Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati recently announced its revised policy framework for the use of its satellite network, DD Free Dish, wherein 54 slots on DD Free Dish will be e-auctioned to private players. This move comes after a gap of almost 16 months, as the e-auctions were put on hold in August 2017. The e-auctioning will begin in February 2019.
Here are excerpts from our conversation with Shashi Shekhar Vempati, CEO Prasar Bharati, in which he explains the rationale behind the move, how the public broadcaster will leverage its reach as well as other issues.
Q] What are the big changes that the new e-auctioning policy entails, compared to its earlier version?
Back in August 2017, the auctions were put on hold pending a review because the I&B Ministry is also a stakeholder. Earlier, the auction slot fee was broadly based on two categories - news and non-news. So non-news was a very broad category and invariably the slot fee went up to a level which only some commercially viable channels could afford, while certain other channels in genres of public interest could not afford those. Similarly, since the DD Free Dish base was predominantly concentrated in the Hindi-speaking belt, most of the content was Hindi-oriented and there was little representation from other regions or languages. Part of our re-thinking was how to restructure the slot fees so that there is a low entry point for those genres which are underrepresented. In the new policy, those two categories have been broadened into five categories. We are able to get premium for the commercially high potential genres and languages, and keep a low entry point for infotainment, devotional and other genres including languages. So it is an exercise to ensure that we make it a winwin for everyone.
Q] In your view, what are the biggest differential values that DD Free Dish offers to broadcasters?
There are KPMG and EY reports on how the whole genre of Hindi entertainment and Hindi news channels has benefited from the Free Dish phenomenon. There are 14 news channels on Free Dish already and it is important for them because it takes their reach beyond the urban pockets.
Q] What are the big focus areas for Prasar Bharati in 2019?
A big focus area has been Digital and look at the way broadcasting is evolving, the way convergence is taking place between traditional broadcasting and digital-based platforms. So this is a new reality we need to prepare for, which also means that a change at our end is required. So, more of our content will now be digitally available and that is what we are focusing on.
Also, a lot of our operations have become IT-enabled and we have to think about our manpower model for the future, because a large part of our workforce will retire in the next five years. These are the changes that we are preparing for, and a lot of momentum has picked up in the last few months.
Q] What has been the response to privatization of radio news so far?
It is very positive. The President of the Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI), Anurradha Prasad, has been very supportive and AROI as a body has been very supportive. Now we have to work with the individual operators so they start getting the content.
(With Inputs from Simran Sabherwal)