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Issue 18: Satellites and Indian Media

DOORDARSHAN: India’s national broadcaster

K. Kunhikrishnan


Linked through India’s satellites and distributed by terrestrial transmitters of varying power, the main National television channel of India(DD1) which has a reach of 130 million household, Doordarshan (Television India), is the largest terrestrial broadcaster in the world. It has 66 studio centres and 1416 transmitters. The two main channels, Doordarshan 1 and the News channel Doordarshan 2 are distributed by terrestrial transmitters linked through Indian National(INSAT) satellites and there other national Channels operated/distributed through cable and satellite only. Terrestrial broadcasting and distribution is the monopoly of Doordarshan, a Government of India broadcaster, run by a Corporation, The Broadcasting Corporation of India, since 1997. All India Radio (Akashvani) is the radio arm of the Corporation, which exists on Government grants voted by the Indian parliament and from limited commercial revenue. The progress of the television broadcasts were spectacular after the distribution through satellite transponders. The uplinks and downlinks were sing songs that ushered in an era of television revolution. Number of Channels increased steadily and every major language of India now has an indepent television channel on the Public sector and they operate in a terrestrial and satellite mode, with a preponderance for satellite mode, round the clock. Newer technologies added to the service and in improving the content. To keep abreast of the technological advancements the organization has acquired state of the art equipment and is going completely digital, apart from taking up projects on HD technology. Technology enhances the content and connectivity and India is moving ahead. Technical and aesthetic quality of the content delivered through satellites enable to reach the masses of India in divergent regions and to spread the national message of integration and unity.

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Origins and History

Doordarshan(Literally meaning distant vision), the television wing of the Broadcasting Corporation of India, devoted to public service broadcasting is one of the largest terrestrial networks and one of the most extensive television systems in the world. Dooradrshan has been the sole preserve of the Government of India, and it provides television coverage to over 95% of India's 108 + million people. Government of India estimates that the number of TV channels has grown from 18 in 1999 to 45 in 2001 to 439 in 2009. Among the total number of Channels, Doordarshan is the exclusive government channel operator and the size of the organization is gigantic:

The first telecast on Doordarshan originated from a makeshift studio at Akashvani Bhavan, the headquarters of All India Radio, New Delhi, on 15th September1959. A transmitter of 500 W power carried the signals to areas within a radius of 25 km from Delhi, India’s capital city. Programs were broadcast twice a week for an hour a day on such topics as community health, citizen’s duties and rights, and traffic and road sense. When TV started in 1959, there were hardly any privately owned TV sets and community TV sets had to be set up at 21 locations in Delhi.

A regular service with a daily news bulletin was started in 1965. In 1961 the broadcasts were expanded to include a school educational television project. In time, Indian films and programs consisting of compilation of musicals from Indian films joined the program line-up as the first entertainment programs. A limited number of old U.S. and British shows were also telecast sporadically. The first major expansion of television in India began in 1972, when a second television station was opened in Bombay. This was followed by stations in Srinagar and Amritsar (1973), and Calcutta, Madras and Lucknow in 1975. Relay stations were also set up in a number of cities to extend the coverage of the regional stations.

Major landmarks in the history of Doordarshan:

1959 Sep 15: Experimental transmission from Delhi

1961 Oct 24: School Television for Delhi students

1965 Aug 15: Regular service with a daily news bulletin in Hindi

1967 Jan 26: Krishi Darshan - programmes for farmers

1972 Oct 2: TV in a second city - Bombay (now Mumbai)

1975 Aug 1: Satellite Instructional TV Experiment launched

1976 Jan 1: Commercials introduced

1976 Apr 1: Doordarshan delinked from All India Radio

1982 Aug 15: National Programmes; Colour transmission and networking through satellite

1982 Nov 19: Expansion through LPT (Low Power Transmitters) s launched

1984 Jul 15: First entertaining Hindi serial Hum Log

1984 Aug 15: Country-Wide Classroom of UGC (University Grants Commission) launched

1984 Aug 9: Second channel at Delhi

1986 Aug 9: First regional satellite network in the western Indian state of Maharashtra

1987 Feb 23: Morning transmissions

1989 Jan 26: Afternoon transmissions

1993 Apr 1: Metro Entertainment Channel with satellite networking

1993 Aug 15: Exclusive Satellite Channels for regional languages

1993 Oct 1: Regional Language Satellite Channels

1994 Aug 15: Restructuring of Channels – DD-1 to DD-13

1995 Mar 14: DD-India - International Channel launched

1997 Nov 23: Prasar Bharati - the autonomous

Broadcasting Corporation of India

“Autonomous “ Corporation

During the years from 1975 to 1977, India had been under the state of Emergency and it was a fact that the then Government used the media as an instrument of strong propaganda and the fairness and objectivity as well as neutrality were given a go by . There was enormous opposition to the misuse of media from all quarters and when a non Congress Party Government came into power in 1977, they appointed a Committee to give power of autonomy to the Government media, radio and television. The Committee headed by journalist BG Varghese recommended the setting up of an autonomous Corporation on the model of the British Broadcasting Corporation(BBC). But the recommendation remained on paper and ultimately the recommendations became law only in 1990 and its implementation happened as late as 1997, when the Janata Dal Government was in power. The late Mr. Nikhil Chakravarthy, a leftist journalist was nominated as the part time Chairman with seven members(majority part time only)and Mr. Surender Singh Gill, who was in the 80s Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting became the Chief Executive. Mr. Chakravarty died in 1998 and , the rightist Bharatiya Janata Party Government threw out the Chief Executive through an Ordinance, as he did not dance to the tunes of the Government and initiated steps to bring in autonomy and inculcate a spirit of neutrality. No government wanted to part with the power of television and the Organization is still languishing, as the Corporation has to depend on the Government for funding. The Chief Executives who followed Mr. Gill could not and did not act independently as they were bureaucrats and holding positions in the Ministry itself!

Growth Story

The government had been reluctant to invest in television in the early years because it was felt that a poor country like India could not afford the medium. Television had to prove its part in the development process before it could get the priorities of the Government changed. Television was considered a luxury by the then Governments and hence the priority given to it was rather low.

Faced with the difficulty of administering such an extensive television system television as part of All India Radio, the Government of India in 1976 constituted Doordarshan, the national television network, as a separate Department under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Doordarshan was set up as an attached office under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. For all major decisions, the organization had to run to the Ministry. Doordarshan operated much like a government department. Doordarshan was and is headed by a Director General. The Ministry’s own officials themselves held the office of the Director General as well, and continues to be manned only by India’s Administrative Service officers who are at sea till they pick up the threads of broadcasting.

Until 1976, Doordarshan was funded through a combination of television licenses and allocations from the annual budget (licenses were later abolished as advertising revenues began to increase substantially). Advertising began in a very small way; during the first year Doordarshan earned a modest revenue equivalent of nearly two million US $ at current rates, from advertising revenues in 1976-77. By 1999 – 2000 Doordarshan’s commercial revenues from advertisers reached a record equivalent of 150 million US $ and dwindled to 138 million US equivalent in 2001- 2002. The figure crossed the billion Indian Rupee mark in just ten years.

SITE Experiment

The first experiment with satellite technology in India, known as the Satellite Instructional Television Experiment (SITE), with the American ATS – 6 was conducted in 1975-76. This was, incidentally, the first attempt anywhere in the world of using the sophisticated technology of satellite broadcasting for social education and development. SITE (Satellite Instructional Television Experiment) was designed to test whether satellite based television services could play a role in socio-economic development. Using a U.S. ATS-6 satellite and up-link centers at Ahmedabad and Delhi, television programs were beamed down for about 4 hours a day to about 2,400 villages in 6 states. The programs dealt mainly with in- and out-of-school education, agricultural issues, planning and national integration. The program was fairly successful in demonstrating the effectiveness of satellite based television in India and the lessons learnt from SITE were used by the government in designing and utilizing its own domestic satellite service INSAT, launched in 1982. The programmes beamed to selected villages in a cluster of states consisted of health, rural development and similar type of content solely aiming at upliftment of the poor through a community viewing system. It was the success and impact of this experiment that hastened the development of television in India and changed the Government’s priority.

There were no privately owned TV sets and community TV sets had to be set up at 21 locations in Delhi. The SITE programme was also addressed to viewers in villages where Direct Receiver sets (TV connected to chicken mesh antenna) were set-up and maintained at Government cost. Privately owned black and white TV sets were visible in Delhi by 1970 and with the strengthening and expansion of Doordarshan network, TV ownership gradually spread to other cities. Up to 1984 a license was necessary for possessing a TV set and when this system was abolished, there were 3.6 million licensed TV sets. Accurate figures about the number of TV sets are not available after 1984. Currently the number of households is assessed by two major readership surveys, NRS (National Readership Survey) and IRS (Indian Readership Survey), which places the number of TV homes in India at 130+ million.

Milestones in national television

The year1982 was a watermark in the history of Indian television. INSAT-1A, the first of the country's domestic communications satellites became operational and made possible the networking of all of Doordarshan's regional stations. For the first time Doordarshan originated a nation-wide feed dubbed the "National Programme" which was fed from Delhi to the other stations. Not only did India move to colour television but also the satellite technology enabled Indian television to have national reach. During November –December 1982, India hosted the prestigious Asian games and excepting India and Vietnam, all other participating countries were by then operating in colour television and they wanted the host country’s TV signals in colour. Besides, it was also a matter of prestige for the nation. Doordarshan, resultantly moved into a gigantic path of growth and the country witnessed the introduction of a regular satellite link between Delhi and other major from August 15, 1982, with the ceremonial Indian Independence day speech of the then India Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s address being telecast in colour. It marked the starting of the National programmes and also heralded the era of colour television in the country. The Asian Games held in Delhi during November 19 – 2nd December 1982 acted as the major momentum for bringing out these changes. After 1982, television technology and infrastructure rapidly expanded and during certain periods in the early 80s, India got an additional television transmitter every day. To increase television's reach, the government launched a crash program to set up low and high power transmitters that would pick-up the satellite distributed signals and re-transmit them terrestrial transmitters of varying coverage areas. The Prime Minister had personally monitored the expansion and rewarded the then Information and Broadcasting Secretary Mr. Surender Sigh Gill with the honour of India’s Padmasri, in recognition of his devoted work. In 1983 television signals were available to just 28% of the population, this had doubled by the end of 1985. However, Doordarshan began to shift the balance of its programming from educational and informational programs to entertainment programs. The commercialization of Doordarshan saw the development of soap operas, situation comedies, dramas, musical programs, game shows and the like. Commercial revenues swelled and Doordarshan resorted to commercial content during the prime time, excepting for two news bulletins. By 1990 Doordarshan's revenues from advertising were about $300 million. By 1991, Doordarshan's earlier mandate to aid in the process of social and economic development had clearly been diluted. Entertainment and commercial programs had begun to dominate in the organization's programming strategies and advertising had come to be Doordarshan's main source of funding. Two factors contributed to the changed programming strategy of Doordarshan. The year 1991 saw the beginnings of international satellite broadcasting in India and the government launched a major economic liberalization program. Both these events combined to change the country's television environment dramatically.

Growth of the Network

In the decade 1981-90 the number of transmitters increased from 19 to 519. There was also steady increase of the Television Centres which produced limited hours of local programmes. During other timings all the transmitting stations, including those located in Studio Production centres, were relaying the programmes from New Delhi, and those limited hours of television was also mostly in the language of Hindi, which the southern Indian states did not really understand, leaving a big gap in communication. The three major television stations at Trivandrum(Capital of the south western state of Kerala), Ahmedabad(Capital of the western State of Gujarat) and Guwahati(Capital of the north Eastern State of Assam) came up during January 1985. and by late 80’s all major state capitals of India had one Television Studio and attached terrestrial and satellite –linked transmitter. From a single channel operation to multi-channel system was a phenomenal change. It was in 1994 that the Delhi station of Doordarshan had a second Channel, to begin with terrestrially and later delivered through satellite; second channel transmitters were local in the three other metros of Doordarshan, in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras. To cope up with the emerging private cable and satellite channels, the metro entertainment channel was networked through satellite and during the first few years, the Metro Entertainment channel was hugely popular and a commercial money spinner. The content later could not be matched with the private channels and the entertainment channel was buried to start the News Channel as it would better serve the political ends of the ruling government.

Public Service Broadcasting and content

The objectives of Doordarshan are laudable and a model for public service broadcasting anywhere in the developing world. The public service mandate of the Broadcasting Corporation of India necessitated dominance of information and education content and during 2002 it was 50% while the rest of the content was entertainment. Doordarshan’s social objectives:

  • To act as a catalyst for social change.
  • To promote National Integration.
  • To stimulate a scientific temper in the minds of the people.
  • To disseminate the message of family planning as a means of population control and family welfare.
  • To provide essential information and knowledge in order to stimulate greater agricultural production.
  • To promote and help preserve environmental and ecological balance.
  • To highlight the need for social welfare measures, including welfare of women, children and the less privileged.
  • To promote interest in games and sports.
  • To create values of appraisal of art and cultural heritage

Sourcing of programmes/content continues to be done through in house productions, sponsored commercial programmes(wherein the private producer produces the content and pays Doordarshan a telecast fee and in lieu thereof the Producer is given commercial time, which the producer has to market and realize the cost of production, telecast charges and profits. Initially this system worked well but in due course of time and with competition Dorrdarshan’s market dwindled. Though other schemes to replace the system of bartering airtime for commercial revenues were attempted of late with the organization itself marketing instead of private producers, success was a mirage as the marketing professionals inducted were neither trained nor were they exposed to the harsh realities of competing with giants of the private sector. Films also provided a substantial chunk of Doordarshan’s content, apart from programmes produced for other Government departments of the Indian and state Governments and there is a small percentage of programming acquired from outside sources. The content still continues to be vexed on all Channels of Doordarshan. In terms of format of the content, news and current affairs dominate with entertaining serials and others follow closely; films and sports also form a substantial part of the format. With the legislation of compulsorily mandated sharing of major sports events with the national broadcaster, sporting events also constitute fairly good percentage of the programming. India’s obsessive passion for cricketing events, they fetch the maximum eyeballs, as well, though concomitant commercial revenues are not commensurate.

Competition from Cable and Satellite Channels

By the end of 1996 nearly 50 million households had television sets. International satellite broadcasting, introduced in 1991, has swept across the country because of the rapid proliferation of small scale cable systems. By the end of 1996, Indians could view dozens of foreign and local channels and the competition for audiences and advertising revenues was one of the hottest in the world. In 1995, the Indian Supreme Court held that the government's monopoly over broadcasting was unconstitutional, setting the stage for India to develop into one of the world’s largest and most competitive television environments.

Prasar Bharati(Broadcasting Corporation of India)

Independence of the broadcasting organization of the Government was always a matter of debate in the country as Doordarshan has been functioning as a mouthpiece of the Government(party in power). During the Emergency rule of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi from 1975 to 1977, this was more than apparent and the freedom for the broadcast organization was the strongest demand that the opposition parties when they came to power. A Committee under veteran Journalist BG Varghese was set up and they recommended setting up a BBC model autonomous organization. It was only in 1990 that the Prasar Baharti Bill was passed by India’s Parliament and it was seven years later that the Broadcasting Corporation of India came into existence. The Corporation did not provide any real autonomy and the bureaucratic and political pressures of the Government continue to plague the organization.

Bhaskar Ghose , a former civil servant belonging to the Indian Administrative Service and held the positions of Director general, Doordarshan and later that of Secretary, Ministry of Information of Information and Broadcasting explains the position, “Even though it was then part of an ‘autonomous’ corporation, Prasar Bharati, it remained, in real terms, an appendage of the government. It could neither occupy the kind of dominant position enjoyed by public service broadcasters in other countries, such as the BBC in the UK, NHK in Japan, SVT in Sweden, TF1 in France, ZDF and ARD in Germany or ABC in Australia, nor could it compete in the commercial world with private channels on their own flexible and often rather murky terms."

The government's monopoly over television over the years has resulted in Doordarshan being tightly controlled by successive governments. In principle, Doordarshan is answerable only to Parliament. Parliament lays down the guidelines that Doordarshan is expected to adhere to in its programming and Doordarshan's budget is debated and approved by Parliament. But the guidelines established by Parliament to ensure Doordarshan's political neutrality are largely ignored in the face of the majority that ruling parties have held in Parliament. Doordarshan has been subject more to the will of the government than the oversight of Parliament. Successive governments and ruling political parties have used Doordarshan to further their political agendas, weakening its credibility as an neutral participant in the political process. There have been periodic attempts to reconstitute Doordarshan into a BBC-like public corporation, but governments have been reluctant to relinquish their hold on such a powerful medium.

Though the Corporation had the avowed objective of public service broadcasting, with the competition from crass commercial channels, Doorashan has lost its sheen, glory and eyeballs, and the market share. The loss in the professional excellence and market place has been steady since the advent of the satellite operated cable and satellite channels and the system’s total inability to effectively compete for eyeballs in the market due to a plethora of factors, including India’s debilitating bureaucratic system and lack of strong political will for an independent national broadcaster. The political bosses have ensured to run it as their fiefdom by guaranteeing the manning of the higher echelons by India’s civil service officials, most of whom did or do not have any professional broadcasting or media experience. Stifled by internecine conflicts and governmental/political pressures, the network is at crossroads and unless it is run as a thorough professional body, its relevance in the media arena of India will continue to have further setbacks.

Sevanti Ninan, one of the best media columnists reiterates the imperative for restructuring of Prasar Baharti, “PB needs restructuring. But it must first be rescued from the limbo in which finds itself or from euthanasia. Truly autonomous and decentralised public service broadcasting has a vital role to play in promoting dialogue and empowerment, culture and creativity in India seeking to forge unity out of diversity. There is much wisdom to be tapped outside government.”

Present Network and Service

Doordarshan a megalith of Indian television broadcasting now telecasts programmes on 31 distinct channels:

  1. DD1 - National Channel
  2. DD News - News Channel
  3. DD Bharati - Enrichment Channel
  4. DD Sports - Sports Channel
  5. DD Rajya Sabha - Parliament Channel
  6. DD Urdu - Urdu Language Channel
  7. Regional Channels – 11:
  8. Malayalam (Kerala); Tamil (Podhigai); Oriya; Telugu (Saptagiri); Bengali (Bangla); Kannada (Chandana); Marathi (Sahyadri); Gujarati; Kashmiri (Kashir); North - East; and Punjabi

  9. State Networks – 12:
  10. Rajasthan; Madhya Pradesh; Uttar Pradesh; Bihar; Himachal Pradesh; Jharkhand; Chhatisgarh; Haryana; Uttarakhand; Tripura; Mizoram; Meghalaya

  11. DD India - International Channel reaching more than 100 countries
  12. Gyan Darshan - Educational Channel

For in house production there are 66 studio centres equipped with state of the art equipment, functioning in various parts of the country. Satellite up- linking facility is available at all major Doordarshan Centres.

For terrestrial transmission, 1416 transmitters of varying power, installed throughout the length and breadth of India , are in operation. These transmitters provide coverage to about 92.2% population.

Recent Steps

With a view to providing area-specific information on Agriculture, a pilot project was started by Doordarshan in 2002 and was implemented through 11 transmitters across the country on 18 states. Following the successful implementation of thisconcept of “Narrowcasting”, demand was there for further spreading of this concept in other parts of the country.. The project is now being implemented with the budget of about US $ 23 million during the financial year (2009-10). Doordarshan launched free-to-air DTH Service “DD Direct Plus” in December , 2004 with a bouquet of 33 TV channels (Doordarshan as well as private TV channels) primarily for providing TV coverage to the areas hitherto uncovered by terrestrial transmitters. Capacity of DTH platform has been subsequently augmented for transmission of 58 TV channels. DTH signals are up-linked to INSAT 4-B satellite, from the DTH Centre located at Todapur,New Delhi. DTH signals (Ku Band) can be received anywhere in the country (except Andaman & Nicobar Islands) with the help of small sized dish receive units. Out of total 66 studio centres in Doordarshan’s network, all the 17 major studio centres and 4 smaller studio centres are fully digital and 31 smaller studio centres are partially digital, with 14 studio centres remaining analog.

Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) offers numerous advantage over analog, like multi-channel operation, vastly superior and uniform reception quality, possibility of excellent quality reception in high speed moving vehicles, far less power requirement. Doordarshan had set up four digital transmitters one each at Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai in January, 2003, on an experimental basis. Mobile TV service (DVB-H transmission) was started by Doordarshan in Delhi in May, 07. Presently, there are 16 TV channels in DVB-H bouquet.

Not to lag behind in technology, Doordarshan has taken up a pilot project of HDTV at Delhi. This pilot project envisages HDTV production facility in terms of establishment of multi – camera EFP (Electronic Field Production) van besides compatible post production facility.

High Definition Television (HDTV) is a broadcast system that transmits pictures with more lines providing significantly higher resolution than traditional formats. The picture is of a high quality to be viewed on large TV displays. Main features of HDTV are: crystal clear and noise free picture quality; wide screen picture; more viewing realism. The conduct of the Commonwealth Games (October 2010) in New Delhi is offering further scope for the technological advancement of Doordarshan (TV India).

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  1. Annual Reports, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Government of India 2009 – 2010.
  2. Annual Report, Prasar Baharati, 2007 – 2008
  3. Doordarshan India 2000
  4. Doordarshan Days, Bhaskar Ghose, Penguin Viking, Penguin Books India 2005


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Issue No. 18:
Satellites and Indian Media

Spring/Summer 2010

General Editor Introduction

From the Guest Editor

News on Indian Television


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