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The Steady Downfall Of Doordarshan

15/06/2016 4:13 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:27 AM IST
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A few days ago, I was changing TV channels and suddenly I came across good old Doordarshan. It made me nostalgic, as for more than 15 years we had no cable connection at home and DD was our only source of entertainment. But since we got a cable connection, I don't think I watched even one whole programme on DD National.

Once synonymous with TV itself, DD has come before a mighty fall. From being the one and only channel that people and watched it's become the least popular of all. This drop in viewership, of course, came with the advent of cable TV, which challenged DD's monopoly over television broadcasting in India.

Back in the 1990s, though, DD's programming wasn't quite as anachronistic as it seems now, with both DD National and DD Metro offering good-quality shows. However, DD failed to keep up pace with rival channels and the people soon realized that cable was where the best entertainment and news were.

The "India Shining" campaign was boosted by the then ruling NDA coalition using the public broadcaster as a tool. The decision neither helped them nor Doordarshan.

Then, in 2003, the national broadcaster decided to shut down the DD Metro entertainment channel, which was immensely popular. The decision was criticized strongly, but the then Information and Broadcasting Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, in a talk show on DD National later said that the move helped the government reach out to the people better by replacing DD Metro with DD News, a 24x7 news channel, which helped in providing neutral and unbiased news to the people of the country.

This logic was confounding, and many commentators in the media said it was more a "political decision" keeping in mind the upcoming Legislative Assembly elections around November 2003 and the big Lok Sabha elections the very next year. The "India Shining" campaign was boosted by the then ruling NDA coalition using the public broadcaster as a tool. The decision neither helped them nor Doordarshan.

At a time where people wanted more entertainment in the form of good TV serials, talk shows and reality TV programmes, DD was still offering preachy shows about regional and national integration. The shows were visibly inferior in quality to most cable offerings.

Viewers had more or less written DD off with the exception of one thing: its broadcasting of live cricket matches. DD played an immense role in popularizing the game and taking it to every nook and corner of the country. Even as the national broadcaster fell into decline, despite launching several new channels, (DD News, DD Bharati, DD India and later DD Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha), cricket gave it the oxygen it needed to survive.

Prasar Bharti officials, of course, realized this and that's why they fought tooth and nail in the courts over telecast rights on matches every time any cricket series involving India was announced. Between March 2004 and the end of 2007, cricket fans managed to get plenty of juice from DD.

Even as the national broadcaster fell into decline, despite launching several new channels, cricket gave it the oxygen it needed to survive.

In March 2004, India toured Pakistan for a full-fledged series involving three test matches and five one-days, after a long-gap of 15 years. It was a goodwill tour which caught the attention of everyone. As few of us know, after 2000, DD started telecasting only those cricket matches where the Indian team played in India. After a long court battle with Ten Sports, DD got joint-rights to telecast the whole tour. This was a historic moment as it was the first time a test match played on non-Indian soil was telecast on DD.

From then on, DD started telecasting India cricket matches fully (for a brief period, DD was broadcasting the matches only in parts on DD1 while full matches were shown only on DD sports). This golden period faded away with DD not telecasting the first T20 World Cup, which India won.

This irked DD's dedicated cricket audience, and a large section shifted permanently to cable television. DD didn't repeat the same mistake again but it was "too little too late".

There's something forlorn about DD now, as it clings to its place amidst far glossier channels. It looks like a relic of the past, its old glory faded to almost nothing. When all other private channels are continuously revamping and transforming themselves, DD has chosen to look backwards by showing its own old serials and changing the channel's logo to that of the 1980s. DD is looking backwards, and how can that result in anything but a downfall?

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