Shortly after the Indian public broadcaster Prasar Bharati launched a new logo, DD National, the flagship channel of Prasar Bharati’s TV division Doordarshan, has revealed a refreshed logo and look that will be launched on Independence Day (15 August). The channel has positioned itself as Naye Bharat ka Naya Doordarshan (a new Doordarshan for a new India) and gone for a red design with a spinning globe at the centre of the iconic Doordarshan logo. The new logo and graphics have been testing since Monday (1 August) and will be fully rolled out on Independence Day.
DD National has also announced some new shows, including serials like Corporate Sarpanch, Yeh Dil Maange More and Jay Bharti, and a new season of a singing reality show, Suron Ka Eklavya. The serials will go on air from 15 August, and the reality show will launch on the previous day. Also planned is a grand historical docuseries called Swaraj. The national public channel has put out a promo for these shows on YouTube.
This will come a few weeks after the rebrand of Star Bharat, Disney Star’s secondary Hindi entertainment channel, which like DD National is struggling to be relevant in a streaming-focused India where traditional TV channels have been hit by falling viewership. However, whether they will actually drive the viewing public to watch DD National is uncertain, and in fact they may not do much to help the ailing national public channel. Why so is discussed below.
Viewers of Doordarshan are limited in today’s streaming era
It is a fact that the viewing public in urban areas and smaller towns has largely become ignorant of Doordarshan. When even private broadcasters are struggling to retain viewership for their channels in the age of OTT and streaming, Doordarshan and Prasar Bharati are rightly regarded as stodgy and old-fashioned because of their inability to adapt with the times. Those who subscribe to pay-TV platforms or streaming services, instead of the DD Free Dish satellite platform, are likely to watch Doordarshan channels only for patriotic events like the Republic Day parade (which is often aired on other channels on any case) and Independence Day celebrations.
Though the news channels — DD News, DD India and the parliamentary channel Sansad TV (formerly Lok Sabha TV and Rajya Sabha TV) — do command some viewership, both on TV and on YouTube, the other channels target a very small audience and are content with their limited reach, as their shows are often educational or informative in nature instead of popular and entertaining. This is especially the case for specialty channels such as DD Kisan, DD Gyan Darshan or DD Bharati. Also, while DD Retro was incredibly popular when it was launched in the initial days of the pandemic in April 2020 — indeed, almost all of India was watching Mahabharat and Ramayan back then — it has since slipped into oblivion and irrelevance.
Additionally, major sports events on DD Sports are typically only viewable by DD Free Dish and terrestrial DTT viewers — with pay-TV platforms getting a separate feed called ‘DD Sports 2.0’ that only shows smaller events during such times, forcing their viewers to subscribe to pay sports channels like the Star Sports network or the Sony Six/Sony Ten channels. It was only in July 2022 that the Indian men’s cricket team’s tour of West Indies was shown on DD Sports across all platforms, both pay and free, but this remains a one-off event.
The DD regional channels mainly serve the purpose of providing essential news coverage and informative programming to the respective states and regions — many of which (especially in the Northeast) are not otherwise served by private TV channels. But other than these essential broadcasting services, most of India does not have much reason to watch Doordarshan on a daily basis, and DD National, being the flagship of all these channels, has particularly suffered as a result.
DD National’s new logo and look is already outdated
DD National’s decision to go for a rebranding with new shows is likely a function of the ongoing celebrations of the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, entitled Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav by the Indian government. But there is also the fact that DD is desperately trying to become more relevant for a younger generation while also maintaining its heritage, roots and legacy. New shows and a new look are very much the need of the hour, as was seen with the rebranding of Star Bharat, which has repositioned itself as a romance-focused channel in order to appeal to a broader section of the audience.
Unfortunately, DD National’s attempts at reinvention appear to largely be falling flat. For one, the logo’s red-ruby finish and National wordmark is less legible on certain backgrounds than the previous logo, which was neatly contained in a yellow-and-purple cube that was introduced around 2014. This was when, in November of that year, DD National had undergone a similar rebranding and called itself Desh Ka Apna Channel (the country’s own channel). As in the case of Prasar Bharati’s new logo last month, DD National has opted for a safe evolution rather than a radical revolution, but the execution leaves a bit to be desired.
Also, while Satyam Shivam Sundaram has special significance as the motto of Doordarshan for over 60 years, its placement directly below the logo makes it not only illegible but also irrelevant. Continuing to use the Sanskrit motto on screen will only reinforce the perception that DD National is antediluvian, old-school and fusty. For the purpose of legibility, not placing the motto in the corner of the screen would have been a better solution, though of course it is synonymous with Doordarshan and must be retained in certain other places.
The same goes for the new graphics, which are clearly inspired by Indian heritage and tradition, but their execution is somewhat below par. The font used for the agla karyakram (next programme) text in the above picture is unintentionally comical. Several private channels like Zee Ganga, Pravah Picture and Star Kiran have done a better job incorporating traditional Indian motifs into the graphics and giving them a modern appearance. Perhaps DD can take inspiration from its own news channels, such as DD News and Sansad TV, which have clean and modern looks that even outshine private news channels in several cases.
New shows on DD National are welcome but unlikely to make it popular
Among the shows that have been announced is a big-budget, 75-episode docudrama entitled Swaraj: Bharat Ke Swatantrata Sangram Ki Samagra Gatha, which will portray the story of Indian history and independence starting all the way from the 15th century. Given the upcoming 75th Indpendence Day, Swaraj’s topic has high relevance. However, whether the general public will give it the love that it gave Mahabharat and Ramayan in the pandemic’s first few months remains to be seen, and depends on the publicity, production and promotion that Prasar Bharati does.
Also, a new season of the singing reality show Suron Ka Eklavya will be launched. This show, originally aired in 2017, has a unique concept in that it pays homage to three of the biggest pillars of the Indian playback singing industry: Mohammed Rafi, Lata Mangeshkar (who passed away earlier this year) and Kishore Kumar. From the trailer above, it has all the trappings of a big production, but it will be difficult for it to match the scale, fame or recognition of a Sa Re Ga Ma Pa or an Indian Idol — shows on private channels which are synonymous with unearthing the best talent and showcasing them to a nationwide audience.
These big-budget shows, while certainly welcome, will do very little to attract an audience for themselves due to the lack of awareness among the public and limited promotion by Doordarshan. The same goes for the serials, which are modelled upon the serials of major private channels like Star Plus, Zee TV and Sony TV, but receive very little attention. Despite having a massive potential viewing audience on DD Free Dish, those viewers typically tune in to private free-to-air channels such as Dangal or the Zee-owned Big Magic.
As a result, not much is heard about the daily soaps aired on DD National, and the new ones are likewise highly likely to sink without a trace. (Moreover, it is being rumoured that the rural-focused Hindi GECs from the big broadcasters — namely Star Utsav, Zee Anmol, Sony Pal and Colors Rishtey — are mulling a return to DD Free Dish after being removed in April 2022. If this does happen, DD Free Dish viewers will shift to those channels en masse, leaving even less for DD National.)
In fact, perhaps the most famous show nowadays aired on DD National is Porus, a historical drama that was originally aired on Sony Entertainment Television — which speaks much about the fact that DD National’s original fictional content is barely watched at all. Indeed, Sony TV has a long-standing track record of hit historical and mythological shows, such as Suryaputra Karn, Vighnaharta Ganesh and Sankat Mochan Mahabali Hanuman. As Mahabharat and Ramayan have shown, mythological and historical shows work well for Doordarshan, so it may consider syndicating more such shows from Sony TV or other private channels in the future.
DD National does have a sizeable list of recent movies
There is, however, one little-known aspect of DD National that differentiates it from private GECs. Unlike in South India, where new premieres and popular movies are always aired on the big GECs first and on movie channels only later, it is highly unusual nowadays to air movies on most of the big Hindi (or Bengali or Marathi) GECs. In this regard, DD National has a surprise trick in its sleeve: a library of fairly recent movies.
Of late, DD National has been increasingly showing several movies released in the past few years, as well as those from earlier decades, during afternoons. Most of these are not big blockbusters with A-list actors, but they did release in theatres and air on private channels to a large reception. But there may still be the odd blockbuster in DD National’s schedule, like Rustom (2016) — depicted in an above picture — which starred a big name like Akshay Kumar and went on to gross hundreds of crores of rupees.
Some of the other movies on offer include Force 2 (2016), starring John Abraham; Rangoon (2017), starring Shahid Kapoor and Kangana Ranaut; and Mom (2017), starring the late Sridevi. These have been syndicated from private channels like Zee Cinema (in the case of Rustom and Mom) and Colors Cineplex (Rangoon and Force 2).
These are a good way to fill up the schedule on DD National, and also provide viewers on DD Free Dish access to many titles which are otherwise confined to commercial TV channels and OTT services that may be out of reach to them. Moreover, if DD Retro starts to show classic movies as planned a few months ago, it will provide an even better platform for lovers of such old Bollywood movies, who are at present covered by private channels like Zee Classic and Sony Max 2. The best thing, however, would be for Doordarshan to launch a dedicated movie channel — particularly for the benefit of DD Free Dish viewers, who at present have few quality options for Hindi movies, and even fewer for classic movies, dominated as the market is by South Indian dubbed movies.
All told, the national public channel has the right intentions in trying to reinvent itself, and it is making an effort with new shows that resonate with the grand history and heritage of India, especially given that the 75th Independence Day is round the corner. But in terms of reinventing itself for the modern audience that is used to streaming services, both Prasar Bharati and Doordarshan, by sticking to age-old practices and not adapting to and adopting modern graphics standards, are doing themselves a great disservice.
Nevertheless, at least in the context of Azaadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, DD National’s new shows (especially Swaraj) will help it to stay in the news for some time. But Doordarshan has a very long way to go in terms of shedding the outdated tag and becoming a brand that is popular and preferred among the new generations, while also preserving its heritage and legacy as India’s first and most widespread broadcaster.
Views expressed are personal.