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Can Doordarshan compete with private news channels?

LiveMint logoLiveMint 28-06-2017 Shuchi Bansal

In all likelihood, starting next year, Doordarshan (DD) will have two separate news channels— one each in Hindi and English. Prasar Bharati, the state-owned broadcaster that runs DD and All India Radio, plans to convert its sociocultural channel DD India into a global English-language news channel on the lines of BBC and Al Jazeera. The move will place DD India in direct competition with private English news channels like Times Now, NDTV 24x7 and Republic TV.

Currently, DD India is an international channel with social, cultural and political programming skewed towards Indian audiences living abroad.

In a bid to revive DD’s viewership and finances, Prasar Bharati will also convert its current bilingual channel DD News into a full-fledged Hindi news channel that will then have a face-off with private Hindi news channels such as Aaj Tak, India TV, ABP News and Zee News, among others.

A former Prasar Bharati official, who requested anonymity, says the move will be a positive development as the hybrid channel has always confused the viewers, who are not sure if DD News is an English or a Hindi news channel as it carries news bulletins in both the languages. Although Barc (Broadcast Audience Research Council) India, the viewership monitoring agency, classifies DD News as a Hindi news channel, DD claims that the viewership of its prime-time English news is higher than all other similar slots on private rivals.

According to data shared by Prasar Bharati, DD News’ English news had a share of the market which is bigger than that of rival English channels in the week between 10 and 16 June. Among the well-educated, high-income group of men aged 22 years and above, in cities with population of over 1 million, the channel’s English news had a larger viewership, the state broadcaster claims.

However, these numbers are hardly recognized as the channel—DD News—is classified under the Hindi news category and its viewership is not comparable with that of private English news channels.

In that sense, distinction between the Hindi and English news channel will be a good thing as people will be clear about what they are watching. With two separate channels, DD will be able to compare the viewership of its English news with that of its rivals, sell the viewership numbers to advertisers and improve its revenue.

Secondly, the repositioning of DD India will help the public broadcaster strengthen its channel bouquet on its free-to-air direct-to-home (DTH) platform DD Free Dish. Two different channels will help the organization offer a better bouquet on its DTH platform. DD India will turn into a well-defined English news channel that will offer perspective on global events as well.

However, Prasar Bharati must note that English news viewership in India is minuscule. None of the general English news channels are profitable and DD India may face a similar challenge. According to the latest Barc data, in the weeks 19 to 24 (with the exclusion of week 21 as the channels had boycotted Barc), the share of English news channels to total TV viewership was 0.05%. During the same period, the Hindi news genre’s share was also barely 3% of total TV viewership. In the Hindi news category, DD News featured way down at the number 13 spot in Barc rankings.

So will DD news channels be able to compete with private news channels?

According to Sujata Dwibedy, executive vice-president at media buying agency Carat, a part of the Dentsu Aegis Network India Pvt. Ltd, DD’s decision to launch full-fledged English and Hindi news channels has come a little late in the day. “It will have to prove itself in terms of content and visuals because news genre on television is not growing. That is not all. Audiences are also moving onto digital news. DD will have to have great content, debates and a little dramatization on both the channels to make it in this space.”

C.V.L. Srinivas, chief executive at media agency GroupM, South Asia, however, feels that DD needs a complete overhaul if it has to compete with satellite channels. The number of unique DD homes (homes that do not have access to cable and satellite channels) is a very minuscule proportion of the total TV households. “DD news is a good place to start the overhaul. While the news genre is cluttered with many players, there is room for a holistic news channel that offers a balanced perspective,” he says.

Clearly, DD’s news channels could work if they offer balanced reportage and candid analysis. Credibility coupled with ratings will attract both audiences and advertisers.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff. Respond to this column at shuchi.b@livemint.com

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