MUMBAI: For infotainment channel History TV18, the pace of the first year has been dictated by regional-language feeds, heavy marketing with Bollywood superstar Salman Khan as the face, carriage agreements with cable and DTH networks and meticulous study of ratings to see where the viewership expansion is taking place.
The results are palpable. The first year of History TV18 happened to be in a period when the share of infotainment genre in the television space, according to TAM data c&s4+ all India, grew by 37 per cent to 1.4 per cent in genre share (Jan - September 2012) from 1.1 per cent a year earlier. The increase in the share of infotainment was in part because competition too beefed up content and launched more local language feeds.
History TV18 GM marketing Sangeetha Aiyer notes that while progress has been made there is a way to go to achieve what it has done in the US. "History is a leader in the US and other key markets of the world. We are yet to achieve that in the India market."
In terms of the way forward, she says that the first key step to consolidate ratings is to strengthen the distribution footprint. Expansion in 1mn+ town class therefore will be important. The channel is also pinning its hopes on digitisation as the factual genre gets significant contribution to viewership from digital cable and DTH platforms. "So we are ensuring that we focus on our presence and availability through these broadcast platforms."
Along with focussing on connectivity and availability to be optimal and accelerated, parallely the broadcaster is also working on the programming strategy and content mix. "A few subgenres within the factual entertainment genre have shown traction for us," said Aiyer.
She elaborates that the sub genres that will be focussed on going forward are 1) Action/ adventuer/ thrills; 2) informative programming packaged in an entertaining way like The Works, Food Tech, etc that are character driven; and 3) India centric content. The aim is to continue to strengthen this sub genre. Another type of content that is working is topical stuff which will more be like a tactical strategy to get the much needed spikes, she points out.
One main issue for this channel like others in the English space is to build appointment viewing. "More and more we are also moving to stripping content as a strategy. That seems the key to build some amount of pattern for appointment viewing in this genre which is otherwise snacking in nature," she says.
Earlier A+E Networks had a JV with Fox International Channels for The History Channel. When the JV concluded the channel was rebranded as Fox History and Entertainment. Subsequently, the channel moved into the lifestyle space and was rebranded as Fox Traveller leaving room for the new History TV18 channel.
Aiyer said that one of the biggest challenges faced was the brand name. "Unfortunately, since the channel already had a presence in India, people had misconceptions that the new History TV18 channel would be all about History in the real sense of the word. Also because of its name, there was a perception that the content will be about date, text bookish, documentary-style, preachy etc. That was the main challenge."
That was one of the main reasons that the channel used Salman Khan as a brand ambassador in order to dispel this. This move was unusual and the deal with Khan was for one year. The tagline ‘Kuchh Naya Dekho, History Bante Dekho‘ aims to encompass the breadth of content and themes that History brings to Indian audiences - History here is not just about the past, it‘s as much about people making history today.
Talking about the difference between the new History TV18 channel vis-?-vis what the earlier avatar was, she said that the focus is on contemporary; it is about action and adventure. It is about people making History every day. "And through this unique and exciting partnership with Salman Khan, we have managed to reach out to a number of mainstream viewers we could reach otherwise."
"With such a strong positioning we are clearly differentiated from competition and our strategy is more proactive in nature and in line with our strategy of growing the genre. The channel was launched with universal themes that use the premise of history but are entertaining, engaging and thrilling and would appeal to a very wide audience, including younger demographics and also discerning audiences."
More Languages: The other thing that History TV18 did was to launch in eight languages. No other broadcaster in this genre is available in so many languages. Asked if History TV18 was maybe a bit too aggressive on the language feed front, she noted that being present in different languages was one of its key differentiators which helped grow the entire genre. "It has been one of our greatest strengths. Moreover, we wouldn‘t have ventured into ‘languaging‘ if the cost-benefit aspect didn‘t work out."
Localisation has played a key role in building brand connect with ‘The Greatest Indian‘ initiative. This was a search to find the greatest Indian since Mahatma Gandhi. This gave the channel the chance to use social media in an effective way. "We got over 2 crore votes coming through missed calls and online. The campaign also sustained a healthy engagement on Social Media platforms reaching over 20 lac Facebook users through viral content. Comparisons and discussions followed on Twitter with hashtags related to the initiative trending consistently and reaching over 200,000 users daily."
What is the roadmap in this regard going to be? "Our aim is to have one local show a quarter. We have also acquired shows that were shot in India like ‘Passage Through India‘, ‘India on 4 Wheels‘. Having said that, it has been a mix of shows like ‘Pawn Stars‘ that have delivered," Aiyer said.
Now as part of its special anniversary celebration, the broadcaster has introduced ‘History‘s Hot Shots‘, a recap of some series aired on the channel in the last 1 year. The channel is airing shows like ‘IRT Deadliest Roads‘, ‘Food Tech‘, ‘Pawn Stars - Season 2‘, ‘Ax Men - Season 4‘, ‘Around the World in 80 Days‘ and ‘Chasing Mummies‘.
More channels in pipeline? No decision has been made yet about more channel launches. Like other broadcasters, the JV is looking to see how digitisation pans out. The priority is to establish History TV18 as the flagship channel from the JV and watch it grow the genre, market share and revenues.
Ad market scenario: On the ad revenue front, Aiyer says that the challenge is that despite delivering five times the GRPS of other English genres like news and English GEC, the revenue that the Factual Entertainment genre has is probably one fifth that of English News. It stands at around Rs 2 billion.
"This will most probably need a more concentrated effort by the genre itself and the players thereof to push the agenda of the kind and number of audiences its delivers. We at History TV18 continue to push this agenda with trade and advertising fraternity," says Aiyer.
Dwelling on the difference that the channel has made in revenue terms, Aiyer said that this genre had maximum contribution from FMCG in the past. "This is an established rule that we have challenged. We have tried and have succeeded in bringing on board other categories actively like banking, telecom, consumer durables, etc. Our objective this year is to become the number two player in terms of revenue and so far we are on track for the same."
She adds that the leader in the genre needs to take a call on pushing effective rates.
In terms if the slowdown, Aiyer notes that the belief is that if one gets the fundamentals right, everything else will fall in place. "We know we have a great product offering and believe there is a strong market for us. Moreover the breadth of our audiences and advertisers provides a bit of an edge or cushioning as compared to categories and genres that are independent or have fewer advertiser segments."
Offering a media buyer‘s take, VivaKi Exchange CEO Mona Jain says that History has given some amount of incremental reach. "It provides cost effective opportunities to target SEC A,B audiences. clients that use the infotainment genre have added History to the media mix. Using Salman Khan got them instant reach. Also interest levels rose. Now the content has to speak for itself. Viewership will depend on the kind of properties that they have."
The effective rate on this genre is around Rs 1300 per 10 second spot. "It will be difficult for them to take this up. This category has become competitive with many players. I expect this genre to grow by around 10 per cent this year. i don‘t think that the slowdown will affect it. The slowdown is having a bigger effect on big ticket properties where advertisers are hesitating and waiting. But for cost effective channels that provide a good entry point like History that will not be the case."
Equal split in ad-subscription revenue possible: With digitisation, niche broadcasters hope to get a fairer share in subscription revenue.
Aiyer feels that with digitisation there is the chance that the split between advertising and subscription revenue could be 50:50 three years down the line for this genre if the digital timeline is stuck to. She maintains that the channel is on track to achieve breakeven in two years time.
"While still a niche genre in India, factual entertainment is a growth genre. It is the only genre that has seen a year-on-year growth 2008 onwards. In fact, it has a 29 per cent growth in viewership (2008 versus 2010). We believe it has potential to grow more and become a relatively mainstream genre. And digitisation will provide an impetus to the same," says Aiyer.