Television

"The History Channel has a strategy that even the NGC doesn't have" : Zubin Jehanbux Gandevia NGC India managing director (South Asia)

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People at NGC India, especially managing director for south Asia, Zubin Jehanbux Gandevia, these days chant the history mantra more than geography. And, why not? The History Channel has arrived in India after 70 countries and its distributor, NGC India, wants to drum up enough noise about the channel as the feeling is that the channel is right for a

non-addressable environment that prevails in India at the moment.

The History Channel is being positioned as India's only television channel purely dedicated to history, bringing the power and passion of the past to life. According to Gandevia, "It not only satisfies the ever-growing demand for historical programming, but also stimulates people’s curiosity to know

more about the world."

The History Channel is owned by A&E Television Networks, a general entertainment network reaching over 76 million subscribers. A&E offers a unique blend of programming, including the highly acclaimed Biography series, intriguing mysteries, original movie presentations and engaging documentaries. In the 13 years that the Emmy Award–winning Biography has been on television, it has profiled more than 700 people, from Sid Caesar to Julius Caesar, Oprah Winfrey to Irving Berlin. Recent A&E Original Movies have included Jeff Daniels as General George Washington in The Crossing and Oscar-winner Timothy Hutton in The Golden Spiders.

With Star India as the sales partner, The History Channel is looking at carving a niche for itself, the same way as Discovery and NGC have done so. The only difference being that it is targeting the first goal in a shorter period of time compared to other such infotainment channels.

In this interview with indiantelevision.com, Gandevia; sitting in the NGC office in Delhi that has congratulatory messages of all types ('The world’s best dad’ and 'Congrats for completing five years' are just a few amongst many); talks about the new channel, the targets and part of the business

plan.

Excerpts:

Give us an overview of The History Channel.

The History Channel, like any other product of its genre, is unique. But what is good about it is that it does not just bring alive the history, it entertains, while educating. It's a place where people experience history personally and connect their own lives to the great lives and events of the past. That, I'd say, is the biggest connect with the viewers, apart from the fact that the channel does not look at history in the strictly traditional sense.

As part of an international award-winning network, The History Channel has exclusive access to a vast library of the world's best historical and factual programming offering a high standard of quality in both production value and research - not just from every corner, but every corner of the world.

The channel, and its other siblings, is owned by A&E Television Networks, a joint venture of the Hearst Corporation (37.5 per cent is held by it; 37.5 per cent by ABC Inc. and 25 per cent by NBC). The company is an award-winning, international media company offering consumers a diverse communications environment ranging from television programming, magazine publishing, Web sites, books and music CDs, to home videos and support of nationwide educational initiatives.

The History Channel, launched in 1995 reveals the power and passion of history as inviting and is the only place "Where the Past Comes Alive." The History Channel received the prestigious Governor's Award from the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences for the network's "Save Our History" campaign dedicated to historic preservation.

"Mind it, The History Channel is not a kiddy channel"

Hype apart, what do you think is the key to success?

It has a strategy that even the NGC doesn't have. The three cornerstone for the channel are the product, brand and localisation.

Where the product is concerned, the underlying theme is that people want to watch historical events and personalities worldover and not just from their own country. So, have a product that would have universal appeal. There are some 2000 hours of programming in the library and every year 400 to 500 hours of programming is added to it.

Where the brand is concerned, the philosophy is to create a product with global appeal that is fit for family viewing so that the elders would not be embarrassed to watch along with the kids in the family. But mind it, The History Channel is not a kiddy channel. So the branding, to put in a nutshell, has to be fascinating, compelling, premium, informative and entertaining.

Localisation helps the channel to have a positioning that is custom-made for every different market so that each country can have prime time and premium programming during its own prime time, not depending on the US or other countries' timing. That is why the much-acclaimed Biography is run every day of the week at 10 pm IST and not at some unearthly hour just because in some other country it's prime time there. Localisation also helps in local packaging, using local people and personalities. Moreover a local feed helps. Not even the NGC started with a dedicated India feed, but The History Channel has done so from the first day.

Can you give an example of local packaging?

Well, if there is a programme on Arnold Schwarzenegger, then we can have a famous action hero from Bollywood to host the programming before the show goes on air. Things like this are being explored and soon people would see local faces on The History Channel. But these local faces would be more like guest anchors and presenters.

Would we see more programming being sourced out India, then?

Sure. The idea of localisation of The History Channel is to create more programming out of India not only for the domestic market, but for the global audiences. That's something that we are looking at during phase two, probably one year from now.

The History Channel is committed to presenting a perspective of the world through the eyes of Indians as the channel is managed and programmed locally. This is to ensure a fresh and relevant on-air presentation.

"By June 2007, 15 per cent of the global viewing, 10 per cent of the global revenue & 10 per cent of global programming should be sourced from India"

Which area of programming do you think can originate from India?

I guess it would be in the Biography section because India has some towering personalities who have had influences all over the world (the only two persons from India who now feature in the channel's list are Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa).

Do you think that the channel would manage to keep away from controversy in India, considering in India history is a sensitive topic and everybody and anybody has an opinion?

Agreed that in India most people have an opinion on almost everything. But then India is not so unique after all. The trend has been witnessed worldover. However, since A&E Networks dabbles only in history-related programming, it has carved an expertise for doing so, managing to steer clear of controversies wherever the channel is aired. We think, the channel would keep clear of any controversy in India too.

What are the targets that the channel and NGC has set for themselves?

To start off with we'd like to have 25 million viewers in a year's time. Our target is that by June 2007, 15 per cent of the global viewing, 10 per cent of the global revenue and 10 per cent of global programming being sourced from India.

Distribution may look easy, as we have begun with approximately 15 million homes (that were getting Adventure One), adding another 10 million homes means more work and more networking. We would soon be launching a host of activity for the cable fraternity and we are optimistic that the existing relationship with cable operators would help The History Channel.

We are also slated to spend Rs 250 million on all our business activities relating to the channel over the next one year.

Why phase out Adventure One? Is it a reflection of NGC's failure to market and distribute it effectively?

We were looking at ways to make the entry of The History Channel swift and replacing Adventure One with the historical fare seemed like the best bet.

However, we also feel that in a non-CAS environment or an environment where addressability is still in its infancy, The History Channel has a better prospect. Adventure One airs very niche programming that would fit when CAS has been implemented or when DTH becomes more popular. Still, one can watch Adventure One from midnight to 8 am on the same frequency on which The History Channel is beamed.

But DTH is already here. Has NGC decided that it would give its channels only to the Star-backed DTH platform and not to one backed by Zee?

As a broadcaster, we are open to all options. But considering the great relationship that we have with Star, we'd be comfortable with what Star does in this regard.

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