Television

'Our aim is to give history a more broad based appeal, which is why we are focussing on entertainment' : Nikhil Mirchandani - The History Channel India MD

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Live the Story! With the aim of competing better in the English entertainment space The History Channel is pursuing a new strategic direction in India. The aim is to spread the appeal of the channel to more viewers and increase the stickiness level through a variety of shows. These include television movies, documentaries, mini series and long running series.

Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with The History Channel India MD Nikhil Mirchandani to find out about the plans and what lies in store.

Excerpts:

Could you talk about The History Channel's new direction?



I would like to point out that we have not changed our positioning. We own the theme of history and will continue to do so. Our aim is to give history a more broad based appeal, which is why we are focussing on entertainment. Over the last three years we did a few things that set the stage for what we are trying to do today.

We established our positioning of history that no other channel has. History is our middle name so to speak.

In a scenario of over 300 channels distribution is very important. We are the 16th best distributed channel in the country. We managed to do that since we are a part of the Star family.

We established a loyal viewer and advertiser base. We have also marketed ourselves well like getting Diana Hayden to host Biography. Moving towards entertainment is the next logical stage of evolution in our product lifecycle. Our aim is to attract more viewers and advertisers.

In what way has the programming strategy been embellished?



We begin our primetime with factual content at 8 pm. Then there are drama series at 9 pm There will be classic product from our library at 10 pm. At 11 pm there will be a thriller band. On the weekends you have a television movie on Friday at 9 pm For example Hitler The Rise of Evil.

There will also be a combination of fact and fiction. For instance you could see a biography of Marilyn Monroe followed by a drama or a television movie. We are also targeting women in the afternoon with programming that we are confident will appeal to them.

The primetime moves from a youngish factual content to drama to thriller. That evolution of our programming blocks is logical.

According to research how do viewers perceive the channel?



Viewers perceive us as a well respected credible authority on the subject of history. They have constantly expected that of us and we will not dilute that offering. They find us interesting as we deal with personalities like Hitler, Helen of Troy.

The great thing about the History Channel is that it is not restricted by formats. That is not the case with a movie channel that focuses on blockbusters. If they deviate one immediately notices that. Our only concern is whether the story is historically relevant. I would say that English movie channels are undifferentiated from each other.

We have a wide basket from the lifestyle genre, to thrillers to even perhaps stories on 9/11. It will be in terms of formats. By this I mean documentaries, movies, series, one off biopics, long series. The topics have also grown. We will also showcase concerts like Woodstock. History is never going to be the same again and we take advantage of that.

'The new stories we are telling are universal. Also with our dubbing initiative in Hindi we see the appeal spreading beyond the current TG that we have'

Is it fair to say that the audience has become more sophisticated and demanding in the last three years as their exposure has grown?



They have more options today. A time will come not far from today when they will have options to choose how they watch content whether it is through cable or IPTV or DTH. He will also have the choice of when he wants to watch it. The environment is also getting more sophisticated in terms of addressability.

What is the viewer mix like on the channel?



It is pretty equally distributed between male and female. While our core audience is male-female SEC A, B 25-44 Metros and mini Metros we do realise that there are viewers coming in from other demographics.

The new stories we are telling are universal. Also with our dubbing initiative in Hindi we see the appeal spreading beyond the current TG that we have. Having said that our acquisition and scheduling strategy is governed by the SEC A,B TG in the Metro cities.

To what extent have acquisition costs gone up?



Significantly! The drama content are all epic big budget productions. We will leave no stone unturned.

Over a million dollars has been invested in the acquisitions and also on dubbing and marketing activities.

Could you talk about the strategy The History Channel has followed to debunk the theory that history is boring and staid?



We have done focus groups to find out what our viewers think. We tested the entertainment initiative out. Previously they might think that history is boring and what they remember from school as in being a textbook, black and white.

However when we shown them our content where history is brought to life then they want to immerse themselves in the story, the cultural setting. Production values also help a lot. One viewer even told us that our television movie Spartacus reminded him of Gladiator. Their minds open up and their imagination works overtime. It becomes a great story that they want to know more about which they may have only read about previously.

Apart from Biography which of your other shows have proven to be popular?



Conspiracy, Crusades, Secret Agents, Breaking Vegas were appreciated. The last one was about MIT graduates who cracked the codes in Vegas and made history. They were able to fool the casinos. That is what I mean by becoming more broad based. This is about the glamour of Las Vegas and not dull black and white.

'We think that we should be close to the English movies and English entertainment space. This is between 0.4 - 0.6% of the total C&S viewership'

What are the major property acquisitions that have been made in the past couple of months?



There are many. There is Marilyn and Me. There is Nero, Augustus, Saint Peter. We have formed alliances with BBC, Disney, Granada, Universal, Warner Bros.

There are two major media events coming up. One is the release of the film The Da Vinci Code. The other is the Fifa World Cup. Will you be showcasing any specials around these two events?



In June you will see interstitial on the World Cup. June will a Rome month. We will debut the show Rome: Engineering an Empire. This is to coincide with the film release with Tom Hanks. For Fifa there will be short form programming like biographies.

What targets have been set in terms of viewership?



We think that we should be close to the English movies and English entertainment space. This is between 0.4 - 0.6 per cent of the total C&S viewership. Our dubbing will help here.

Who does the dubbing for you?



UTV does the work for us. Drama dubbing is more difficult than documentary. There is a lot more dialogue, emotion involved with fiction shows. The drama has to be put forth succinctly.

When you dub emotions the talent involved needs to be far better We already offer a parallel feed. In the North and West regions we find that a lot of people prefer the Hindi feed. But down South they would rather have English.

One challenge for the English entertainment genre is to create a 360-degree environment. This means interacting with the consumer through other mediums besides on air. What plans does The History Channel have in this regard?



As I pointed out earlier when we exposed out content in our focus groups their minds opened up. This showed us that we need to constantly expose our content to viewers at different outlets. They need to sample us more. So we will use the Star network.

Cinema halls will be important as an audio visual medium best brings out our offerings. We will also use Internet auditoriums. Here you can download links and watch clips, promos. This lets people touch and feel us. This will help us break the myth that history cannot be entertaining.

We are looking to have a presence in malls as they have high footfalls. We also realise that History Channel aficionados also watch movies and read books. So we are trying to tap into them at bookstores and DVD rental libraries. We are looking to expose our content through them through posters.

Is The History Channel taking a cue from the success NGC has had with its mission property in terms of on ground initiatives?



We are exploring available opportunities. It wouldn’t be fair though to compare the History Channel to NGC as the content is different.

Is The History Channel looking to localise? Kindly elaborate.



We will shortly be airing a show on the Mughals. Next year is the 150th anniversary of the 1857 uprising. We will be doing something around that. We have in the past aired biographies on Gandhi. We constantly talk to production houses to do work. This will unfold over the next couple of years.

Are you planning initiatives like maybe school and college contact programmes to create awareness about your product?



This will depend on the show. Most of our audience as I mentioned earlier is in the 25-44 age bracket. If however there is a property that demands that we go to a school then we will.

For example if ninth class students are reading about Mein Kamph or are studying about Hitler then it makes sense for us to show themHitler the Rise Of Evil. That will give them a perspective. As Mein Kamph was written by Hitler a complete perspective is not present. This I am sure will make the subject more exciting for them.

On the advertising front how is The History Channel being sold to clients? What targets have been set?



We are looking to double our revenues in the next fiscal. We have a transparent rate card. We are looking to allow the advertiser to pick and choose the content he wants to be associated with. This marks a change in how television channels are sold.

It is not clubbed with NGC. The History Channel has a separate dedicated team and they have their own set of targets. Nokia, L’Oreal, Samsung are some of our major clients. We have received positive feedback from them on our new initiatives.

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