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 Up loaded on Sunday September 26, 2010

How the CWG can make or break Doordarshan.  

By Boria Majumdar,Source:http://news.in.msn.com

The IX Asian Games marked the start of a new era in Indian sport consciousness. Thanks to the television explosion, which occurred simultaneously with the Games...

Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, 1985

If the 1982 Asian Games marked a watershed year in the history of Indian television, the 2010 Commonwealth Games can be decreed as the make-or-break year for India's national broadcaster. Cornered by satellite channels like ESPN, Star Sports, Ten Sports and Neo Cricket, Doordarshan, despite state backing, is fast becoming an also-ran in the world of sports broadcasting. CWG 2010, it is hoped in official circles, can change all this. With DD beaming the event in high definition for the first time in its history and with significantly reinforced personnelthe coverage is being done with the help of the best foreign handsDD, insiders say, is all geared up for a makeover.

In fact, while the media has concentrated much on what the Games mean for the country at large, the Suresh Kalmadi-led organising committee and finally the athletes, it is imperative we also delve into what it means for India's national broadcaster. For Doordarshan, it is the last opportunity to regain lost ground, failing which DD will have permanently lost out to its more savvy, market-orientated and global counterparts.

The scale of the challenge confronting DD was best evident to me when watching the crucial Rohan Bopanna versus Ricardo Melo Davis Cup tie last Sunday. It was the last singles match of the tie and India was on the verge of recording a historic victory, making it back to the Davis Cup world group in the process. With Rohan leading two sets to love and a break up in the third set, it was only a matter of time before the upset happened. And many like me must have been glued to their television sets watching the DD sports broadcast. However, just as the clock struck 3 pm in the afternoon, the broadcasters decided to cut to the Secunderabad Polo Ground for some strange body building action. Why would you want to do that when India was engaged in such a crucial tennis tie begs to be asked? The truth, if one may conjecture, is that the producer in charge had little or no idea of the significance of the contest and had just done the routineswitch to his prescribed brief on programming. A similar move during the CWG, at a time when the broadcast is being beamed in no less than 50 countries globally and fetching an unprecedented $46 million to the organisers, will result in DD being slammed the world over, criticism that might well be the end of the road for Prasar Bharti chief BS Lalli.

DD, to be honest, doesn't inspire much confidence. An example from DD's Beijing Olympics coverage proves the point best. While covering the signature event of the Games, the men's 100 metre dash, which saw Usain Bolt crate a new world record, the DD commentator from start to finish kept shouting in Hindi, "Asafa Powell aage hai, Powell aage hai, par Bolt jit gaye".

Such amateurish commentary during CWG 2010 will be unpardonable and will portray DD in an extremely poor light in front of the world.

It is high time we see true proactive functioning from the heads of Prasar Bharti, as was seen during the 1982 Asian Games, to save DD from bringing the country further shame.

Appu on television

The Delhi Asiad changed India because it marked the creation of a national television network for the first time. When Indira Gandhi swept back to power in 1980, she saw the Asian Games as a stage for the government to showcase a shining India to itself and to the world. Television was to be the tool. Appu, the tubby elephant mascot of the Games, was also symbolic of the advancing, prosperous nation-state, but taking Appu to the drawing rooms of its citizens required a unified national service, along with an enhanced level of technology to facilitate it. While the expansion of television in the mid-1980s was the result of a confluence of factorsthe creation of an indigenous satellite capability, the availability of low-cost transmitters, the coming together of various policies initiated in the 1970sit was the Asiad that provided the trigger.

As the host, India had to provide live telecast facilities to other participating countries. When an embarrassed government realised how backward its own facilities were, it started an overhaul unprecedented in the annals of television history. At a time when even Sri Lanka had colour television, it wouldn't look good for Indira's India to be beaming the Games in black and white, as was the norm till then. So the creation of a national service was also accompanied with the introduction of colour television. The overhaul of Indian television and the creation of a televised national service was to unleash far-reaching changes in Indian society.

Television has been central to the fortunes of Indian advertising and it expanded exponentially in the 1980s, hand-in-hand with the setting up of Doordarshan's national television service. Television advertising played a crucial role in the creation of a consumerist ethic and the Indian middle class. In fact, advertising rose by an astonishing 31 times between 1980-81 and 1990-91, from Rs 80.8 million to Rs 2,538.5 million. By 1992, India had 34 million television sets; which would not have been possible without the turning point of 1982. This was the true legacy of the 1982 Asian Games. The New Delhi Asian Games was a stage for the government to showcase a shining India to itself and to the world and television was the medium. Appu was also symbolic of the advancing, prosperous nation state, but taking Appu to the drawing rooms required capacity creation if India had to look good internationally and the Asian Games, therefore, became the catalyst for sprucing up television and stitching for it a brand new suit.

The first direct result of the Asian Games was the introduction of colour television and the creation of a 'national' service. Before the Asiad, Doordarshan still operated in black and white and Vasant Sathe, minister for information and broadcasting, discovered to his horror that even tiny Sri Lanka had colour television. Many of the broadcasting organisations from the participating countries demanded colour feeds, and it would not do to appear backward. Despite stout resistance from the prime minister's scientific advisers, who cited the traditional argument about India not being able to afford the luxury, the decision was taken to convert to colour transmission.

The most significant milestone of 1982, though, was the introduction of what later came to be known as the 'National Programme', joining together previously unconnected television centres. Within the dominant ideology of the state, television had always been seen as an agent for political and cultural control, but the development of the indigenous satellite programme in 1982, for the first time, provided a viable instrument to realise this vision.

Symbolically, the 'national' colour transmissions and the National Programme commenced on Independence Day in 1982. The National Programme included news bulletins in Hindi and English, along with current affairs programmes that were meant to take the nation-state, in all its splendour, directly to viewers. For the first time, all of India would see the same image at the same time and the Asian Games could be transmitted to every home across the country in colour. The catalyst for the National Programme was the Asian Games and the official motivation behind it is revealing. It was aimed as much at the domestic audience as it was at the foreign. According to the government's Asian Games Report, the main thrust of the TV programmes was, "To reassure the public, domestic and foreign, that the Games would take place on schedule...To stimulate interest and muster a National will, behind Asiad '82, and make the people realise that as hosts, both our national honour and prestige was involved."

To muster the 'national will' so dear to Indira Gandhi's government, for the first time in India, the Asian Games programming was telecast live to 41 stations nationwide. Of these, 27 were connected directly to Delhi via indigenous satellite INSAT-1A. In fact, the Games gave an almost war-like urgency to the effort that would otherwise have taken much longer. For instance, Doordarshan set up an Asian Games cell in early 1981. Its task was to provide comprehensive coverage of the Games to the Indian audience, as well as to foreign TV organisations, either through direct relay via satellite or through recorded programming. It was upon its recommendations that the government leased a television transponder from INTELSAT that enabled the live coverage. No wonder the Asiad organisers boasted, "The Asian Games brought about more changes in the TV technology in India, than at any time since its inception. The smooth and excellent changeover to colour technology during the Asian Games will always be a remarkable feat by Doordarshan, as also their contribution towards the generating of sports consciousness among the people, throughout the length and breadth of India."

The story since

From 1982, the expansion of the television network became a key governmental priority. Doordarshan's budget, as Nalin Mehta has documented, swelled from Rs 5 crore in 1980-81 to Rs 14 crore in 1982-83. "The expansion drive thereafter continued like a juggernaut. To cite one example, between July and October 1984, practically one transmitter a day was commissioned. India had only 18 TV transmitters in 1980. By 1985, this number had increased to 172 and more than 500 transmitters were functioning by the end of the decade. The planned penetration was accompanied by an expansion of viewership as well. India had a little over two million TV sets in 1982. It had taken two decades to reach that figure, but it is from the Asiad onwards that we see the makings of a mass medium. By 1986, three million TV sets were being produced in India, including seven lakh colour sets, and by 1992, 34 million Indians owned TV sets. By the end of the decade, television had turned into a mass medium with a nationwide penetration."

Writing in 1985, then prime minister Rajiv Gandhi emphasised the long-term impact of television and Asiad on Indian sport, "The IX Asian Games marked the start of a new era in Indian sport consciousness. Thanks to the television explosion, which occurred simultaneously with the Games, the entire nation participated in them, and the eyes of the young and not so young were riveted on the stadiums and tracks in Delhi."

The 1982 Asiad was a landmark in Indian history on various registers. But by far the greatest legacy of the 1982 Asiad was the creation of the nationwide television network. Created to showcase India and the Games for distant lands, but equally to bind the nation into one community focused on this one event, the television network irrevocably changed India. A nationwide network may have been created anyway had the Asian Games not been held in India, but there is no doubt that the Games proved to be a major catalyst.

On the eve of CWG 2010, the government must pursue television as a priority. Television encapsulates the state itself and the television set is the nation-state's daily messenger into citizen's homes. A national service was created in 1982 precisely to project this. The Asiad was a landmark in the creation of a new 'visual' public. CWG 2010 is the final opportunity for DD has to change the daily ritual of Indians who watch sport on the satellite channels and reinforce the centrality of Doordarshan in India's national life. The success or failure of coverage of the CWG on DD, there is little doubt, will be the true lasting legacy of the Games as far as the India's national broadcaster is concerned.

The writer is a sports historian


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