"Discovery 33 per cent ahead of National Geographic where viewership is concerned" : Deepak Shourie Discovery Communications India's managing director

Discovery Communications India's managing director, Deepak Shourie, sits in a room in the Delhi office which does not reflect much change from the times of the company's first country head Kiran Karnik, who paved the way for Shourie about 18 months back (the changes that one notices are a black & white sketch of Shourie and the tea stand where Shourie himself makes tea for some select visitors). But this is in sharp contrast to the company's present aggressive stance which ranges from sending out direct mailers to over 6,000 prominent Indians to cutting down on office space to proclaiming that there has been an increase in viewership (compared to rival National Geographic Channel) as well as ad sales revenue.

But typical of Shourie, he speaks only when he wants to. Otherwise for journalists, he is an elusive corporate head who always manages to keep a step ahead of the media, thanks to his suave and charming ways.
In this interview with's Anjan Mitra, who has run into him several times (sometimes unsuccessfully) during Shourie's various stints at Outlook magazine, Hindustan Times and Zee Telefilms, Shourie gives a sneak, but limited, preview into Discovery India's plans and the changes that have been effected in the company's Indian operation.
I don't see much change in the room that you are sitting in and which was occupied by your predecessor. Does this mean the company is continuing from where Kiran Karnik had left it?

Well, Kiran is a great guy and during his five-year stay here he did build a strong foundation for Discovery in India. But the room here may not really reflect the changes that have been effected in the company in recent times.
How is Discovery India performing now vis-?-vis before your time? 

There you go again. Always trying to bring about an element of controversy in everything. I can speak for myself and not somebody else.
Then are you ready to talk figures? 

Well, in the second quarter of the (calendar) year 2002, Discovery is 33 per cent ahead of National Geographic where viewership is concerned. During the same period the previous year, both National Geographic and Discovery were at the same (viewership) level. During the 35 to 38 weeks of 2002 (August 25-September 21), according to TAM data, we were 48 per cent ahead of National Geographic. 

During January-September 2002, we have also registered a 50 per cent growth in ad sales revenue compared to the same period a year ago. So where advertising revenue, viewership and brand positioning are concerned there have been major changes.
Has the brand positioning of Discovery resulted in some tangible benefits by way of big advertising catches? 

All the major brands advertise with us. What's more, companies like Hindustan Lever and Proctor & Gamble, which had not advertised (on Discovery) for the last three years, have returned. For the late night Discovery (which airs relatively adult fare on beauty, sex, love, supernatural science, top secret beaches and romantic escapes), for example, we have 13 sponsorships till now with big advertisers like Samsung, Reliance, LG, ABN Amro and Maruti. 

On an Efficiency Index we are better than the average and are becoming attractive to those clients who did not see much value on Discovery.
"Hindustan Lever and Proctor & Gamble, which had not advertised for the last three years, have returned."
If we compare Discovery to other channels in terms of ads, how does it fare? 

I cannot reveal all the figures, but if we compare some top channels (like Star Plus, BBC, CNN, Star News, CNBC India, Sony, etc), we have not done badly. We have had 209 brands on Discovery this year, while Star Plus (marketed as part of the Star network) has had 800 plus brands. So, as a stand-alone marketed channel, Discovery is ahead of others.
What is the strategy that is being adopted by the company with a marketing man now at the helm of affairs in India ? 

There are three things to this: there is great brand empathy, good distribution and good programming. Earlier, people thought we were just wildlife and kids channel, but we have successfully managed to change that perception now. Discovery is for the kids, airs wildlife programmes certainly, but we have much more to offer. For example, there is the Woman's Hour on weekdays from noon to 1 pm, family time on weekdays from 7 -10 pm and also late night Discovery from 10 pm to midnight. 

The branded time zones and creation of new prime time have helped us. For us day parts are also prime time and we have managed to bring about order to programming.

By concentrating on day parts, does it mean that Discovery is afraid to compete with other channels during the real prime time viewing in the evening? 

In the prime time that you are referring to in the evening, Discovery would be competing with anybody and everybody, including general entertainment channels. It is not that we do not want to compete in the evening, but we have to be practical too.

Until the time an average Indian cable home becomes a multiple TV set home, competing with the saas-bahu serials for us would not be prudent. When multiple TV set homes become the norm, then Discovery can go all out to woo the discerning viewer who does not want to watch saas-bahu types.

I am told that that international channels (like Star Movies, HBO, Discovery, Zee MGM and AXN) together corner about 7 per cent of the total advertising pie in India. Where does Discovery stand vis-?-vis others? 

We are doing very well.
"We have exciting things lined up for Animal Planet too and the implementation will take place next year."

What are the other marketing initiatives being undertaken by Discovery here ? 

The aim is to go in for focussed marketing. Programming guide through mailers and in the latest issue of India Today are part of on-ground initiatives. These moves are to instil a confidence in the advertisers' minds that the discerning audience is talking about Discovery and is aware of the vast genre of programming. The advertiser, this way, feels that there are more chances to catch a wider spectrum of consumers. 

We have also started doing on-air promos in India instead of getting them from outside, at least where the India-related promos are concerned. This way we not only cut down on production costs, but are able to relate to the Indian viewer also in a better way.

Is Discovery looking at introducing other properties it has in its stable (like Discovery Health, Discovery Travel & Adventure, etc) in India ?

Not at the moment. The time is for consolidation and not fast diversification.
While the focus is on Discovery, Animal Planet seems to have been left behind here. Correct ? 

Time for AP will also come. We have exciting things lined up for Animal Planet too and the implementation will take place next year.
Now, after having listed out some of the major changes in the company's plans, how would you describe in a nutshell the change that has come about in Discovery India compared to earlier times ? 

I think we are all working according to a strategy. I'll take pride in saying that my marketing director speaks with equal elan on programming as my programming director does on marketing. People are working together instead of individually.

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