‘Who Will Watch It?’ Prasar Bharati CEO Recalls Initial Reactions to ‘Ramayan’ Re-Run

Prasar Bharati CEO Shashi Shekhar Vempati is credited with presiding over the most-watched TV present in history– The Ramayan, whose re-run on Doordarshan garnered 250 million views. Apparently, he recollects that his WhatsApp teams rang with laughter when the information of the present hit the headlines.

Sharing the reactions, he mentioned, “They’re all, like, laughing. Who’s going to observe it?! I needed to inform them that, you realize, India could be very totally different. It is not simply the English talking elite, it is a lot greater, rather more numerous. So there was that fear,” Vempati informed IANS throughout a video interview on the backstory of Prasar Bharati’s programming in the course of the COVID-19 lockdown.

The present was telecast quickly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered the primary lockdown in late March. After the re-run started, Doordarshan’s attain soared well beyond the highest seven Hindi common leisure channels. Time spent on Doordarshan moved from 15 minutes per week to greater than 70 minutes. The re-run on April 16, 2020 alone logged 77 million viewers.

“It was loopy,” Vempati mentioned, detailing the nuts and bolts of sourcing the Ramayan from the Ramanand Sagar household in Mumbai.

“The tapes had been within the deep archive of the (Ramanand) Sagar household, and in Mumbai it was like working in curfew. Somebody needed to bodily retrieve these items. The codecs had modified. Folks needed to work by the night time to determine the best way to get it right into a appropriate format, after which push it from Bombay. As a result of the file sizes are so massive, you possibly can’t do it over the web, it will have taken endlessly. So we had a satellite-based mechanism by which the content material was beamed from Bombay and downloaded into servers right here, in order that the following day’s episodes might be aired.”

Practically two months on, as India’s lockdown eases, Doordarshan viewership numbers are already reflecting the shift away from binge-watching spikes.

Vempati is now occupied with “reinventing the model” for India’s youth whereas staying away from what he describes because the pitfalls of viewers segmentation and OTT content material that’s inconsistent with “household values and tradition”.

“Someplace, the calculus of viewers segmentation has misplaced its method,” Vempati mentioned, chatting with how households watch totally totally different content material throughout a number of units throughout occasions once they might as a substitute be sharing a typical viewing expertise.

“The mixture of lockdown and ‘Ramayan’,” he mentioned, “confirmed us that households can nonetheless come collectively round tv if the content material is healthful and appeals to each phase. Nostalgia was at all times a development for Doordarshan. Whereas we leverage nostalgia, we won’t depend on that alone”.

For Vempati’s workforce, the upside to Doordarshan’s lockdown programming is model consciousness amongst “a complete technology born into the world of cable and satellite tv for pc and web”.

Talking with candour in regards to the interior workings of public broadcasting, Vempati mentioned Doordarshan fortunately finds itself sitting on a pile of contemporary content material as a result of “bureaucratic course of takes that lengthy to carry content material on it”.

“So whereas the remainder of the business is struggling, we have now a big library that has not been seen by audiences throughout India which we’ll roll out within the subsequent few weeks.”

Vempati factors “historical past buffs” to Doordarshan’s YouTube channel. “We have now the oldest TV interviews of Nehru. In truth, his final TV interview which he gave to an American broadcaster, simply weeks earlier than he handed away we have now retrieved these, put them on YouTube.”

He mentioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reference to the metaphorical “Lakshman Rekha” when he ordered the primary India lockdown turned the tipping level for Prasar Bharati to go all in on mythological content material.

“So one of many questions that bothered me once I joined to function a board member and afterward as CEO was that every one of those iconic serials have immense nostalgia and model join however we do not have entry to any of this content material,” Vempati mentioned.

Prasar Bharati took the choice to re-acquire this content material late October 2019 but it surely took a lockdown announcement to fast-track the closure. Ramayan’s 4 episodes a day format was based mostly on the belief of a 15 day lockdown. Ramayan closed out its re-run in mid-April.

Vempati is pushing laborious for organisational collaboration with academia and startups to create what he calls an “enabling” atmosphere to rework India’s public broadcaster for the digital age. Prasar Bharati is working with Indian Institute of Know-how, Kanpur, round analysis collaboration on direct-to-mobile broadcasting.

“We have now requested IIT-Kanpur to create that enabling atmosphere, create the test-bed to herald startups. After which let’s examine what we are able to do on this entire ecosystem. In order that effort is on.”

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