New Delhi : The problems of India’s farm sector and allied occupations, on which 60% of world’s second-most populous nation depends, are rarely the focal point of television news or debates.
DD Kisan, a 24×7 channel launched by the state broadcaster Doordarshan (DD) on 26th May was meant to change this.
A month on, it is proving to be a sort of game changer in attracting rural audience. It’s very likely to earn many times more than the government investment into it, and it’s only a matter of time before the private channels follow suit, say top executives at the channel.
The target audience is not just farmers, but also rural craftsmen and small businesses. In a month, DD Kisan has become the second-most popular channel, after DD National, among the 23 channels of Doordarshan, claims Sirohi. Numbers shared by TAM Media Research shows that the weekly reach of DD Kisan shot up from 685,000 in its first week to more than five million in the fourth week (14-20 June). This means over five million people watched the channel for at least a minute or more. In a country with more than 140 million farm households, this seems to be an impressive beginning.
The steady stream of calls from farmers across the country on the channel’s live evening show, Hello Kisan, is a testimony to this. On 23rd June, the topic of discussion was crop insurance and farm credit. Guided by an anchor, two experts—an insurer and a rural banker—addressed farmers’ queries ranging from rates of insurance premium to how much loan a dairy farmer can get from a bank.
Not just Hello Kisan, the channel has lined up an array of such programmes.
A show called Mandi Khabar (news from the market) not only informs farmers of wholesale crop prices, but also on arrival and demand in markets. This is crucial information: a farmer will know, before taking his produce to the market that the price of, say, tomatoes is plunging in the nearest mandi due to large arrivals.
The weather news, Mausam Khabar, gives not only weather updates, but also advisories tailored for different agro-climatic regions of the country. Farmers are informed about the rain and about when they should prepare their fields or start sowing, and even the crop varieties they can pick.
A weekly debate called Vichar Vimarsh and a daily debate, Vad Samvad, discusses topical rural issues while a show call Choupal Charcha informs rural folk about the government schemes—from sanitation to rural electrification.
The day begins with a show named Jeevan Darshan on religion and philosophy and ends with fictionalized serials that have social messages thrown in.
Technical information regarding agriculture can be daunting, and to overcome this, DD Kisan has partnered scientific bodies, such as Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the India Meteorological Department (IMD).
“DD Kisan is not a news channel but a science channel for farmers, and only we know the efforts that went into training a fresh set of people in the nuances of agriculture science and technology,” says Naresh Sirohi, advisor and government representative to the channel, who is also vice-president of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) farmers’ wing, Kisan Morcha.
“This channel is going to earn money for the government. We are targeting between Rs.200 core and Rs.250 crore in annual advertising revenue within the next 2-3 years,” said Sirohi.
That’s about three times the money put into the channel (Rs.26 crore in 2014-15 and Rs.45 crore in 2015-16) by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, which proposed setting up the channel in July 2014.
Sirohi said that private players might follow suit and launch their own versions.
Importantly, for an informed debate, DD Kisan accommodates opposing viewpoints. On a live debate on minimum support prices on 22nd June, almost all participants, from experts to senior journalists and farmer leaders, criticized the government on crop support prices that did not keep pace with rising costs of cultivation.
DD Kisan is charting a way out. “In the next phase, we will translate content from DD Kisan into regional languages, which regional DD channels can play,” said Sirohi.
Experts say that for a month-old channel, the viewership numbers are encouraging.