Television

'The demand for an alternate to soaps and movies has never been felt more': Deepak Shourie - Discovery India manging director

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This year a slew of channels are celebrating ten years of existence in India. One of them is Discovery. The channel has evolved in its programming with specific time bands and also by launching a new entrant last year - Discovery Travel and Living.

Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Ashwin Pinto caught up with Discovery India MD Deepak Shourie who joined in 2001 for a quick t?te-?-t?te on the progress the company has made over the years.

Excerpts:

It has been ten years since Discovery launched in India. How has the journey been?

Discovery has grown exponentially in India over the last ten years and is today widely respected and watched for its high-quality, credible and entertaining content.

It has grown beyond the metros and is ranked as one of the best distributed channels in the industry. It has consistently delivered its promise to its advertisers and is today included in the media plans of all top brands of the country.

Could you take me through the landmarks that have been achieved since 1995?

Discovery launched in India in August 1995 on the Intel satellite. It then shifted to Pas 4 satellite in April 1996.

It was encrypted in March 1997. In 1998 we launched our second channel Animal Planet. In April 1999 Discovery turned pay in India. Some of the other landmark initiatives which brought Discovery to its current stature include - the introduction of the Hindi feed, the launch of the Discover India Series and the distribution alliance with Sony to form The One Alliance. The other key landmark for the company was the launch of Discovery Travel and Living. We made the transition from analogue to digital in November 2000.

What milestones were reached this year?

For the first time ever, Discovery India has commissioned Indian producers to produce India specific series for Discovery Travel & Living. On the distribution front, the three Discovery television brands reached 77 million cumulative subscribers.

When Discovery was launched in 1995 how did you go about spreading the message about the new offering to viewers and the cable fraternity?

The Indian viewer was aware about the unique and entertaining content available on Discovery Channel. So there was some level of consumer pull for the channel even before it was launched in India. Besides, Discovery offered a unique advantage to the cable operator as well. Therefore, the core mission at that point in time was to initiate mutually beneficial and long-lasting relationships with the cable fraternity and beam the channel across India.

How has the programming strategy on Discovery and Animal Planet evolved over the years?

Discovery's programming has considerably evolved over the years. Some of the key milestones include:



Time-Band Strategy: Because Discovery appeals to viewers of various demographic and psychographic groups, a time-band strategy, segmenting the programmes according to the predominant viewer-segment, was devised in 2001. The various time bands include: After Dark, Technology, Theme Nights, Wild, Action, Adventure, Kids and Discovery for Her.

Discover India Series: In order to satisfy the growing demand for India-specific content, the Discover India Series, a one-hour weekly slot, was introduced in 2003. . Programmes showcased in this series have included Pandit Ravi Shankar: Between Two Worlds, Life of Buddha, Men of Our Time- Mahatma Gandhi. In 2002 we sought to broaden the programming spectrum with specials on Discovery. For instance, we presented a special 13-part series History of Football to combat football fever during World Cup 2002.

Animal Planet attracts viewership from all age groups across the country. Keeping track of the viewership habits of its customers, we will introduce some major changes in its programming content and schedule next year. We will also introduce a dedicated India centric slot on the channel.

'The first step taken towards Indianising the channel was taken in 1998 with the introduction of a parallel Hindi feed'

When did Discovery start making a serious push towards localisation? How have the number of hours devoted to India specific content grown over the years?

The first step taken towards Indianising the channel was taken in 1998 with the introduction of a parallel Hindi feed. The aim was to attract national viewership, encompassing the mini-metros and small towns

The next significant step was taken in 2001 when the Indian programming team was empowered to buy and acquire content independently for India. For the first time ever, the programmes were scheduled by the Indian programming team.

Witnessing the gains from the above decisions, the company took a key programming decision in 2003 and introduced a dedicated one-hour weekly slot on the channel - the Discover India Series. The next step is an India commission, scheduled to air next year.

Are there any plans to increase the number of hours devoted to India specific content?

Discover India has consistently been one of the top rated slots on Discovery Channel. Besides getting viewers for the series, we have also been able to strategically use the series to increase viewership for other programmes on the channel.

Going forward in 2006, we will introduce one more hour of dedicated India programming, Discover India People, on the channel. In 2006, we will also start locally commissioned productions.

 

Before an Indian documentary or show is commissioned and aired, what are the key ingredients it must possess?

Each programme should include unique and entertaining story, credible facts and high-quality production values.

 

Could you talk about how forming the One Alliance helped boost distribution revenues?

We initiated a strategic distribution partnership with Sony to form The One Alliance in April 2003. It has been highly beneficial for the company and is today ranked as one of the best partnerships in the television industry.

 

While you have tried to push Animal Planet, the perception among advertisers is that it is still too niche as the number of people passionate about animals is relatively small. Your comment.

Animal Planet offers intrigue, adventure, humour, relationships, life and death. Animal Planet is the only television network dedicated to people's fascination with animals. It records more viewership than History, Zee Studio, CNBC, Star World, NDTV Profit, Zee Cafe. (Source: TAM , 1st Jan-19th Nov '2005, All India, 0800-2359). Advertisers are completely aware and convinced abut the channel's distinct advantages, because of which most of the leading brands in the country today advertise on Animal Planet.

It does not appeal to only people who are passionate about animals. The variety of genres and programmes ensure there is something for everyone, regardless of the degree of their passion.

 

What attempts have been made to increase the variety of content on Animal Planet?

Animal Planet offers immense amount of variety. In fact that is the one of main reasons for it to be attractive to viewers from diverse demographics and psychographics. Going forward, we have plans to introduce unique time-bands on the channel which will not just achieve appointment viewing but also highlight the channel's variety.

'In 2006, we will introduce one more hour of dedicated India programming, Discover India People, on the channel. We will also start locally commissioned productions.'

A word on Discovery Travel and Living and the response it has received?

In less than one year of its launch, Discovery Travel and Living overtook the viewership of many established English channels including Star World, Zee Cafe, History, Headlines Today, BBC. Adding the achievements recorded by the channel in distribution and brand awareness, the channel has recorded one of the best performances amongst the numerous channels launched in the last one year.

The channel has received a good advertising response. Several upscale products and services are active on the channel. Some brands currently on the channel include: Nokia, Samsung, LG, Visa, HSBC, Microsoft, Hyundai, Motorola, L'Oreal, GM and De Beers. Our aim is to offer a break from the routine family dramas and soaps. We are looking to spearhead the new and emerging trend of contemporary alternative television.

Are there any plans to dub Discovery Travel and Living?

No. It will remain an English language international lifestyle channel.

Is Discovery planning to launch more channels next year?

No such plans at the moment.

Could you briefly talk about the marketing activities that have been done for the channels in the past few years?

In the last decade, we would have used every marketing tool available to communicate and connect with our audiences. We have, depending on the life-stage of the channel, adopted a combination of on-air and off-air marketing activities including print and electronic advertising, contests, roadshows, outdoor, internet, PR, programme guides and tie-ups.

Would you say that the viewer today is more demanding and has higher expectations due to more exposure to western content in the past decade?

There is no doubt that the viewer has considerably evolved in the last ten years. They have been exposed to the best and latest of the world, be it mobile phones, watches, clothes or other lifestyle products. This ?lifestyle revolution? has increased their expectations from television broadcasters as well.

In the last few years, we have witnessed an exponential increase in demand for alternate to movies and sitcoms. In fact, the main attraction to launch Discovery Travel & Living in India was that the Indian consumer was becoming more lifestyle oriented and international in outlook.

While he/she was getting the best and latest products and services, a 24-hour television destination where they would see the best of the world, was missing.

Does Discovery have any plans to exploit the mobile platform?

It has evolved into an effective tool. We are currently developing our plans.

The entry of new channels like the History Channel which is growing are no doubt causing further audience fragmentation. What are the challenges that Discovery faces going forward?

Discovery has dominated the factual entertainment space for years. The entry of more channels in the space has only helped increase the market size.

The demand for an alternate to soaps and movies has never been felt more. We are completely geared up to take advantage of this shift in media consumption pattern.

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