Television

'We believe that it is not in numbers but in the quality and nature of programming that is getting us noticed' : Aditya Tripathi - Discovery Lifestyle Networks vice president

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Discovery Lifestyle Networks VP Aditya Tripathi began his professional career with Living Media India Ltd., and has worked in senior positions with some of the biggest media houses in the country. He made the move to Discovery in 2000 and his expertise in creating brand empathy, marketing and promotion has gone a long way to reinvigorate the various Discovery brands in India, especially Travel & Living.

India is attaining prominence because of the socio-economic developments taking place in the country. Ahead of Discovery Travel & Living's (DT&L) first local production The Great Indian Wedding to be aired on 20 August, Tripathi spoke to Indiantelevision.com's Usha Thomas about how the lifestyle channel was gaining eyeballs with incessant demand from both Indian and foreign viewers for India-centric content.

Excerpts:

How did the concept of a lifestyle channel come about?

With its growing and dynamic TV market and emerging middle-class, India was the right place to begin Discovery Networks' new lifestyle endeavour. Some years ago, we took stock of the international TV landscape and we identified the presence of established global leaders in different genres: news, sports, movies, factual. And, among all this we identified a niche in the lifestyle space. There was no global brand and given that we had some experience in lifestyle and travel genres, we felt that this was an area we could occupy and dominate in the years to come.

The senior management from the parent group came to India and wanted to be convinced that India was the right place to launch a lifestyle channel. After a day of the usual presentations, we took them to Gurgaon and showed them the homes, buildings under construction, call centres and malls. They looked around and said if this is the future of India, then lifestyle is the future of India and right there in the middle of a shopping mall, we were given the go ahead to launch DT&L. And, hence India was the first country to launch lifestyle networks.

What is the positioning of the channel?

Since its launch in November 2004, DT&L has striven to make its positioning distinct from that of factual channels. From day one, the strategy of our channel was to offer varied, non-fictional content as it is our strength. But, we don't need to stick to factual alone. We can be factual as well as be in the lifestyle group and our positioning in the lifestyle group is aspirational, yet attainable. It's just not about enjoying life, it is about celebrating life. It is good looking entertainment. So our channel is aspirational yet attainable, hedonistic, pacy, edgy …always stylish and trendy. We believe in good looking, entertaining television.

Who is your target audience?

Our primary target audience is upscale SEC AB audience - males, females and couples, between the age group 18 - 45 years. But, for us SEC, age, gender are limiting definitions. Our focus markets are Top 10 cities in India. Apart from these, the aspirational character of the channel will attract a secondary audience as well. It's a state of mind that we are looking to capture so we are targeting a person with an international outlook, a person who has travelled abroad, may have even lived abroad, whose kids may be studying abroad and one who has seen international television and international lifestyle. This is common in Travel & Living in the UK, US, Singapore, all over the world. Nationality is not important for people with this mindset.

Outline your performance in viewership, reach and among advertisers?

Today, we reach 3 out of 4 cable homes in the country and in the top six metros, we reach 4 out of 5 homes. As far as viewership and relative channel share compared to other English entertainment channels Star World and Zee Café is concerned, we are growing considerably with time. We don't share content with these channels but almost eight months after our launch, we had overtaken Star World in terms of numbers.

Word of mouth and strong advertiser response is an indicator of our success. We are looking at the mindset which goes beyond demographics.

Though TAM is a very democratic form of measurement designed to measure television groups across the country, groups, cities & towns, it is not designed to measure our target audience. For us, it is the people in malls, in fine dining restaurants, our ad agencies who are watching the channel. We believe that it is not in numbers but in the quality of programming and nature of programming that is getting us noticed.

DT&L is about innovative, up market and interesting programming and we seek to experiment with properties that transverse different genres. We also pride ourselves on understanding our audience. Audience feedback has greatly attributed to our success and word of mouth is what makes us tick.

In the first year, we had 236 brands on the channel and each time we go to an ad agency, the decision makers and their families are watching the channel so we have got very positive response from the advertisers to this channel. Also, despite the rapid growth of the television industry in India, advertising spends on lifestyle brands have traditionally been restricted to the print medium. The lifestyle channel provides advertisers with a dynamic media vehicle to reach a well targeted and defined viewership profile. It attracts 120 advertisers from across product categories, further cementing the channel's unique value proposition.

DT&L is providing a variety of shows, apart from just travel based shows. The programming strategy on DT&L since 2004?

DT&L is essentially a lifestyle channel and along with travel, the programming will give viewers the inside track on all the latest trends in luxury and includes travel, health, relationships, wine, cuisine, home, car, bikes, the good life with a little bit of celeb and glam life.

We have evolved keeping our original concept in mind and have grown far more than expected since our launch two years ago. Content is the key driver. We have made it our policy to incorporate as many different genres as possible and to acquire international programs or create localised programming in order to form a strong bond with our viewers.

The Theme Week and Sunday Brunch strategy introduced in end December 2005 targeted at both viewers and advertisers. These programming blocks were created to appeal to the various target groups at times that they prefer while at the same time giving advertisers a focussed platform to reach key audiences.

We have introduced a number of genre-defining programmes that have never been seen before in India, for example,American Chopper, Faking It, Million Dollar Agents, Miami Ink. We have all along explored different different genres of programming and experimented with reality factual programming with a difference.

We don't do celeb focusssed programming and are not overawed by celebs. Shows that we have incorporated have ranked extremely high in terms of quality and appeal and capitalize on wit and local humor, apart from being real.

What are your views on DTH in India?

The encouraging DTH scenario was also one of the reasons why the Indian management had been advocating the case for a lifestyle network in India. The channel has been established as a lifestyle channel, roping in the upwardly mobile. Currently available in 22 million homes across the country, DTL is also now available on the DTH platform.

Today, we have the choice to choose the bouquet you want and the channel you want, so we welcome it. Internationally, the Discovery family of channels has thrived in all DTH markets. All three of our channels - Discovery, Animal Planet and Travel & Living are available on Dish TV and Tata Sky. We get to see the channel we want rather than with cable ops where they run all the channels and one can't choose. For DTH, exclusivity is important and that suits us.

'10-15 per cent of the programming will be Indian. At any given point, we will have one local show on air and every quarter, we will premiere a new series'

Can you tell us about Discovery producing programs in India?

India's relevance on the world map is increasing. There are more people around the world interested in India, coming to India to work and travel so therefore DT&L is producing programming on Indian audiences but this will go to our channels across the world. The programming will show India in a positive light and in turn we get eyeballs from other regions who see these programs and maybe plan to visit India on seeing it.

The way the Discovery format is used, we make a program on one part of the world and we show it in other parts of the world. That is the nature of our programming and all the shows on the three channels Discovery, DT&L and Animal Planet are of global interest. Similarly, we know our channel here is an international channel that provides high quality entertainment for a global audience.

Give us the complete lowdown on the first local production The Great Indian Wedding?

With our decision to commission local productions in India, we had been identifying various ideas that fit our programming strategy. Amongst many other concepts, we zeroed down to The Great Indian Wedding show. Also, in our discussions with many production houses, Delhi based Blue Mango came up with the very same idea. They were given the go ahead to make a pilot, mainly to serve two purposes: Get the formula right and then make the rest of the series.

At the time that we decided on the wedding series, the media was all agog about the Chatwal wedding. Many other channels were trying to get the coverage and when we spoke to the Chatwals, they readily agreed to give us exclusive access to all the happenings on the wedding which was to be held in three cities in India - Mumbai, Udaipur and Delhi.

The Great Indian Wedding is a one of a kind series, allowing the viewer to experience the wedding as an insider. The focus is on weddings with a difference and have a twist to them: opulence, glam quotient, location and theme. The pilot episode premieres on 20 August at 8 pm.

During the ad break of this pilot episode, a banner will be streamed asking viewers if they have a great Indian wedding coming up. Based on the responses and our research, the 13 part series will be made. The remaining episodes will go into production in the 2006-2007 wedding season. We are looking at ethnic, different weddings and need not be of the same scale as the Chatwal wedding. Apart from the many applications received for the upcoming wedding season, we expect many more once the pilot episode is aired.

The programme captures the glamorous theme parties extending from exotic locations like Jag Mandir in Udaipur to premium hotels in Delhi, the striking performances by Indian and international artists and the romantic and religious wedding ceremony. The host, Natasha Mago presents an insiders view, chatting up the bride, groom, guests, the challenges and frustrations of the wedding planner and the actual wedding ceremony.

All guests invited at the wedding who appear on the show have given their signed consent in this regard, mainly to avoid legal hassles later, what with the high celeb turnout for this wedding.

Our aim is to showcase India and showing a wedding held at the opulent and historical venues at Udaipur & Delhi, we hope to do our bit in promoting tourism in India. Keeping in tune with the high standards that Discovery is associated with, budgets were high especially as it was all shot on digibeta cameras. It was not studio based and there will be no compromise on the quality of the film, light, sound and effects used. We are clear that each programme should include a unique and entertaining story, credible facts and high-quality production values.

'We plan to get into merchandising by early next year by releasing DVD versions of our popular series and those currently on air'

What are the marketing initiatives being undertaken for the new local shows?

We have already started airing promos and teaser campaigns for the pilot episode from 15 July and these have evinced a lot of interest among the viewers and the advertising fraternity. On the day (20 August) that the pilot episode will be premiered, we will be placing advertisements in all the major national dailies.

Have you set targets regarding the amount of India centric content?

It is essentially an international channel and India productions will be a small but significant part of the repertoire of programmes. The Indian programming will never dominate the channel as we clearly make it with the intention of airing it in other parts of the world. So, maybe 10-15 per cent of the programming will be Indian. At any given point, we will have one local show on air and every quarter, we will premiere a new series.

What outdoor activities are being planned in India in order to extend the brand beyond television?

We plan to get into merchandising by early next year by releasing DVD versions of our popular series and those currently on air. We have tie ups for the same with firms based out of Singapore and hope to soon associate with local firms.

Name few acquisitions made recently?

Among the recent acquisitions are a home interiors show called Trading Spaces and one on the training methods for airline cabin crew called Flight Attendants School. In January, we will be airing another BBC title Hairy Bikers Cookbook which captures the journey of two motorbike freaks as they travel to different places and learn about the local food.

Are Indian viewers different from their counterpart in other countries?

Honestly, there is no difference as our target audience matches up to any other in a similar genre in the world. They travel a lot, may have been educated abroad or visit countries on business and their lifestyles, eating habits and aspirations are similar to those abroad.

Any plans of incorporating broadband and mobile into your business?

We are looking at what technology may allow and what audiences are looking for and yet marrying that to the core DNA attributes of what Discovery has represented and people have loved through the years. We do not consider them a threat and with time, will integrate them in our business. Flipping channels is a reality and we are evaluating on working with mobiles, VoIP and other different platforms. We have been at the forefront of incorporating technology in the way we program and market the channel.

For the series aired last quarter Five Takes, we had selected young people in their early to mid-twenties, and have given them $50 a day, a camera to film and software to edit so they document their daily lives. We gave the audience the opportunity to vote on the net and via SMS to decide where these young people should go and what they should do.

In the niche channel environment where perception counts for a lot customization, do mention any customised solutions that have been done for clients?

We recently had our first initiative in this regard with HSBC Bank for the HSBC Premiere card. They target the same high net worth individuals like us and they invited their customers and potential customers to a dinner and whisky tasting event at elite hotels in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. We spoke about different whiskeys, their history and they also got to taste the best available in the world. We got tremendous feedback from those invited and HSBC and will hold many more customized events with like minded firms in the future.

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