Television

'We see DT&L exploding over the next few years as an advertising category and a wish category' : Aditya Tripathi- Discovery lifestyle networks VP

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Discovery Travel and Living VP -lifestyle networks Aditya Tripathi was in Bangalore to showcase the channel's new local show 'A Matter of Taste' hosted by television anchor Vir Sanghvi. The show follows Sanghvi as he embarks on on a culinary journey to explore Indian tastes, debunk myths and discover the finest in Indian food and drink.

Indiantelevision.com's Tarachand Wanvari caught up with Tripathi to get a lowdown on the localisation plans, the challenges of shooting in India and client customisation.

Excerpts:

How would you describe the progress that Discovery has made this year?

Discovery is growing really well. In the first 13 weeks of this calendar year, we've beaten everybody. That's all English news, all English movies, all English music channels - MTV et al.

Would this apply to Discovery alone or other channels - Animal Planet and Discovery Travel & Living (DTL)?

This is Discovery alone. There is not even a comparison with the other channel in our genre (NGC).

What's new in the programming line-up on DTL, especially from India?

The big one is of course A Matter of Taste with Vir Sanghvi. We are working on a couple of other programmes also. There's one on Indian fashion and style which will come out towards the end of the year.

Then there's one based on a hotel (Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai) which will go on air by July or so, this year. We have actually gone into a hotel and spent three months there. It covers the hotel, about how a hotel functions. When you go to the reception of a hotel, some pretty girl smiles at you, they give you a room key, you go up, actually there are lots of people working behind the scenes that you don't see. So how does the hotel function?

The channel is an international channel and the intention has always been that it will be an international channel with some 15-20 per cent Indian content. The majority of the programming will always come from outside. You are looking at the Indian who wants to see the world, not an insular person who wants to see only content about India.

And what about the fashion and style show that you mentioned?

We have already started working on that. We have taken a well known fashion designer and we are working with him on this show. I'll share the name with you when the show is closer to being completed.

In this series we are traveling around India and outside the country also. We look at rural fashion, we look at pop art, we look at cheap fashion, it's not only the high haute couture and the expensive fashion. We are at looking at the Indian style sensibilities across the board. And not only in clothes, in interiors, in hotels, in all kinds of things. It's a very interesting show, but we have shot only two episodes right now, so we are still working on it.

Some of the episodes will be location specific, so we'll look at a part of the country. Other episodes will be following a story in preparing for a fashion show.

How many episodes have you planned for? What about the sponsors for the series?

It will be a 13-episode series. We've not yet lined up sponsors for the moment. We'll wait till we have a little more polished stuff to show them. We've just shot two episodes. The concept has been talked about to a number of people who are interested.

So is it mainly the garment industry that is interested?

No, because it's not only clothes and that kind of fashion. We've got interest from car brands, we've got interests from mobile phone companies, paints, even those categories. Then jewelry and accessories will also come in.

Your first local show was 'The Great Indian Wedding' where one episode was aired. What is the status on that?

Depending upon the press you read, we were covering so many things. According to The Times of India, we were covering the Bachchan-Ash wedding also, but that's not true.

We have created a brand, but we want to find very special weddings. For a lot of weddings that are special, either the people are not very comfortable to be in the public domain or there are a number of weddings where the people are scared of the tax authorities. And then there are some people who are very conscious of publicity and keen to get it, but it may not be a very classy wedding.

We are going to keep this as an irregular one-off show. Every time there's a wedding, we approach the family and if we can shoot, we'll take it forward from there. But the original plan was to do a series of many weddings, we've decided not to do that.

What are the challenges that you face while making something out of India?

One challenge that we have is to convince our colleagues in other parts of the world that it will be a good story. Because we see now on Discovery channel, on our own channel DT&L there are now many programmes that are being made out of India. There's a series like the one by Anthony Bourdain, or any of these international shows, they come and make one or two episodes out of India, but they come with their foreign crew, foreign anchor and cameramen and they come and shoot here and they go back and shoot the rest of the series everywhere.

We are in the process of convincing them that an Indian production unit can make a show just as well, plus, we make them at a lower cost. The point is that the storytelling will be as good, the production quality will be as good. That's one of the main challenges that we face.

Could you shed light on the logistical challenges?

Shooting a series which is not based in a studio is always a challenge. For instance, each half hour episode of A Matter of Taste has involved seven to eight days of travelling and shooting around different cities, plus the dubbing and editing and other work. For each episode we'll go to three or four cities. The logistics for that are challenging, but it's not that they would be any different anywhere else.

What about your programmes that are focused on communities such as the drinking community - The Thirsty Traveller?

That is one guy, an anchor called Kevin Brauch who travels around the world, like you have food programs and travel programs, his program is to explore the drinking culture and the different local beverages. That's a show that has been very popular.

Is anything coming out of India on those lines?

There was talk that they would come to India. I was in touch with the production company and there was a little problem with getting permission. So we are now working with them to try and get an episode out of India.

Won't there be conflict with the authorities on that? After all alcoholic drinks are products that you can't even advertise about in India?

Well, all that we have heard so far is that they had permission problems. We are not sure what they are. We are working with them to find out.

What is the situation as far as advertising is concerned?

Of the English entertainment channels including movies, we have sold more inventory, more secondage than any of the others in the last year. That is movies, Star World, Zee Café…

But those are a different genres altogether?

We are the only lifestyle channel. When we launched two and a half years ago, Zoom, Star One VH1 - we were launching at the same time and all four were saying that we are lifestyle. Now I think that all the others have changed their formula.

Certainly among the advertising community, we are recognised as the only lifestyle channel. But being a single channel in a genre that is not defined by anyone, it's very difficult to define, so we compare ourselves with English entertainment. Because generally the values of the programming are the same, it's kind of an unwinding programme that you watch to entertain.

'Depending upon the press you read, we were covering so many things. According to The Times of India, we were covering the Bachchan-Ash wedding also, but that's not true.'

So have your advertiser numbers improved from the 236 brands that you had said sometime ago?

Yes. The number of brands keep going up. The very interesting thing about the channel is that from the day we launched, actually even before we launched, we said that we'd be an upscale channel and we are trying to fill a niche for the advertiser of upscale products.

Today, traditionally a lot of advertisers for upscale products are on print. They are not on TV, because most channels are not focused. So we said that we will come in and reach those kinds of advertisers. So Pepsi will not advertise on my channel, but Diet Pepsi will advertise or Crush will advertise. Now Airtel no longer advertises on our channel for their standard connections because they are much more of a mass product, but Blackberry Pearl will come on our channel, Samsung LCD screens will come on our channel. The battle for us is not to get as many advertisers as we can, the battle is to keep that focus.

To return to the localisation issue how many of the Indian programmes are being broadcast abroad? Where do you get the best response from?

In Discovery the way this works is that all the shows that we make here are offered to our colleagues and then it's up to them to buy them. So our last production Indian Rendezvous is there outside the country, in UK, this was a six-episode series and all the six episodes will be there. In the case of A Matter of Taste which is now complete, we'll be sending it to them. I am confident that this will also air around the world.

Singapore, which is the whole of Asia region and the UK, these are the places where there is maximum affinity. But I am hoping that going forward the US will also start buying into the programming. Right now it is UK more than the rest of Europe. But now that India is on the top of mind for everyone around the world, I am expecting that our spread will be greater than it is now.

As far as your international content is concerned and programme blocks, is there anything special happening?

One show that we are looking forward to is Queer Eye For The Straight Guy which we will introduce later this year. This is a makeover show for men.

Each episode features a new candidate usually a straight/heterosexual man ready to be culturally transformed. Each candidate prepares for a special event and receives generous guidance from each Fab Five member in their respective categories of expertise. Candidates are prepared for such events as a marriage proposal, a first dinner with a girlfriend's parents, and a backyard barbecue.

We have a women's hour. However our viewership is homogeneous. So we have not focussed on building programme blocks.

Have you done any further client customisation like you did for HSBC some time ago and what has been the response to such efforts? How effective has customization been for your clients?

We do a lot of client customisation where we package programs. We had a Monday to Friday programme Off to the Caribbean with Pepsi Gold around the World Cup time. What we do is to pick up a selection of programmes.

A few weeks ago we did something for HT Mint, a very upscale targeting was required, so we did a series that we already had for Europe. We packaged that as Mint Money Mantras. With the travel site yatra.scom we did Amazing Yatras.

That kind of customisation happens all the time. In terms of product integration, we haven't done that yet, but are looking at doing that as well. In terms of effectiveness the client keeps on coming back for more so obviously it is quite effective for them.

Who are your repeat clients?

Pepsi is a repeat client. They have come back on various occasions and we keep getting new clients also. So it's obviously effective.

What marketing activities does the channel do to create awareness?

We don't do a lot of marketing. Word of mouth has helped us a lot. The fact is that our target audience is tough to reach through the traditional mass media. Having said that, we did put in some ads in newspapers to create awareness about A Matter Of Taste.

Discovery Lifestyle launched a couple of channels in Malaysia recently. Any plans to bring them into India?

Not at the moment. While DTH and digital cable are growing this is not immediately on our radar.

Who are the big advertisers from Bangalore ?

Yeah, I do, to meet the advertisers. There's Britannia, then you've got ITC here, they are the big ones. Titan, Tanishq, IBM-Lenovo, etc. ING is a big client, Kingfisher Airlines, lot of these are our clients. In the case of the IT software companies, it's more of a B2B arrangement, so we don't have these as our clients.

Could you offer your views on the television scene in India?

These are exciting times. Well, every time you open a website or a newspaper you see channels being launched left, right and center. Every one is launching channels. You've reported that Sun has started a Kids channel.

So how long do you think these can be sustained?

I've been working with media for a long time now. Even in the mid nineties, people were saying that so many channels are being launched and they won't be able to sustain, but no high profile channel has really gone down. They are still able to financially keep going. Obviously there is a lot of money following the channels. You know especially when distribution money is not very substantial. Around the world, channels run on distribution money, the subscription route. If that is not substantial, then it's very difficult.

Finally where do you see DT&L over the next three years?

We launched about two and a half years ago to fit into the upscale Indian. We were hoping to create a new category of advertisers. We've had success so far in shifting and attracting the TV advertisers. One thing that hasn't happened yet is that a lot of print only advertisers haven't yet moved onto TV. That's one thing that we expect to do a lot on.

As the economy booms, as more tourists start travelling, we are very well paced and we really see this channel as an advertising category and a wish category exploding over the next few years. I am very proud of what we have done so far. We are ahead of our advertising and revenue targets, but we expect that the next two or three years will really be boom time for us. The operations here are profitable, but we never disclose country specific breakup details.

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