Television

'We are keen on bringing in more channels' : Deepak Shourie - Discovery Networks India MD

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For Discovery Networks India, 2007 has been a year of growth. The company carried out a slew of local initiatives including celebrating 60 years of India's Independence. It is also looking at airing more HD content from overseas, coming out with thematic week slots for Discovery Travel and Living, and doing local productions.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto, Discovery Networks India MD Deepak Shourie talks about the company's eagerness to bring in more channels, address different target segments, and prepare the ground for exploiting new media.

Excerpts:

Discovery globally has been undergoing major restructuring this year. Has India been impacted?

There is more sharing of resources happening now. We see Discovery as one brand rather than saying, for instance, that what is happening in the UK is separate from other countries.

India is an important part of this brand story. We take content from other parts of the world and what we produce in India travels abroad. With India today being the flavour of the world, this of course helps.

As cable operators digitalise their networks, do you see this as an opportunity to bring in more channels from the Discovery stable?

We are examining this possibility. We are keen on bringing in more channels even though we realise that there is no space on analogue cable networks and getting distribution is tough. Cable operators are in a position to demand higher carriage fees due to lack of space. Digitisation will not become a complete reality unless consolidation within the cable industry happens.

Are you satisfied at the growth of digitisation in terms of Cas and DTH?

With direct-to-home (DTH), we are happy to see Tata Sky and Dish TV spreading their reach. But with Cas (conditional access system), what we feared would happen has happened. We have been saying that Cas can't be mandatory; it has to be voluntary. You can't force it down people's throats. That is why the uptake of set top boxes (STBs) in the Cas areas has been low.

Broadcasters are suffering as they have no idea as to how many homes have taken their channels. The multi-system operators (MSOs) do not have a proper billing system in place.

We are entering a phase when we will see the launch of more English channels. How do you view this scenario of fragmentation?

We are happy to see more channels come in. Since Discovery is a well established brand, we are not worried about our share of viewership; we have grown to be the number one international channel in the country. We have achieved the aim of making Discovery mainstream as opposed to being niche. The new channels that come in will find it difficult to build viewership.

Discovery has boosted its reach partly due to its Hindi feed. Are you looking at regional languages?

No! We were evaluating this possibility. However, we decided that these two languages give us enough reach. In the South, English is well respected.

'For Discovery, we are seeing more male viewership. Discovery Travel and Living targets SEC A men and women. For Animal Planet, a global strategy is being worked out'

Has there been a change in terms of how viewers have consumed the channel over the last couple of years?

For Discovery, we are seeing more male viewership. This is because of the kind of shows we air. We focus on things like engineering, science and cars which appeal more to men.

Discovery Travel and Living targets SEC A men and women.

For Animal Planet, a global strategy is being worked out. We are waiting for this.

India is a young country with high aspirations. Over time we will see some movement away from entertainment television towards television that is informative. This is how growth will happen for us.

One of Discovery's major initiatives was celebrating 60 years of India's independence. How has the experience been working with India's scientific and technological community?

Our aim was to showcase innovations at a grassroots level. It seemed a good way to show the progress India is making. We also want to encourage innovation. The technological community was very open and appreciative to what we did. Local shows play an important part in driving viewers to the channel.

What has Discovery's strategy been to lure in more viewership?

Our main aim has been to ensure that the primetime is very strong. We start with the 'Wild' section, then move on to technology, trends and India hour.

Our aim is to two-fold. Firstly during primetime, the content on our channel must be important and matter to our viewers. Our second aim is to ensure that viewers return to our channel even during non-primetime.

What are the major properties coming up on the channel?ce?

The biggest one is Atlas which will kick off towards the latter part of next month. This will look at different countries - India, Australia, Italy and South Africa. The show looks at different facets - be it culture, topography, etc. It has been filmed in high-definition. It looks to combine the quality of a blue-chip documentary with the detail and clarity of HD.

Another property we are excited about is Into Alaska With Jeff Corwin. Alaska has America's highest mountain; it has a great element of wilderness as well as fascinating animals. A population of less than that of New York City spreads out over an area three times the size of Texas. Jeff Corwin brings this wilderness to viewers.

Race To Mars looks at the race to first reach the Red Planet by 2030. China is leading the way.

Once again, America and its partners, including Canada, are thrust into a winner-take-all space race. Six individuals from Canada, the US, Russia, France and Japan are selected for this gruelling two-year mission. This crew sets out on humanity's first expedition to another world; nothing can prepare them for the unexpected danger and staggering wonder of what they will experience.

Abroad Discovery is focussing on the environment with its major eco green initiative. Are you looking to do something in India along these lines?

We will air this in India. Discovery US has tied up with Leonardo DiCaprio for the eco green initiative. Once this content becomes available we will see what can be done in India to add value.

Discovery Asia and Nokia teamed up for a filmmaker's initiative. How has this worked out?

It was a marketing relationship. This was for mobile filmmaking where the winner got the chance to work in Discovery Asia's Singapore headquarters and learn about making documentaries. The initiative gave people the chance to innovate.

How does Discovery Travel and Living reach its viewers?

Viewers have found us. We have more SEC A viewers watching us than any other channel. Income levels are going up. Where will this money be spent? On lifestyle. That is why they will watch us for information and also entertainment.

It is a difficult proposition for most channels to catch this audience. People in this segment do a lot of things during their leisure time.

Has this helped you in roping in big advertisers?

We have sold most of our inventory. Every lifestyle brand that launches a new product comes to Discovery Travel and Living. At the moment we are doing something for India Today Travel Plus. In the past we have done initiatives for companies like AmEx Platinum Card.

Is the channel also looking at forging tie-ups with tourist resorts, tourist boards etc?

In the past, we have done shows for states like Chattisgarh. We did a France Week recently and we did a press event at the French embassy. Sometimes, tourism boards advertise on our channel.

Could you shed light on Discovery Travel and Living's plans for the first quarter of next year?

We have a couple of interesting shows lined up. There is a show called The Petra Nemcova Project; it is about this international supermodel who is grooming six other potential models. The show chronicles the real story of what it takes to be a model in New York City, without staged eliminations or contrived challenges.

Six new models are brought to the biggest stage in modelling and viewers follow them from their first test shoot to the runways of New York Fashion Week.

Nemcova serves as a mentor and friend to the prospective models, as they learn the trade of modelling and the business of fashion. Using her own life experiences, Petra advises the models on how to succeed and underscores the importance of having a well-rounded life.

We will also premiere a show called Nigella Express. Nigella Lawson is a popular TV chef on our channel.

She takes viewers on a quick and easy journey through the world of getting fabulous healthy food on the table fast. It is the sort of food viewers can cook fast around the clock, any day of the week, to fit whatever amount of time is available. Starting with everyone's everyday nightmare of what to eat for dinner, to getting entire banquets on the table in less than 30 minutes, this is a series that will resonate with everyone struggling with hurried, time-squeezed, modern life.

We are also looking at a couple of Indian productions.

The channel is doing thematic weeks. Could you elaborate on this?

These run from Monday to Friday at 9-10 pm. It allows us to showcase special programming for viewers. This also works for advertisers as they can sponsor a particular week's programme. During this quarter, we are doing a lot of country-specific programmes, looking at the adventure spots and opportunities for tourism and travel.

Abroad, Discovery has looked to expand through new media. What plans are there in India to tap into mobile and internet?

Both of these are under review. Global strategies are being worked out for them. It will be a different ballgame as the mobile screen is small; it will complement traditional TV viewing as it is good for snippets of news, music and sports.

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