of DD Chhattisgarh which had a weekday transmission of just four hours a day. On Sundays it is less.

The five content categories with maximum time share across channels were: Entertainment, Art and Culture, Devotional/Spiritual, News and Agriculture.

Entertainment

Entertainment was the most ubiquitous category among the channels monitored. While daily soaps and films make up most of this section, reality music and dance shows, interviews with celebrities and comic performances are also widespread.

The state-specific channels meet a special need for news of the region which national channels cannot cater to. But DD loses out to regional channels in this respect because the share of news is less than eight percent across the channels mapped.

DD national is a Hindi must carry channel for cable and DTH operators across the country. What does its programming break up look like?

Caption for pie chart below: Programming break up on DD national

The monitoring represented by the pie chart above was done from august 1-31 2012, so the Olympics telecast during this period pushed up the progamme share of sports. 

Based on this mapping what do the public broadcaster’s programming priorities look like? Here are some pointers:

  • The programme time provided for entertainment on DD National was nearly four times the combined share of agriculture, education, health, information and science and technology.
  • The share of entertainment programmes on DD Saptagiri (Andhra Pradesh) was larger than the combined share of information, education, health, agriculture, sports, news and current affairs.
  • The volume of teleshopping on DD Oriya was four times that of information programmes (classified as programming related to human development, legal, environment, tourism). The time allotted to teleshopping was also more than the combined share of health, agriculture, education, sports and current affairs.
  • The volume of non-fiction, non-entertainment shows targeted at women did not exceed 2.68 per cent of the total telecast on any channel.
  • DD Girnar (Gujarat) had the maximum volume of youth-specific programmes but it was just 1.64 per cent of the total telecast. DD Saptagiri (Andhra Pradesh) had the least volume in this segment at 0.08 per cent.
  • The volume of programmes on science and technology did not go beyond 1 per cent of the total telecast on any channel.Ditto for programming that could be classified as environment related.
  • The share of devotional/spiritual programmes on DD Saptagiri (10.88 per cent) was much more than the combined share of information and current affairs programmes (8.1 per cent).

DD’s focus on entertainment is because it is forced to raise resources for its programming costs. But as far as viewers are concerned the segment of DD programming least in demand are its curent entertainment shows. If they access TV through DTH or cable the serials and other entertainment they watch most are on Star, Colours, Zee,Sony.The per episode cost of DD serials wise is a barely recognisable fraction of what the competitition spends on its programming. From the viewer’s point of view, it shows.

If a public broadcaster offers entertainment it should by definition be different. And have quality. Quality does not come cheap.

Even economically deprived viewers have standards for the TV they want to watch. As soon as satellite TV came into this country it raised the bar for transmission and production quality, and Doordarshan has still has not caught up.

(This series is based on data and interviews from a five state study conducted by the Media Foundation in Delhi over two years, from the PitrodaComm report presented in January 2014, on budget documents and on interviews with senior officials in PrasarBharati and Doordarshan.) 

Part I: PrasarBharati: Programme, demand mismatch

Part II: How public broadcasting is missing its audience

Part III: PrasarBharati: Where is the money for programming?

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