Friday, June 9, 2017
AIR can't take its monopoly in news for granted: New Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati
For someone who has been a top-level techie, a move to a staid government entity like Prasar Bharati at the age of 43 can not be termed as a very popular career switch by any yardstick. But Shashi Shekhar Vempati is on a mission to revive and reinvigorate the operations of an organisation which has been mired in controversies since its inception. Vempati, an IIT-Bombay alumnus, has worked with InfosysBSE -0.54 % for 16 years. He also had a stint as the CEO of Niti Digital, an online media company known for its right-wing website Niti Central. Vempati will also have the distinction of being the first non-Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer to head the public broadcaster.
In his first interview to a mainstream media house after being named Prasar Bharati CEO, he outlines his vision for the public broadcaster and how he plans to bring in a paradigm shift in its operations. Excerpts:
Prasar Bharati has faced a lot of upheavals in the last few years and so you have an arduous task waiting for you. Coming from the private sector, don't you think bureaucracy and red-tapism are biggest barriers to DD's growth?
Where you see a barrier, I see an opportunity. Despite all the challenges, the DD team has done very well in creating a DTH platform that has revolutionised television viewing with the Free to Air (FTA) phenomenon. If you look at the BARC ratings across genres, there are quite a few FTA channels amongst the top 10 and a large part of their viewership is thanks to DD Free Dish.
Being part of the system may come with its challenges but it also opens up avenues to create a new market like the one done with Free Dish. Our future growth will come in taking this further by creating new models of broadcasting through innovative use of technologies like digital terrestrial television that will result in new markets being created while exploiting latent demand that is either going unserved or under-served today.
AIR has complete monopoly over airing of news and current affairs programmes. Don't you think it has not been able to leverage it? Is it time private radio channels were given the opportunity to air news?
Let me at the outset be clear that this is a policy matter which is the prerogative of the government. It is not for me to comment on the policy. But as the head of a public broadcaster, I think we must not take any monopoly advantage for granted. The media marketplace is dynamic and fast changing. Technology is rendering old ways of delivering content obsolete while new ways of delivering content are disrupting well-entrenched incumbents. Hence, irrespective of how this policy evolves in the future, AIR News as a matter of strategy will always have to be ready for competition and not take its monopoly for granted. This will be ensured by innovation on the technology front and transformation from an operations standpoint.
After a stupendous start in 2003, when DD News was home to top editorial talent and was giving tough competition to private channels, it has somewhat lost its star attraction. Employment in AIR and other DD channels has also been a matter of concern. How are you planning to address it?
Addressing talent management issues will be a top priority for us. Attracting the right talent and retaining them will no doubt be a challenge and resolving long-pending issues within the current talent pool is also an issue. We will have to engage all stakeholders and put our heads together to get both of these right. It will require creating an environment of trust. It will also call for a culture and mindset change. I am confident we will be able to get there if we all come together and commit ourselves to change.
The general perception about a public-sector broadcaster is that it is the central government's mouthpiece. DD has faced controversies such as the one regarding an interview featuring Narendra Modi before he was elected as the prime minister. Don't you think there's always going to be a thin line during editorial decisions while dealing with controversial issues related to the central government? What will be your strategy?
Both AIR and DD News have a long history of treading that fine line admirably. I understand there may have been some moments in the past but in my view these are rare exceptions. Whenever I go through viewer reactions on social media, and I do that quite often, I see the consistent feedback being that DD News is the go-to place for sober and reliable news without any of the cacophony we see in the rest of the private TV news channels.
Similarly, AIR News Alerts has a large follower base of a million-and-a-half plus on Twitter alone. You don't build this kind of credibility and following by merely being a mouthpiece. These are a sign that both DD and AIR News have delivered news that matters to the people in a manner they appreciate. There is definitely immense scope for improvement both in terms of quality of presentation and the breadth of coverage, and we are committed to transforming how we deliver news. In this era of fake news and false narratives, DD and AIR will continue to be the go-to places for the citizens of India to get reliable news.
DD Sports was launched with a vision but somehow has failed to live up to its potential. With Kabaddi, Star India has shown that any sport can be successfully packaged and designed to be a spectacle on television. Do you have any special plans for the channel?
DD Sports is an opportunity with immense potential. I commend the Director General of DD for holding a day-long sports conclave live on DD Sports with engagement across India on how to transform the sports scene in India. This was the first time you had all stakeholders—government, sportspersons, coaches and associations—coming together to brainstorm on the challenges and opportunities. We will build on this and make DD Sports the go-to place for sports development. As for special plans, I would say, stay tuned.
Since you come from a technological background, what areas do you think can the pubcaster improve? How are you planning to take on general entertainment channels as that is one area where drawing eyeballs is the toughest task?
Technology will be critical to every step of our transformation journey. We need modern IT systems to transform our operations. We need digital technologies to transform how our content is delivered and how our archives are accessed. We have to step up to the emerging convergence between broadcast and broadband technologies, between DTT, DRM, 5G. etc. All of this convergence will happen on mobile devices. So we have our task cut out from a technology standpoint. On your second question, I see us creating a different kind of market for public-interest content that is both entertaining and engaging. In that sense, we will not be competing with the general entertainment channels for the same eyeballs.
You have spoken about the nostalgia factor. But is that enough in today’s world, especially in an age when YouTube and OTT providers are giving traditional mediums like television tough competition?
Nostalgia is the strongest consumer and audience sentiment that comes across when one thinks of our brands, Doordarshan and AIR. We have to go beyond that to build brand loyalty. We need our young audiences to identify with the DD and AIR brands and connect deeply with them so that they keep coming back to us beyond cricket and other special events.
The most controversial point in DD’s operations has been commissioning of programmes and slots of feature films. Are you planning to ring in any changes in that regard?
There are several new initiatives already underway on how content is sourced. We will have to give them a fair opportunity to succeed. I am optimistic. We also have to rebuild trust with our external partners and focus on improving ease of doing business. A lot of the negativity you refer to will go away once these happen.
Lastly, in 2004, DD had roped in Gulzar to make a series on short stories by Munshi Premchand. With so many talented young filmmakers and short films being released on the net, can't DD become a platform for budding filmmakers and have tie-ups with institutions like FTII? In that scenario, DD will have access to fresh content at a minimal cost.
Absolutely, we have to get creative about new ways of sourcing content tapping into a wider talent pool. Ultimately the test for all of this is the quality of the content and its ability to engage with our audiences compelling them to come back. We have to engage with our audiences and our ecosystem of content sources better so we can make this happen transparently resulting in a win-win for everyone in the ecosystem.
Source & Credit:http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/media/entertainment/media/air-cant-take-its-monopoly-in-news-for-granted-new-prasar-bharati-ceo-shashi-shekhar-vempati/articleshow/59052534.cms?utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=ETTWMain
Forwarded By:Jainender Nigam,PB Newsdesk & Social Media,email@example.com