Ratings: Discovery maintains lead in infotainment

MUMBAI: Continuing with our review of how different genres have fared over the last six months we now cast our eye on the infotainment space.

Tam data c&s 15+ all India shows that Discovery has a clear lead over archrival National Geographic Channel (NGC). It increased its share which was at 38 per cent from 15 September - 15 October 2006 to 42 per cent for the period 15 December 2006 - 13 January 2007. NGC's share fell from 31 per cent in the 15 October - 15 November 2006 period to 25 per cent from 1 January to 13 January 2007.

Speaking to on this Discovery India executive VP and MD Deepak Shourie says that a robust consumer feedback mechanism and viewer-centric approach has allowed the broadcaster to present engaging and entertaining programmes which has led to this surge in viewership.

"These programmes were aggressively promoted through innovative marketing and public relations strategies." He gives the examples of the show Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real which did well as far as viewership is concerned.

Meanwhile NGC VP marketing Rajesh Sheshadri points out to big properties like the second season of Mega Structures, Nat Geo Investigates: Terrorism which has helped boost viewer involvement. The plan is to have a major property come out at least once in two months. For instance this month it focusses on martial arts with Fists Of Fury. In the past it has done shows like Megastructures to build up the Thursday primetime slot and Air Crash Investigations on Mondays.

When asked about the plan to bridge the ratings gap he adds, "As far as the infotainment genre is concerned, Nat Geo is the only true blue factual channel today. The others (including NGC's sibling The History Channel) have moved in the entertainment space. However, we definitely need to keep the momentum going to push the ratings forward." Of course since both Discovery and NGC air shows related to current events at times there is an overlap. A case in point was September when they both focussed on the theme of terror.

Creating awareness: Shourie meanwhile points out that the marketing effort has been to highlight the diverse variety of programming that Discovery offers to its viewers.

"Within this, we promoted a range of programmes from nature to engineering to science, and even India-centric programmes offering viewers a wholesome television experience and an alternate to soaps and movies."

In terms of marketing and promotional activities Sheshadri says, "We always endeavour to provide 360-degree experience to our viewers through innovative promotions linked with our programming, which also provide our advertising partners an ideal opportunity to reach out to the consumer."

A case in point was its tie up with McDonald's for an in-store promotion for kids, the 'Roboraptor Contest'. McDonald's outlets across Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Bangalore and Hyderabad promoted the initiative, where kids could win toys from the animated series Dragonball Z with every happy meal.

The Local Push: This is an area where all the channels have looked to take things to the next level. On the local front to encourage talent and build a closer connect NGC late last year announced a new initiative to recognise work in non fiction. It will present awards for excellence in non fiction film-making in India. It will take this activity forward in June as it does not want to clash with the cricket World Cup. It aired specials under the theme Emerging India last year.

This looked at different topics from call centres in Mumbai to Delhi's firefighters. Sheshadri says that localisation can be used as a marketing tool. For instance promos were cut with prominent people like the Police Commissioner expressing their appreciation on the terror initiative. Sheshadri adds that a lot of NGC's viewers are those that watch news a lot. They often watch NGC as they are passionate about a certain topic that the channel has chosen to focus on.

Last year Discovery increased the number of hours devoted to Indian shows. The Discover India block on Saturday night is now two hours instead of one hour.

The media buyers take: OMS media director Madan Mohapatra feels that Discovery fares better on account of the wide range of shows it has. "It probably has a broader appeal among its audience which is why in terms of incremental reach offered in the media plan and affinity with its TG it fares better." Starcom's Rahul Panchal feels that Discovery in a lot of places will be on a better channel band. Also its awareness level is probably higher. Last year Discovery is estimated to have earned around Rs. 350 million while NGC would have made around Rs. 200 million.

The other players: One surprise when one looks at the ratings is the fact that Animal Planet is faring a little better than The History Channel (THC). Why it is surprising is simply because THC had undergone a repositioning from an infotainment channel to an entertainment channel in May. Therefore its breadth of offerings is much wider compared to the other channel whose sole focus is on the animal kingdom.

Animal Planet's share is at 19 per cent compared to The History Channel which has a share of six per cent. Even Discovery Travel and Living has a slightly higher share at eight per cent for the period 1 January - 13 January 2007.

Shourie says that Animal Planet due to the strength of the brand attracts high viewership from across age groups, genders and geographies. Last year in order to emphasise the channel's diverse programming and attract appointment viewing, Animal Planet introduced a time-band strategy last year, segmenting the programmes under well-defined bands. To leverage this advantage and to draw higher consistency and control over viewership, the channel targetted specific and relevant viewers allowing it to build loyalty says Shourie.

Mohaptra says that Animal Planet's advantage is that kids love it. So dual viewership happens for the channel. "Parents often do not mind watching something they feel is good for their kids. That is why Cartoon Network has impressive numbers. THC does not have this factor going for it."

Panchal feels that one can approach Animal Planet in a more relaxed manner which works in its favour. With THC one has to concentrate more with their films and mini series. Also Animal Planet's content one cannot find elsewhere.

Shourie is also optimistic on the performance of DTL. "The emerging aspirations and attitudes in India, strongly endorsed by the fast-changing travel and consumption habits, reflected a demand for lifestyle-oriented television content in India and led to the launch of Discovery Travel and Living."

The channel he has been successful in redefining 'lifestyle' programming in India. He claims that DTL is available in 22 million homes around the country and attracts more than 120 advertisers from across product categories.

Mohaptara feels that as far as DTL is concerned it helps that travel and tourism are two booming sectors. There is a clear interest among the upper class to travel more to exotic locations. This helps DTL leverage its brand proposition among the media fraternity although the numbers may not be that high. The perception is that the upper crust that travels abroad regularly and which is important for the lifestyle brands would be tuning into DTL to find out the hot locales and cool things to do.

Panchal says that DTL has a small but loyal audience. So it is particularly attractive for tourism boards, airlines. DTL is estimated to have earned around Rs. 160 million last year. Due to the high quality of the audience it managed to get more than double what Animal Planet got which would be around Rs. 75 million. Growth in the infotainment sector is estimated at around eight per cent for this year.

Meanwhile THC's tagline is 'Live The Story'. The new fare includes mini-series, re-enactments and also films. All have a historical connect. That is the basic criteria. The aim is to change the perception of history as being dull and boring to that where it is a vibrant topic and comes alive. As Sheshadri says, "We have focussed and build on the two franchises that we have established - Double F (Fridays at 9 pm) and Jumbo movies (Sat and Sun at 8 pm) like Hitler: Rise Of Evil."

The Double F meshes facts and fiction. So for instance you could see a biography of Jack The Ripper followed by a film on the serial killer with Michael Caine. In December to strengthen the weekday offerings THC launched the shows Sharpe with British actor Sean Bean, Sherlock Holmes and Kennedy at 9 pm on weekdays.

Sheshadri says that at the same time the channel has constantly refreshed the factual content which is the bedrock of the channel. So one sees new shows coming up like Dogfights, Shootout, Engineering An Empire. These use extensive reenactments and computer graphics to enhancing the theme of history.

On the local front THC came out with an online initiative called Save Your History. This is a community sharing site that allows Indians to share and collaborate on important historical happenings in their lives, which could be in the form of photos, precious documents and artifacts.

For instance, a famous cricketer could put a photograph of his first bat or the first match that he played. The campaign aims at educating people on the importance of responsibility and commitment to saving one's culture and heritage for the sake of posterity. This Sheshadri says is a good way to get a community involved with the brand.

In terms of marketing one thing that THC did was a tie up with NGO, the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural heritage (Intach). The organisation works towards promoting awareness of heritage and conservation. Both parties aim at making history more relevant.

THC has screened shows like French Revolution, The Mughals, Rome and Crusades have been organised by Intach with its chapters, schools and colleges. In the first month, the activity reached 6000 students. This way THC hopes that children will not look at history as being dull and boring. THC is estimated to have earned around 170 million in ad revenue last year.

Localisation is also something that DTL has gotten into. Last year it started airing locally commissioned shows on India like The Great Indian Wedding and Indian Rendezvous. The aim was to boost interest in the channel. The challenge Shourie says is to still maintain its international positioning.

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