MEDIA ANALYSIS: Can 'DD' bridge the cultural divide?

India's public service broadcaster has entered the UK market with ambitious plans to attract an audience from across the ethnic spectrum. Adam Hill looks at the opportunities this presents for PR professionals.

An illustrious newcomer this month entered the UK’s burgeoning ethnic TV channel market. Doordarshan (DD), India’s 48-year-old public service broadcaster, launched with two channels – DD India and DD News.

Running in Hindi and English on Sky Digital, the channels will not contain any original, local programming before 2008, but their presence alone indicates serious intent from this well-respected ­institution. DD’s viewers worldwide already number around 1.4 billion. The channels are backed by Rayat TV, part of the Punjab-based Rayat Group, which also has interests in education, travel and IT – and which sees the UK as a launch pad for the rest of Europe.

News teams will be hired in the next few months, while other British-targeted content is expected to include sport, business, health, travel, arts and music. DD’s UK outpost is based in Heston on the outskirts of London, although a Wardour Street office is planned. River PR is handling media relations.

Fusing East and West
Local programming will be organised by the channels’ UK operations manager William Scally – a TV production veteran who has worked with the BBC and ITV. ‘I’d like PROs to talk to me now,’ he says, explaining that the idea is to attract both British Asians and white Britons to DD. ‘Other ethnic channels aren’t really venturing down the street where you have a fusion between East and West,’ he believes.

This ‘fusion’ audience presents obvious problems – in terms of cultural expectations as well as language.

But Rakhee Vithlani, head of multi-cultural comms at Weber Shandwick, says: ‘It is smart thinking to look at those audiences.’

The reason it might work is, in one word, Bollywood. The mainstream influence of the Mumbai movie industry has been apparent for years in popular music and high street fashion, while the success of Bride and Prejudice, Bend It Like Beckham and The Kumars at No 42, plus Shilpa Shetty’s triumph on Celebrity Big Brother suggest growing interest on the part of mainstream British audiences in aspects of Asian culture. Zena Martin, MD of Acknowledge Communications, also sits on the CIPR’s diversity steering board and believes that DD has set itself a task that is ‘tricky but not insurmountable’. That crossover still seems more achievable in some areas of programming than in others, however.

‘You’re seeing more of a fusion of cultures on the music scene, for example, between white, black and Asian,’ says Martin. ‘Younger generations tend to mix more.’

Scally has already spoken to record labels and magazines about a late-night music programme and says he has done a ‘lot of ground work’ with comms agencies and media buyers. Specialist ethnic PR agency Media Moguls is one shop that has already had discussions with Scally.

Community topics such as social policy issues, healthcare and business may be fruitful editorial areas for the channel to pursue, says agency MD Anjna Raheja: ‘If the business aspect relates to financial planning, for example, then banking clients would become more interested.’

But getting programming right is the minimum requirement in helping DD win over the British Asian audience. ‘After that, marketing and PR is essential,’ Raheja continues. ‘It’s about creating diary dates [for viewers]. DD has a loyal base in terms of first-generation British Asians. It has respect, but there is competition.’

DD has certainly entered a cluttered marketplace. Subscribers to Sky can already watch Zee TV, Sony Entertainment TV Asia and Star Plus, all general Asian entertainment channels that are often on in many homes 24/7. And there are also niche channels hoping to skim off potential audience groups, with ARY Digital and PTV-Prime aimed at the Pakistani community, while Channel S targets a Bangladeshi audience.

It all means DD will need to do more than cover Bollywood events and premieres to keep people interested, says Raheja. ‘Second- and third-generation viewers have very different expectations, dynamics and habits. They want a Channel 4-style channel here.’

Cash for quality
The real problem is cash. ‘You need to have serious bucks behind you to get good quality presenters,’ says Raheja.

‘And that level of investment has to be there from the beginning.’ Martin agrees. ‘In the US [on ethnic channels] there is revenue from companies such as Procter & Gamble, Ford and Burger King. But they’re not investing their global ad budget here. And the channels’ quality is never going to be fantastic without a major capital infusion.’

So DD certainly cannot expect to generate enough income solely through advertising revenue, which is perhaps why Scally is looking for programme sponsorship, approaching blue chips such as Cadbury’s and Unilever. ‘I have no problem at all with companies saying “I have an idea for a programme”,’ he adds, suggesting product-placement deals with, for instance, car or white goods manufacturers are also possible.

For all the difficulties, PROs specialising in targeting ethnic minorities can see the potential for DD. ‘TV within the Asian community is the most powerful medium, particularly in terms of families, across three or four generations,’ says Raheja.

‘There is definitely room in the market to grow, it is not ripe yet,’ concludes Vithlani. And PROs who get involved with DD now will have the benefit of being in on the ground floor.

Doordarshan fact file

Contact: William Scally, operations manager
E or E

DD India: Includes music, children’s programmes, sports, travel, documentaries, current affairs, politics and commerce.

DD News: Bilingual channel (English and Hindi) broadcasting live, 24 hours a day. Schedule includes bulletins, live coverage of breaking news events, current affairs, business, health, culture, interviews and sports updates.

History: Doordarshan started broadcasting in the UK on 16 April on Sky Digital. Launched in 1959, it is viewed by more than a billion viewers in India and is available in 150 countries worldwide.

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