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Fixing the broadcast

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That it costs Prasar Bharati double the price private channels pay to run their direct-to-home (DTH) broadcasting will surprise few. The rationale of a public service broadcaster has itself never become clear to the public (and there are now Parliament channels as well!); for it to also run a technology platform to compete with others is just a plain bad idea. Prasar Bharati was the first broadcaster to have deployed the DTH platform, almost a decade ago, but it failed to hold on to the first-mover’s advantage. There was no indication at the time that the DTH move was the result of any business plan. Since it insisted on keeping the platform free, only the free-to-air channels could be taken on board. As those channels developed traction, they became pay channels and moved out of the public broadcaster’s orbit. So the FE report that Prasar Bharati plans to bid out the management of its DTH operations to private players is good news. As of now the government pays over 71% of the expenditure of the broadcaster, effectively a subsidy. For this fiscal, the amount is R1,484 crore. In addition, it will make available another R380 crore for investment. Allowing private parties to manage the operation and technical maintenance will mean the corporation can stop hiring employees to manage these services and possibly also look at redundancy.

But as long as DD Direct+ is free-to-air, it is difficult to envisage any substantial addition to the revenue stream, though recent auctions of slots have fetched reasonably good bids from various free-to-air channels. The reported plan to add 200 more channels to the bouquet looks ambitious but will add little more to audience satisfaction as these too will be non-pay channels, basically regional ones. Instead, it makes sense for Prasar Bharati to start hiving off some of the huge non-performing assets that it carries like the non-core engineering paraphernalia as a relic of the terrestrial mode of transmission of a decade ago. These are the ones that eat away most of its budget. Similarly, finding an alternative commercial use for relics like the almost defunct Broadcasting House in the prime real estate of New Delhi is long overdue.

Source: The Financial Express

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