Satellite TV channels may have got the urban mindspace but what's lost on all the media watchers and the government itself is that DD still trumps all the other channels in viewership figures…

What would it take for the government to convince itself that people are watching that Doordarshan anchor whose name we do not know instead of Arnab Goswami? Or sedate Neelam with her mike instead of hyper Barkha with hers? 

Just a little switch in their own viewing habits, actually. If Ambika Soni, Kapil Sibal and others would simply stick to watching the channel that belongs to them instead of the ones owned by Rupert Murdoch or Aroon Purie or Indu Jain and Sons, they would feel better about the world. It would calm their nerves and persuade them that they have nothing to fear from Anna or his team, or from the cash for votes scam, or indeed from television. Not an excitable, hyperventilating medium, not something you need to regulate, but a calm chronicle of what Team UPA rather than Team Anna had been doing all day. And as for the crowds, what crowds? Never saw any, except in faraway Libya. Why, when the old man began his fast Doordarshan pretended they did not know his name.

A different pace

It might not be easy at first, the Ministers might actually miss getting their blood pressure up. They could have the sneaking feeling that they are missing the real news. But the solution to that is to switch back every now and then to what one thinks the country is watching. It's reassuring, the news doesn't change on all those channels. Not a bit. Think of how many stories Doordarshan went through while 10 Delhi- and Mumbai-based news channels stayed on Anna and the Lok Pal Bill. Or, a week later, on Amar Singh and Tihar Jail, fearful that they just might miss some action. You wouldn't even know the Prime Minister and all those Chief Ministers had gone to Bangladesh, or seen any smiling Bengali lady leaders with covered heads.

Seriously, the government needs to do the math instead of fretting and making foolish noises about doing something about those cable TV channels. Whose watching them, Ambika Soni needs to be able to say pugnaciously to the PM and to the Family. But first she needs to stop panicking and do her homework. Then she can tell then that no more than 0.31 percent of a 100 million homes who have these channels watch any of those hyperventilating English anchors, ever. When Anna happened it went up to a grand 0.54 per cent cable and satellite TV homes by the second week.  Fifty four lakh homes watching all the English channels put together? Out of 142 million TV homes?  What's the fuss about, then?

While it seems like all across our fair land they dropped what they were doing to watch Arnab or Deepak Chaurasia presenting “Aaj ka Gandhi”, the truth was a little more mundane. Across those better-watched Hindi news channels some 12 million plus homes did watch by the time the fast ended. Up from 5.9 million families at normal times.  Twelve million out of may be 250 million households in the country?  Not exactly something that should shake a government. If everybody was not quite so panicked they would find the excitement comical.

But then people-like-us Cabinet Ministers don't think non-cable and satellite homes apparently. Because their own Prasar Bharati channels (21 of them) don't have that magic something called Mindspace. (Haven't had it for some 10 years now but it did not bother the government in power because they get to have their say on all the nightly panel discussions on cable and satellite channels.) Would you rather watch a performer than a virtuous plodder with no name recognition?

First television pitched in to get Anna Hazare mindspace. Then their coverage got our mindspace — the discussion has not stopped two weeks after Anna's fast was called off. Every social scientist who is part of the chatterati on TV or a columnist in an English newspaper has seen fit to analyse or fulminate about the role of the media in the Second Freedom Movement. NDTV has been running a scroll on the 84 per cent jump in viewership on TV News channels. Eighty four per cent of how much, nobody stops to ask.

Doordarshan's coverage has got no mindspace at all, skewed as it was! When you are out of mind, even bias does not get noticed. What the government folks need to note is that none of the newspapers and websites twittering away about viewership garnered by different channels during the Anna agitation ever mention DD News. Did any pink or white business paper bother to break up the figures to tell us what the DD share might be? They assumed nobody was interested. Not even the GOI.

Viewership share

It's not in the top 10 satellite news channels, according to TAM, given its metro-skewed sampling, it's not sexy, it's totally out of mind. And guess what, it probably had more viewership than all of them put together. Even after it skipped showing any shots of the crowds at Ramlila grounds. Because if we are being told that the market share of all news channels rose to touch 15 per cent or more of total TV viewership, then who fills the gap between C and S homes and all TV homes, which is a gap of some 42 million homes? Not our star anchors and their shouting matches. Can only be the news on DD National and the second terrestrial channels in the cities where they exist. 

When Doordarshan does make the news, and grab some attention, it is for other reasons. In August, DD employees were wearing black bands around their arms because they were demanding better salaries, more paid leave, etc., etc. News anchors on DD were wearing black clothes in protest. The symbolism probably eluded those who did watch those bulletins. They are not used to the satellite TV anchors wearing clothes that signal their salary problems.

DD's affairs usually make more news than its newscasts do. But because it remains largely out of mind, even that attention is muted. Which is a pity. Because what Prasar Bharati spends, loses, or wastes is public money, and right now its affairs are in a state that merit not just Ms. Soni's attention but also ours. Watch this space.