New Delhi: Surpiya Sahu took charge as the director general of state-owned broadcaster Doordarshan in June 2016. In the eight months since, the broadcaster auctioned its prime-time programming slots to production houses to take on private entertainment channels and is now looking to re-introduce TV shows from the 1980s including Hum Log, Malgudi Days and Circus on DD National.
Doordarshan operates 23 channels and 67 programme-generating facilities across the country as well as a free-to-air direct-to-home (DTH) platform, DD Free Dish.
In an interview, Sahu talks about the revival plans for the broadcaster, a content crisis faced by the network and the need for a children’s channel. Edited excerpts:
How challenging has your journey been so far?
Doordarshan as such is a very challenging organization. We are one of the largest broadcasting organizations in the world, in position since 1959. There are 67 programme-generating facilities across India. It’s an administrative challenge to make sure that the output and productivity of this entire infrastructure is in place.
Secondly, there is an organizational challenge. Private channels can change their programming content at the drop of a hat because they have the freedom to do so, while we have to follow a proper procedure and go through a complete process in order to bring good content.
What problems have you identified in the organization?
In 1959, when DD used to have a monopoly to a point when we have over 800 private channels today and that too in all sorts of genres, the entire context has changed.
We have a lot of channels but we have not been able to continuously revamp these. There is a crisis of content on many of our channels. There is also a challenge of resources because the money required to overhaul a channel is huge.
How will you resolve these issues?
We need to get fresh talent, induct fresh ideas, think differently—away from what has been happening till now and involve audiences. As a public broadcaster, there is always a responsibility to bring important issues into limelight but there is always a way to make these shows more interactive and engage audiences. We are looking at compelling content which will attract people. We are looking to change the way we present, package and market our content.
Apart from revamping our existing channels, we are looking to introduce new channels in kids, music and youth genres. In our bouquet, we don’t have anything dedicated to any of these. Prasar Bharati board is very supportive of the plans we have presented so far and agrees that there is a need to introduce these channels.
DD Archives is digitizing Doordarshan’s content library. What do you plan to do with the content?
We realize that not only our generation which has grown up on these iconic shows but even the new generation is quite fond of these shows. We have decided to create a time band on our channel where these iconic programmes from our archives could be aired. There are some programmes we don’t have the rights to. I am looking at the entire list of popular old shows like Hum Log and the idea is to bring back these shows to DD National. We are checking the digital quality of the programmes and improving the quality for re-telecast. We have just re-started Circus. We would be able to finalize the modalities in two months.Our programming mix is going to undergo a complete change. A lot of DD’s old content is also available on e-commerce platforms. We are in talks with Amazon. It is already available on Flipkart.
Doordarshan has said that a digital platform is on the cards. When do you plan to roll it out?
We have created a small team which is working on the digital arm of Doordarshan. The archival repository of content will be available on the digital platform. It might take 3-4 months. We will put some content for public viewing free of cost, while some will remain behind a paywall.
For Doordarshan’s digital terrestrial platform plans, investment is a big challenge. How do you plan to overcome this?
We have the full support of government. By 2018, we plan to install 44 transmitters. We are working with IIM Ahmedabad to develop a business model which will help us monetize. At this point, we don’t have any difficulty in achieving the targets.
What are the revenue targets for this year?
We plan to achieve Rs800 crore this year. We closed 2015-16 at Rs750 crore.