'It is a good time to launch specialised channels as they help break through the clutter' : Rahul Johri - Discovery India senior VP

 Discovery is in restructuring mode. Earlier this year, it announced a reshuffle at the top to handle India operations. And the India office, which was reporting directly in to the Discovery headquarters at Silver Spring, Washington DC, will now come under Singapore as part of the integration strategy.

On the content front, Animal Planet introduced a Hindi feed in April to increase penetration. Discovery Travel and Living is eyeing to put its personality-driven shows at the 10 pm slot.

The company is also adding new channels like Discovery HD to grow the market in India.'s Ashwin Pinto caught up with Discovery India senior VP, GM Rahul Johri to find out more about the company's aggressive plans in India.


What is the main reason behind the restructuring that took place in Discovery recently?

Discovery went into local markets in Europe a few years back, and this yielded very good results. Applying the same model, the Asia Pacific region has been broken up into six - the Saarc countries which include India, China, Japan, North Asia, Australia/New Zealand and South East Asia (Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore).

In India, people have moved up a level. I have management responsibility for India while Rajiv Bakshi looks after marketing. Then there is a regional managing director who sits in Singapore.

We now work and coordinate with Singapore. The response time is much quicker.

Earlier when we reported to Washington, the time zones were different. Also, what is a priority for us may not be as important for them. Now operations are easier in terms of taking decisions and getting clearances.

How does the new operational structure help Discovery India?

Discovery Asia has a strong infrastructure. This will now be more accessible to us. We can approach opportunities on an Asia wide basis as opposed to simply focussing on one country. For instance if a local production is being done out of India or Singapore, it can then be expanded to include other Asian countries. Solutions can be provided to enable this. On the client side also, we can provide solutions more easily so that they get visibility across the region and not just in one country.

What are the key focus areas for India?

Collaborating with the other regions in Asia to drive growth will be important. Sharing of content and resources will be key. We will also strengthen the branding of our channels by making the content more definitive. We will keep refreshing content across all the channels so that audiences get what they want to watch.

Are you looking at growth through launch of more channels?

Yes! As the Indian television market matures, it is a good time for specialised channels to launch as they help break through the clutter.

We have 14 channels and we will bring what we feel will click the best. Discovery HD is definitely a channel we are keen on bringing to India. Discovery Science is another channel that we feel would work well here. Of course, it is also important for cable to go digital. Otherwise getting carried gets difficult.

Discovery has launched Planet Green, a new channel for environment, in the US. Do Are there plans to launch in India?

The channel has just launched in the US. A band of the channel will launch in Southeast Asia. We will see how viewers respond to it. We will test the programming in India and then decide on whether or not to launch the channel here.

'Starting Hindi feed worked for our two channels as there is a lot of commentary. This won't work in Discovery Travel and Living'

In terms of revenue, how important is India within Asia?

India is one of the top markets along with Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Subscription plays a key role everywhere. In India there has been strong growth in ad sales.

How is Animal Planet faring after going Hindi?

The most important thing was the Hindi feed being introduced in April. Now we are able to compete better with National Geographic. Going Hindi was, thus, a progressive step. We play to the core strength of the channel which is focussing on the animal kingdom. We also have hosted shows.

Will you be doing a Hindi feed for Discovery Travel and Living?

No! It worked for our other two channels as there is a lot of commentary. In Discovery Travel and Living, though, it will not be natural to see, for instance, two Chinese people speaking in Hindi.

How has Discovery Travel and Living evolved as a brand since launching four years back?

DTL is perceived as being a distinctive lifestyle channel for upmarket viewers. People are now familiar with our anchors like Nigella Lawson. They also identify with individual shows like our biker content. We keep refreshing our programming. We bring new shows regularly.

What have been the programming highlights for the channel this year?

We did a show with Manish Arora. We are doing two more India productions which will premiere later this year. Our big show now is Cheese Slices. Food is a popular genre for us. So we will kick off a show, Indian Food Made Easy, which will be hosted by Anjum Anand.

We will be launching a multimedia campaign to push our 10 pm slot. This is because our viewers tune in a little later. Personality-based shows will air at this time, seven days a week. The message of the campaign is that at this time you will see hosts like Nigella Lawson, Ian Wright and Anthony Bourdain; the campaign theme will focus on the most recognisable faces on the channel. This will be the largest campaign ever done for the channel.

Is the aim to bring in appointment viewing?

This is one of the goals. The campaign will showcase our biggest properties. We are hoping that it will help expand the reach of the channel and drive in new viewership. It is important that our campaign not focus on just one show. By pushing a band, the recall will be high among viewers.

In what way is the programming strategy being fine tuned for local audiences?

When we started, we had very little India content. We now produce shows from India. Every global show that is being produced, has a segment on India. So if Anthony Bourdain does a new season, he will visit India as well. This is how the relevance of India is growing. Ian Wright used to just host Globetrekker which is about backpack travel. Most of our viewers do not do that. So we tweaked it and now Wright does VIP Weekends. He visits the best hotels globally.

Has the thematic weekend concept worked?

It has done well and the thematic weekends are continuing. But over time our aim is to build a theme across a day - rather than having one theme continuing everyday. Our aim is to strengthen the genres. For instance if you take shows like Anthony Bourdain and Cheese Slices, it is not just about food. It is also about travel, visiting new places. Different genres get intertwined.

What do you look for in a local show?

We always look out for good local concepts. Our aim is to have a definitive show in a certain genre. Once we have decided on this, then we go with the best talent. So we roped in Manish Arora to do a fashion show. He is suited for television as he is so colourful.

Our shows have to have an individual and distinctive personality. They need to be of the same class and quality as the other shows that we air. There can't be any compromise as the same shows travel abroad and showcase India to the world.

What are the other time bands that DTL is developing outside the 10 pm slot?

We are also looking at the midnight to 1 am time slot. People watch us at that hour. I think that some channels are missing out on viewership by not concentrating on this audience. They simply run repeats at this hour. Many people work till late and then watch television.
Is it difficult to get clients to commit serious monies for Discovery Travel and Living with the economy in a downturn?

Our market is on an upswing. Our TG has not been impacted by the downturn. We have over 600 brands with us including L'Oreal and the car companies. Volkswagen is starting a marketing campaign and they are using our channel as a vehicle. Packaged good companies also advertise with us. Companies that want to target the premium audience cut out wastage completely when they come to us.

What are the tentpole properties coming up for Discovery?

Ultimate Olympics is a show that we will air. It looks at the work that has gone behind putting the Olympic Games together. The show gets over a day before the Games start. Another show that will air is Download. This focusses on stories from the internet like the competition between EBay and Amazon.

We will also celebrate Nasa's 50th anniversary with a show When We Left Earth. Nasa has given us footage of the Apollo Missions. This is the first time that Nasa has done this.

What is Discovery's new media strategy?

We already have our website. For the mobile, 3G has to happen; the phones have to support rich media content. Right now one is still with ring tones and music tones.

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