Business: Prasar Bharti 

Dream Merchant

Despite the invasion by around 300 private channels, state-owned DD still commands sizeable viewership. Now, CEO K.S. Sarma is in the midst of a major expansion with the thrust on NRI eyeballs
By Sayantan Chakravarty
Sitting in his second floor office at the PTI building in New Delhi’s Parliament Street—Parliament has survived a massive bomb scare just a few hours before in the day, and all and sundry were evacuated from its hallowed precincts—K.S. Sarma, CEO, Prasar Bharati Corporation is fighting Delhi’s winter by blowing into reams of tissue paper. But even through his congested state, Sarma displays a nose for business, like any hardboiled businessman would. We talk to him about his NRI channel plans and on direct to home (DTH) TV plans, and Sarma does some plainspeak, the kind that will stand him in good stead at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in 2006 that will be a congregation of NRIs and PIOs from across the world, and is being held in its fourth year in Sarma’s home state, Andhra Pradesh.

Riding the DTH, Sarma plans to take DD into the NRI heartland

DD — Prasar Bharati’s flagship company and the state-owned national television channel — which until a few years ago faced absolutely no competition is now targeting the NRI viewer by aiming to sign contracts with four channels to be telecast in the US as follows:
DD India with Hemant Patel and Robert Jasani and DD News, DD Bengali, DD Punjabi and 2 radio channels (FM Rainbow and FM Hindi) with HR Shah of TV Asia. They have paid $50,000 per channel as EMD. This is a direct result of a global tender, specifically floated for 132 diaspora nations.

These are scheduled for launch in New York before March 31, 2006.

Sarma knows that youngsters today look at New Media like the Internet and podcasts for their daily dose of news and entertainment

Modus is that the DTH platform will pay DD India $3 million dollar over five years. DD News will get $2 million over the same period and the Punjabi and Bengali channels will get between $1 million and $300,000 over the same period. The idea is to take the signal to the U.S., put it on the DTH platform and run it in homes via cable. Sarma is about to sign up for the rest of DD bouquets too. The corporation has floated tender for this. 

In addition, Prasar Bharti is in talks for other channels, DTH Globcast in the U.S. and a French government DTH platform for non-exclusive channels. In the US the number of Indian homes is estimated at around 2 million and worldwide there are over 20 million Indian homes.

So much for traditional media. Sarma knows the power of the New Media and the fact that most youngsters today look at the Internet and podcasts for their dose of news and entertainment. Which is why he is actively pushing on the new media front too. He is trying to reach the diaspora on the web-stream. DD India, DD News and DD Kannada are now available on streaming video. DD plans to cash in on its public broadcaster character and on the nostalgia factor of the diaspora, many of whose members grew up on a diet of DD while on Indian shores. It is also less sensational, more objective, and not normally given to glorifying trivia. The trust factor with news is higher, at least that is what Sarma feels.

In the U.S.A. the cable guys charge anywhere between $10-15 per household per channel. The open fibre sea route costs them around $10,000 per month per signal and to put it into DTH platform costs another $20,000. Further, distribution and marketing costs boost these figures to around $50,000.
On the domestic DTH front, around 5 million boxes have been sold as on December 16, 2004, exactly a year after it was launched. Increasing the bouquet to 50 channels by June 2006 and to 100 by end of 2006 is Sarma’s next big challenge. Then there’s the plan to hike the radio bouquet to 20 frequencies by June and 50 by December next year. The CEO comes up with some number crunching and figures that he may make around $1 million per month starting very soon, a revenue model that’ll do DD’s coffers no harm.

The groundbreaking has been done, the signals are up and the juggernaut is ready to roll. Under Sarma, the once dowdy DD is set to go everywhere.

January 2006

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