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Prasar Bharti: Bharat Ki Awaz

That the public broadcaster, Prasar Bharati is in trouble, is old news. The organization has not been doing well for some years now. Initially modeled on British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Prasar Bharati today finds itself in doldrums, with serious trouble on the manpower and funding front. Besides the broadcaster is unable to meet the technological challenges. It is far behind in terms of technology currently being used, which is affecting its transmission and standing in the market.

Candidly, chief executive officer, BS Lalli admits that Prasar Bharati has not been able to fulfill the vision for which it was set up, “We haven’t been very successful in setting the benchmarks for the industry. The vision that was there for Prasar Bharati of excellence in programming has not been fulfilled.”

Prasar Bharati’s saga of irregularity reached an influx point recently when the Information & Broadcasting Ministry gave a report on the functioning of its Board, which has been surrounded by allegations of financial irregularity. CVC is also probing the financial irregularities at Prasar Bharati. Last year, there were some management related issues as well when the chairman of the Board, Arun Bhatnagar and CEO, Lalli were at loggerheads.

The organization is today beset with funding and manpower issues. Funding remains one of the key issues being faced by the broadcaster. This obviously has to do with the inherent structure of the organization. While the broadcaster has revenues, it is also funded by the Ministry of I&B. So the broadcaster is not only supposed to compete with the other players in the market, but at the same time be a bridge between the government and the citizens of the country.

BBC, on the other hand, is funded by an annual television license fee, which is charged to all households of the UK using capable equipment to record or receive live TV broadcasts. The level of the fee is set by the UK Government under a multi-year agreement with the Corporation.

“Funding issue has been taken care off to some extent since we have our own revenues now. Though we are not making any profit as of now, we have been able to stop the downward trend. Our revenue is between Rs 1,200-1,300 crore and around Rs 2,000 crore is coming to us from the government funds. We have been able to stop the downward trend and as of now we are looking at a 10% growth,” says Lalli.

Manpower is another major issue plaguing the broadcaster. As of now, it has 40,000 employees under its aegis. There is a shortage of another 25,000 employees. Prasar Bharati has got the approval to recruit another 2,000 employees, and the process is likely to start soon. There is an acute shortage of manpower. Besides, the employees are unhappy because of stagnation. Dissatisfaction and frustration is eating into its work culture. The broadcaster hasn’t recruited in the last sisxteen years.

“There are several management and work related issues, which we haven’t been able to resolve even after being in existence for the last twelve years. We have been saddled with some legacy issues. Apart from shortage of manpower, there is an issue of stagnation of employees,” says Lalli.

The employees of Prasar Bharati were recognized as government servants on deputation by the government order dated October 5, 2007. So the employees are central government employees and can avail similar benefits. This was a significant move since Prasar Bharati is an autonomous body. The order came as a relief to employees of AIR and Doordarshan.

“We haven’t been very successful in setting the benchmarks for the industry. The vision that was there for Prasar Bharati of excellence in programming has not been fulfilled”

BS Lalli, CEO, Prasar Bharati

Problems and challenges notwithstanding, the public broadcaster is in a combative mood and is planning to not only ebb the downward flow but to gain the market share also.

New Strategy
Going forward, the broadcaster is banking on mobile TV and HDTV initiative to boost its fortunes. Prasar Bharati is working on a new business model with accent on mobile TV to increase its revenue. Doordarshan had launched it earlier this year on a pilot basis and sees immense revenue earning potential given its first mover advantage. The organization has been looking at ways to generate some extra money and hopes things would look up soon.

The mobile TV, in association with Nokia on DVB-H technology, would be available to subscribers within a radius of 10-12 km from Akashvani Bhavan on Parliament Street in the capital city. Currently, eight channels of Doordarshan are available on mobile TV platforms, which would be later increased to sixteen. The DVB-H enabled mobile handset currently comes at a price of Rs 30,000 but the broadcaster believes this price would come down significantly. Prasar Bharati would be investing around Rs 100 crore in the project and believes that it would turn out to be a significant revenue generator in the near future.

Where content is concerned, the public broadcaster is planning to focus on regional channels and to improve programming content. It is also planning to digitize its content and archives, which can further be an additional source of income.

“We have one of the best infrastructure. We are planning to move from analog to digital. We have around 1,430 transmitters today, out of which 630 will be left behind when we move to digital. Besides, we would have to syngerize between Doordarshan and All India Radio transmitters,” says Lalli.

DD News has also been given a new look recently. However, the focus area of the news remains the same. “Going forward, we plan to focus on socially relevant programs, but the format remains entertaining. As a broadcaster, we have to transmit socially relevant messages. For instance, we started `Kyon Ki Jeena Issi Ka Naam Hai’. Where news is concerned, our focus remains plain vanilla news without any hype. This will remain the same,” says Lalli.

Prasar Bharati’s DTH service remains one of the focus areas of the organization. Doordarshan has one-of-its-kind DTH service in the world which is a combination of paid and free-to-air. As of now, it has seventy-five channels, out of which fifty-nine are free-to-air and the rest are paid.

Elaborating on the major concern for the organization, Lalli says, “My major concern right now is how to make our programs more meaningful, which cut across the diversity of our people and still appeal to them. Our programs also have to attract a wide variety of people. Our programs also have to address the issues being faced by the citizens of the country. It is our endeavor to make programs on socially relevant issues like health, religious harmony, etc. We have to be the bridge between the government and the people. All this has to be combined with entertainment.”

Lalli is also upbeat about the forthcoming Commonwealth Games. Prasar Bharati recently came out with an Expression of Interest (EoI) for the coverage of the forthcoming Commonwealth Games, 2010.

The Commonwealth Games will be broadcast using high definition (HDTV) format. Under the CWG rules, it is mandatory for the host broadcasters to produce a feed of the games in this format, so the public broadcaster doesn’t have much option but to do so and have the application up and running before the games begin.

HDTV format requires at least three times more bandwidth compared to the standard telecast currently used by most broadcasters in the country. However, both picture and sound quality in this format is far superior. DD will need to upgrade its infrastructure in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai to broadcast in HDTV format. The I&B Ministry has already shortlisted five broadcasters and their consortium partners, from which the contract for the production of CWG 2010, will be awarded to one, based on financial and technical bidding. Tokyo Broadcasting, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, USA’s International Sports Broadcasting, and International Games Broadcast services are among the five international production companies that are said to be in the race.

Keeping the expenditure of the Commonwealth Games in mind, the ministry has increased the loan to Prasar Bharati by 36%. For 2009-10, the ministry will offer a loan of Rs 356 crore, up from Rs 262 crore in 2008-09.

A lot needs to be done before Prasar Bharati is able to tackle the issues being faced. As Ambika Soni pointed out in an interview, Prasar Bharati needs a `mindset change’ more than anything else. It has a lot going for it. The reach of DD and AIR, coupled with the best infrastructure, make it a formidable combination. It is upto the organization to make the best of it.

Gagandeep Kaur

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