The Administrative and Financial Aspects of PSB: The Prasar Bharati Experiences

By:
Mr. Rajeeva Ratna Shah

CEO, Prasar Bahrain, India


Abstract: The Public Service Broadcasters should take note of the present situation arising out of high competitiveness from market forces. PSB should develop strategies to compete with commercial broadcasters for revenue and also fulfill the obligations of a Public Service Broadcaster. Multi- channel strategy is one of the many strategies Doordarshan adopted recently. So, the organization was able to fulfill the duties of both Public Service Broadcasting as well as providing major competition to commercial broadcasters in terms of revenue. The speaker unfolds some of the interesting and important strategies of Prasar Bharati to stay as a unique Public Service Broadcaster for long.


Prasar Bharati as Public Service Broadcaster

One of the basic objectives of the public broadcasting system should be to strengthen the democratic process by providing information, promoting debate and discussion on all vital issues, and providing a platform for interaction between the common man and the policy maker. Market forces cannot be expected to take care of these objectives. This reinforces the need for a public service broadcaster, which would take care of these objectives and also promote a common national outlook by providing shared experiences. In addition, such a broadcasting system is also expected to promote and foster the diverse culture of the country.

In India, the process of large-scale commercialization of broadcasting began in the 80's. Even though Doordarshan and All India Radio enjoyed a monopoly, a reduction in the proportion of budgetary support, combined with pressures to raise more revenues to fund rapid expansion, forced the pace of commercialization. As Doordarshan sells airtime on the basis of the size of its viewership, it began to look for ways and means of increasing its share as the media market became increasingly competitive. This resulted in a reduction in its emphasis on public service programming, as the prime time was reserved for commercial programming which earned the most revenue. Radio underwent a similar process, though to a lesser extent.

A problem has arisen because both services, particularly, Doordarshan, auctioned airtime slots, either by programmes and, more recently, in half-hour segments during the evenings, to private producers in order to maximize revenue. This has led to a quixotic situation that, increasingly, Doordarshan, a public service broadcaster, owns neither the programme content nor the marketing rights to the programme being shown on its channel. While the above steps have resulted in Doordarshan's income increasing, the overall growth in income since 1995 is significantly less than the media industry; be it the national or the regional language channels. This is responsible for the loss in Doordarshan's market share in terms of viewership and revenue, even though the organization broadcasts the most popular programmes in Hindi and many of the regional languages, and has the largest audience amongst all television channels.


Accountability and Structure

The public service broadcaster plays a key role in any society, especially, in a large and thriving democracy. It must be a part of "civil society", independent of and distinct from the government. In fact, the public service broadcaster must act as one of the bedrocks of society, and seek to continuously enlarge the so - called "public sphere". It must play host to informed debate, provide space for alternative and dissenting viewpoints, be a voice for the voiceless, and give substance to the phrase "participatory democracy". A key principle of a public service broadcaster is that it must be completely independent. Its structure, financing and personnel policies should be such that it must not be at the mercy of or amenable to pressures from the government of the day. On the other hand, the public service broadcaster need not give in to the temptation of maximizing commercial revenue by providing mindless programming. To maintain this balance may not always be easy. A clear understanding of its own accountability and a good organization structure can help to facilitate this objective; and a truly professional staff will ensure it.

The public service broadcaster must be accountable directly to its "owners", the citizens of India. This means, in practice, Prasar Bharati must be accountable to the body, which represents the citizens of the country: the Parliament.

A crucial manner by which Prasar Bharat' can reinforce its independence would be through financial independence. Prasar Bharati must aim to become self-sufficient within 5 years and must not depend on Government financing in the longer term. The only possible exception could be capital financing to meet strategic or national goals that go beyond public service broadcasting. Indeed, it is vitally important that, for the financing of revenue expenditure, Prasar Bharati is determined not to depend on the Government, as this could lead to some form of political or other pressure.


Financing and Funding Mechanism

There are two major ways to fund a public service broadcasting organization like Prasar Bharati. The first could be through license fees, public subsidies and Government grants. Alternatively, the funding could be primarily from commercial revenue such as advertising and sponsorship revenue, pay channels, sale of audio and video programmes, and programming agreements. indeed, a broadcaster has the choice of several different methods for it's financing. Similarly, funding entirely through a system of 'pay TV' runs contrary to the basic philosophy of a public broadcaster in a developing economy, as it is required that its basic service should be available universally, irrespective of the viewer's capacity to pay. However, this option certainly merits consideration for the premium products, which may be marketed by Prasar Bharati.

Opportunities to earn revenues from the sale of television and radio programmes both within and outside the country may be targeted. Prasar Bharati believes that there is considerable scope for the sale of television programmes to channels abroad, which are targeted to the Indian Diaspora; and in certain specialized markets, which are not of immediate interest to Prasar Bharati. Indeed, a special marketing operation is being developed to fully exploit such opportunities; as such business, if properly conducted, could add significant amount to the commercial earnings of Prasar Bharati. Two major commercial opportunities, which Prasar Bharati is planning to exploit, are its transmission capabilities and studio and production facilities. There is always an opportunity to utilize the large transmission capability of the organisation to provide digital terrestrial transmission to private operators in addition to providing uplinking facilities through the satellite network on which Doordarshan currently has excess capacity. Similarly, in the area of Radio, there are transmission, engineering and studio capabilities, which All India Radio could profitably sell to private operators.

The Central Studios, which belong to Doordarshan and All India Radio along with the regional production capabilities, need to be refurbished; indeed, to ensure professional capability, of the desired quality, it is certain that additional investment in equipment would be required. After the internal production requirements needs have been met, the opportunity to rent the available excess capacity may be considered. A self sufficient Prasar Bharati, in the area of financing, will not only reduce the pressure on the public exchequer, but would bring about a significant increase in the degree of efficiency in the overall operation of Prasar Bharati.


Channel Positioning

Multi- channel strategy is one of the many strategies Prasar Bharati adopted to create a decentralized system. Prasar Bharati operates a large number of radio and TV channels. While some have a clear definition, target audience, and positioning, others seem to have no clear identity. Moreover, some channels are not only serve little purpose, but also cannibalize viewership from other Prasar Bharati channels. It is critical that each channel is positioned clearly and distinct from one another. In terms of its objectives, each channel is being differentiated so that it is preferred viewing/listening for a specific set of customers. Each channel whether it is radio or TV has a clearly defined identity and positioning so that, each channel is the specific choice for a type of viewer (or listener).


Programming Content and Production

Programme production for both radio and TV in Prasar Bharati is being planned to be undertaken on a project basis. Throughout the year, each team will be engaged continuously on the execution of one or more projects and on planning and preparing for the next. Budgetary allocations will be made to adequately support the project costs. Each project must have an approved budget and a specified deadline, with a time-schedule for each major activity. A quality-audit must take place on all projects, once every three months, or oftener. If any assigned producer fails to deliver a programme of acceptable quality in the defined time, no further independent production responsibilities should be assigned to this Producer.


Marketing

Prasar Bharati is catering to the needs of diverse markets. At one level, the market is the 'advertising' market: consisting of an audience (television viewer, the radio listener and, in future, the user of Internet and New Media) who are desired by advertisers. In many cases, the same individual would be a part of more than one market. A second market for Prasar Bharati is, sale of commercial services direct to their consumer. Here again, there are two distinct markets. The first is a small, but significant market of 'pay television' and in future, DTH that has considerable potential. The third market consists of television and radio channels that wish purchase services such as transmission capability, studio and technical facilities and television and radio software, including the use of the Doordarshan and All India Radio library facility. Prasar Bharati is developing develop strategies to understand consumer needs and the competitive offerings in the different markets then develop products and services, which are superior to competition. Finally, the organization makes marketing arrangements to market such products and services in order to meet the revenue target.


Human Resources Development

Critical to Prasar Bharati's success as Public Service Broadcaster are the HR policies that attract and retain the best talent; embellish and enhance their capabilities through training; motivate them to contribute their best; and provide leadership that is not only inspirational, but creates synergies which lead to a team output being greater than the sum of individual efforts. Human resources have been sorely neglected in Prasar Bharati. The result is an aging, inefficient, demoralized, without capability in certain critical areas. If the organization is not in an even worse state the credit must go to a few gifted individuals and to the overall growth of the broadcasting industry. A drastic overhaul is needed. This may well require re-deployment of staff, the pruning and jettisoning of deadwood and the induction of energetic and innovative fresh blood. Most important of all, there is a crying need to develop a creative modern, understanding, and yet ambitious work culture, a culture that would demand the very best for the organization.

On any rational criteria, certain functions are grossly overstaffed while others need more people. Independent review of the staffing is required, and must be entrusted to a competent professional organization. As Prasar Bharati has always emphasized the importance of content (content is the king), there is the need for Prasar Bharati to create most of it. This will entail greater in-house production.

New Media and Emerging Technologies

New technologies, and growing convergence between diverse technologies (telecommunications, broadcasting, information technology), are creating new challenges as well as new opportunities for broadcasting organizations. Amongst the newer technologies, it is important to take note of: Direct-to-home (DTH) systems. DTH makes it possible to deliver, direct to households, about 200 TV channels. DTH will provide many more opportunities and options, and these should be quickly seized. Digitalization and digital compression technology will enable the delivery of as many as 6 channels within the same bandwidth as is being presently used for one channel. Importantly, digitalization will also facilitate the simultaneous carriage of multiple audio channels along with the same video. This will be most useful in a country like India, which has several regional languages. Digital Audio Broadcasting and satellite delivered radio, which will enable the delivery of hundreds of CD quality audio channels to portable and fixed location radio receivers. Digital Terrestrial Television will make it possible to broadcast multiple channels within limited bandwidths, so that homes can receive numerous high-quality digital channels directly from their local TV. However this would require the receiver to have special equipment ('set top box'). New technologies in programme production and especially in the "post-production" stage, involve use of computers, new digital equipment and techniques. New developments which make it possible to have smaller, more portable and less expensive terminals for uplinking TV/radio programmes to satellites. Internet and the whole area of broadband multi-media including streaming audio and video are already available here and some countries have already created capacities for broadband Internet. Interactive TV, combining features of traditional broadcast technology with those of the Net are the future possibilities of broadcasting that Prasar Bharati is aspiring for.

To sum up, Prasar Bharati is working on multi-prolonged strategies to be financially self-sufficient and developing a distinct identity as public service broadcaster through quality programming without compromising its basic values it inherited over the years.