Deepak Joshi, IBES,Dy. Director General, Prasar Bharati, New Delhi
Going digital is no more a choice or an option. It is inevitable. This has given rise to various other models of broadcasting.
Change is a never-ending phenomenonand whatever exists changes such is the law of nature. Metamorphosis is inevitable. The entity that embraces change evolves and keeps growing but the one that declines to adapt and change gets extinct with time. We have already been witness to the extinction of various products and operational processes. Disruption leading to new formation is the new accepted norm of the recent times. Mid-way survival depends on adapting to the happening changes, reinventing oneself, and sustaining before total demolition due to disruption takes place. Like anything else, traditional broadcasting too is on the cross-roads to choose the next course of action for its survival. Going digital is no more a choice or an option. It is inevitable. This has given rise to various other models of broadcasting. The salient features being fixed versus mobile at the reception end, multiple individual screens versus single screen too at the reception end, Rf-based versus data-format-based on the transmission side, linear versus nonlinear on the format side. Two thing are very clear: video is not going anywhere rather it is going everywhere. Likewise audio is still going to rule the roost as the most flexible and powerful medium. One thing that is now certain is that delivery media are going to evolve and migrate into newer unchartered territories. Plethora of delivery medium formats will change the dynamics of viewing and listening. Push format and linear media viewing cum listening is going to take a back-seat though it can continue in parallel and evolve albeit with reduction in its share of the total broadcast time chunk.
Conventional Broadcasting Radio Serves Audio and TV Serves Video
The oldest among the broadcasting media, audio and radio, is still the most potent medium of communication. The most popular medium is still the time-tested FM radio which rules the roost supplemented by other strategic modes as MW and SW AM Radio. FM has hardly been able to cover about less than 50 percent of our landscape and population and is still on an expansion spree. With the buying power of Indian diaspora increasing and number of sales of four-wheelers going up, the demand for FM radio programming is pushing up and coming from all (the mofussil and sundry towns and villages where the four wheelers ply). A congestion in spectrum is being faced at most of the placeshence a need to opt for digital radio programme delivery is being felt. Expansion of FM transmission setup is going to continue till analogue close down date is decided by the policy makers. As on the date of this article being written TRAI has also come out with a consultation paper with regard to digital radio broadcasting. Digital transmitters are coming in a big way and they will lead to development of an ecosystem that would gradually phase out the FM transmitters. Further it is in line with the international mandate to completely switch over to digital radio. Policy decision from the government will be the main game changer.
TV broadcast continues to be the main source of supply of video programmes. It started with the analogue terrestrial transmission but was gradually left behind overtaken by the satellite delivery mode. Both have been running in parallel, the previous one being the monopoly of state broadcaster Doordarshan and patronized by the state. Satellite TV broadcasting has grown leaps and bounds and left the analogue terrestrial mode of video delivery far behind. Digitization has here too improved the delivery mechanism raising the levels to HD TV and 4K TV formats by increasing the capacity of delivering transponders.
Digitization the Game Changer
With the terrestrial transmission going digital in both radio and video delivery the capacities and capabilities of the systems have increased tremendously. Challenges ahead are to develop the ecosystem of receivers and use this capability cum capacity to its fullest. Innovation in packaging the program along with having an interspersed stream of value-adding data stream is of paramount importance.
Radio and video dissemination, however, now finds itself in a newer avatar with digitization and packaging in data format. Audio and video now being available as data through streaming on OTT and AOD platforms is the new adaptation that poses a challenge, leading to risk of replacing the traditional audio and video delivery mediums. The aggressive strategy being pursued by the telecom operators to fuel the data demand has flared up the consumption of audio and video through these nonconventional media. A new phenomenon being observed is the thought process I want, what I want, when and where I want it. The need of the hour is that the desired program should be made available to the listeners and viewers through every available sustainable mode. Catch radio is going to be the new mechanism of fancy for radio enthusiasts and similarly for the video consumers. This will facilitate the concept of I want, what I want, when and where I want it" Availability can be ensured by radio broadcasters through live streaming and then podcast. Video programs can be made available through live streaming and OTT platforms. The challenge is to make listeners and viewers aware of this luxury available to them and where they can get the programs of their choice.
Social Media, Should it be Treated as a Friend or a Foe
A lot has been discussed and written about how the newest entrant, the social media, is threatening the conventional media like print, radio, and video. Only the time-tested management theory of evolving a win-win situation for all will come to the rescue of the existing media. The social media should not be treated as a threat or a competitor rather it should be treated as a partner. It should be utilizedin improving the awareness and visibility of the program to be delivered whether on radio or on TV. It can in real time address our listeners and viewers to let them know what we are serving, when we are serving, how we are serving, and where we are serving. It also provides an alternate medium to serve listeners and viewers through the integrated platforms available on social media like FB live or periscope on Twitter. The social media like Twitter and Facebook can help the broadcasters in identifying their target audience and implementing precision delivery of content in catch format or a linear one like a laser-guided missile.
However audio and video in data format can never totally and fully replace the conventional radio and TV broadcast through airwaves and satellite. Whenever any disaster strikes only the time-tested terrestrial network of broadcasting provides the required succor. So audio and video streaming and its linear/nonlinear dissemination will coexist with conventional linear broadcast FM/TV in analogue or digital mode. They will however struggle for their economic survival. All the challenges and opportunities as they exist for the radio as the elder sibling among the broadcast media coexist for video and television with much more intricacies and complexities. Catch TV again is catching the fancy of viewers. Single-screen versus multiple-screen delivery is a paradox to be addressed. With life expectancy increasing and world population still growing, the ratio of youths and the grownups has become a complex dynamic entity. Youth and older generations have their own different typical viewer choices. Older generations still enjoy community viewing amid their family on a single screen whereas the youngsters are drifting toward their own space, their own exclusive compact screen in the form of their tablets, mobile phones, and desktop computers. Availability of video both through the RF medium and in data form is adding fuel to this growing chasm. Nevertheless both viewer preferences are from the same demographic mix of old and young, posing challenges for broadcasters to package their products accordingly and deliver to the designated viewers.
Content Reemphasized and Reformatted
First and the foremost, the hallowed concept of stating content is the king has to be shattered. The viewer and the listener have to be given the status of king. A new phrase could be coined which should be content is the queen. Also needed is the broadcaster's realization that the content is a special product. Once broadcasters come to terms with the idea of content as product and as delicate cum important and special as a queen, all out efforts should be made to PAMPER and embellish the queen so that the content is liked and desired by the listeners and viewers. The way any other consumer products are launched and their life cycles also need to be looked into. A robust and strong marketing cum sales team has to take up the cudgel and drive the consumption of the programmes produced. Marketing has to be assisted by social media in real time. Once the content realization dawns in, brainstorming and reformatting the content as per the requirement of different devices, different places of viewing and listening, and different habits has to be factored in. Complete news bulletins need to be converted into just a minute-long clip. Generic news needs to be further split and segmented into different topics like sport-oriented, finance-oriented, weather-forecast-oriented. News of different duration to suit the needs of viewers as per the leisure time, device, and location needs to be customized and pushed in data format. The viewers and listeners need be gently nudged, ingratiated, and enticed through social media follow-up in real time to view and listen the programs. Popular programs like chitrahar and rangoli or others in music-based formats can be split into single-song slices and pushed through the OTT medium. Popular serials may be sliced into programs of different durations. Revised strategies of monetizing programs available in different formats may be worked out by the marketing teams as per the medium through which it serves listeners and viewers.
Broadcasting Needs to be Redefined
Broadcasting has outgrown itself and converged with communication. Network aggregators of various hues have started distribution of programs through new delivery mechanisms like OTT on CDN network or direct-to-home services through satellite transponders. Further, digital terrestrial transmitters are ready for roll out and add to the competition in delivery mechanisms. Conventional broadcasters are a confused lot as to what is their forte: production of quality content or delivery of outsourced content? No fixed elixir recipe exists. A judicious mix to have its own uniqueness offering unique programs for viewing and listening which pleases all the sensory receptors give the solution. Innovate and survive is the only guru mantra. After all consumers of programs are looking for entertainment and infotainment: a step higher and above the basic instincts on the pyramid of needs after hunger and after other basic instincts are satiated.
A paradigm shift will be required in the way broadcasting is being conventionally done in the past decades. Path breaking will be extensive usage of artificial intelligence technology and data analytics .Artificial intelligence will help know the choice of viewers and listeners and will assist in knowing their programme-liking better and satisfying their specific programme needs more efficiently. Data analytics will help in getting the automated factual correct feedback about the programmes played and services offered to the viewers and listeners. This will assist in knowing the mood of viewers and listeners and enhance the visibility of these programs being available, enticing new viewers and listeners. This will help in monetizing the broadcasting more effectively. New innovative models of hiring the content and delivery need to be evolved. Entertainment and infotainment is a dynamic entity so whosoever tries to restrict and stifle it with any kind of binding is going to perish.
Policy makers will have to take a call on the role of Public Service Broadcasters (PSB). Profit cannot be the motive of PSBs, however, they cannot continue to run as a loss-making entity forever. A balanced blend of earning their own operational cost, augmented by funding by the state to meet the mandate of public service broadcasting may be the ideal solution.