Sagar Gholap, 42, has been watching Rangoli, Doordarshan’s hour-long programme on Hindi film songs, ever since he was 12. It has been a constant on a weekend morning, a throwback to his childhood when Sunday was the only day he didn’t have to get out of bed at 6 am sharp. “I was allowed to watch Rangoli till 9 am and then start the day. Everyone in my family watched it,” says the Mumbai-based radio professional.
After all these years, every Sunday, Ghalop still gets a call from his mother, who lives in Thane, just as Rangoli gets over. “She will either discuss how good the songs and the theme of the day were or pan some of the new songs,” he says.
For Gen X, born between the 1960s and ’80s, DD’s iconic shows like Rangoli are a way to connect to their past. If the middle-aged is nostalgic, there are millennials who are curious. In some ways, it is borrowed nostalgia.
Nostalgia is perhaps Doordarshan’s biggest USP. It lets millennials, from rural and urban India, find value in DD shows even when they have a plethora of options in satellite channels, OTT platforms and the internet.
Take Rohit Rajan, 28. The Mumbai-based promo-producer for a TV channel has watched movies on DD’s Sunday afternoon slot for years now, even when his hectic job leaves him no time for TV on most days. “Until last year, I’d watch movies on DD Odia and DD Bangla as well, thanks to subtitles. The kind of regional movies that you find on DD are hard to find on Netflix,” says Rajan.
Ek Cup Chya, a Marathi movie that he had seen on DD many moons ago, has recently come on Netflix. Rajan isn’t the only one going retro in a metro. There are others in the same age group reverting to viewing DD. They may be an exception but their sustained interest in DD shows the broadcaster’s attempts at fighting the popular perception of its irrelevance are working.
Sumex Singla, a 32-year-old entrepreneur from Haryana’s Kurukshetra district, spends over an hour on OTT platforms every day. “But I watch half an hour of DD News every night. It gives me a lowdown of everything that’s happening in the country and informs me about government schemes. I find a lot of value in that than in listening to people shouting in panel discussions,” he says.
Dharamveer Kamboj, a farmer from Yamunanagar’s Damla village, watches DD Kisan — a channel for farmers — whenever he gets a chance. So does his 27-year-old son. Every progressive farmer watches it, he says. “I was in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, for an event recently and they said they saw me on a DD Kisan show the previous day.” Kamboj hopes DD Kisan will soon be available on his mobile phone.
Down in Chennai, 32-year-old Rupa Harilakshminarsimhan religiously watches Chitrahaar, a half-hour music show. “You get a good mix of old and new songs,” she says. She also uses apps to consume music. “But these shows have a personal touch. They make you feel like your elder sister is speaking to you while taking you through a journey full of songs.” She has picked this viewing habit from her father, P Ranganathan, a retired mechanical engineer from Tata Steel, Jamshedpur, who has been an avid viewer of the show since its inception in 1984.
However, a generation is far removed from DD: the Gen Z, born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s.
Banaras-born and Delhi-based Shiza Khan, 19, says Doordarshan means nothing to her. “It makes me think of something dull and boring, and black & white, of course,” she says. “I have heard about some shows like Shaktimaan from my older siblings. But I’ve never tuned into DD, not even by mistake.” Mumbai’s Ghalop stands in stark contrast. The only channel number he remembers on his DTH service provider is that of DD National: 114.
Even Ranganathan’s younger daughter, in her late 20s, laughs at him for watching Chitrahaar while she Netflix-es. “Most youngsters are not interested in DD. Their day begins with WhatsApp, goes on with Facebook and Twitter, and ends with YouTube.”
Supriya Sahu, director-general of Doordarshan, is cognisant of the network’s limitations. “We have an ageing workforce and legacy issues in terms of how content is developed. We have tried to change our approach to production to improve the look and feel of the channels,” she says.
Rangoli now has a millennial anchor in actor Surveen Chawla. “When I was offered to anchor the show, I thought I could make it appeal to a younger generation,” she says. “My inputs to make the script colloquial have been well-received.” Rangoli is the No. 1 show in its time band, says Sahu. The show is aired every Sunday from 8 am to 9 am.
DD also has a social media outreach team at each of its 66 kendras (offices) that run several accounts across Twitter, Facebook, You-Tube, and Instagram. “In 2012, people were surprised that DD had a Twitter handle. Now we run more than 35 Twitter accounts. The main account has over 269,000 followers,” says Arjun Mehto, senior content manager at Doordarshan. The network makes Rs 6-7 lakh in monthly revenue off its YouTube channels, Mehto adds.
Where’s the Ad?
Social media engagement, however, is insignificant from a revenue standpoint for the broadcaster. DD’s revenue comes from government ads, DTH revenue (an annual fee of approximately Rs 6-8 crore that each channel pays to be on DD’s Free Dish distributed in several million households) and corporate ads. “DD channels have been the preferred vehicles for FMCG brands to target rural audiences,” says Sahu.
Media agencies, however, note that DD is not as significant for FMCGs anymore. As per the latest Broadcast India Survey released by the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), 68% of the country has access to TV and almost 97% of TV households have cable and satellite connections. That leaves 3% with just DD channels. “In the rest of the 97% households, DD competes with hundreds of cable channels. And the teledensity of the country is 89%. The game has become very competitive. DD has to compete with cable channels and people with smartphones,” says Rajiv Dubey, GM, media, Dabur.
DD’s importance has significantly reduced in Dabur’s media plan in the last five years.
Most FMCG brands weren’t even keen to discuss DD when approached by ET Magazine.
For companies like Parle, though, it still holds importance. “A brand like Parle-G, for instance, has phenomenal reach. It also caters to the 3-5% households that only have a terrestrial network. In five years, you may have 100% DTH penetration. Till then, DD is important for us as a media vehicle,” says Mayank Shah, category head, Parle.
Parle is an anomaly. As Amin Lakhani of media agency Mindshare India says: “Advertisers will put money on the channel getting maximum viewership from their target audience, rural or urban.” As per BARC India’s viewership data in the week of January 26-February 1, 2019, none of DD’s 16 regional and 7 national channels figured in the top five in major viewership categories like Hindi GEC (General Entertainment Channel), Hindi GEC Rural, Hindi News and Hindi News Rural.
DD’s ratings go up whenever it shows cricket or events like the Republic Day parade. For instance, DD India was the No. 1 channel in the English News category for the week of January 26-February 1, 2019, as per BARC India.
“The ratings are not as high in general for its regular shows, though,” says Lakhani, president of client leadership at the media agency. “Ultimately, people follow content and not a channel’s logo.”
Doordarshan’s net revenue, down to Rs 505.11 crore in 2017 from Rs 516.30 crore in 2016, went up by 4% in 2018 — Rs 525.49 crore. That’s still less than 1% of the over Rs 70,000 crore Indian TV industry, as per EY 2018 estimates. Meanwhile, the nascent OTT market in India stands at Rs 3,500 crore, according to a BCG report.
Undeterred, Sahu is focused on turning things around. “DD has posted operating profits for the last two financial years, she says. “We hope to continue this trend to help us invest more funds in content generation.”
There is speculation that conversations are on between DD and OTT platforms for an exchange of content. DD has, meanwhile, announced it will launch its own OTT platform, which will likely have some of its iconic shows. Divya Radhakrishnan, MD of Helios Media, is excited about this possibility. “Look at all the channels that are doing well in rural India like Dangal, Zee Anmol, Star Utsav, and Sony Pal. They are all showing reruns of old successful shows.” She hopes her favourite DD series of the ’80s, Tamas, will be revived for this platform as well.
As a public broadcaster, DD has the power to tell stories that no other network will, says Paritosh Joshi, a veteran media advisor. Bureaucracy coming in the way of this ambition can be a lethal stumbling block, he adds.
Joshi, too, belongs to a generation high on DD nostalgia. “I started watching TV in my landlord’s home in Delhi’s Karol Bagh back in 1971. As soon as DD’s signature tune began and the yin-and-yang logo started spinning, he would shout out to me and my sister: Chaalu ho gaya, jab marzi aa jao (It has started, you can come when you please). I was 9, my sister 7, when we started taking in the magic of Doordarshan.” He hopes this nostalgia doesn’t die down with their generation.