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'We have seen double digit revenue growth' : Rajesh Sheshadri - NGC India senior VP content and communication

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With DTH growing in the country and cable addressability expected to spread more channels, special interest broadcasters are looking to increase their offerings. One of these is the National Geographic Channel (NGC). The broadcaster is looking to bring four more channels in the near future.

Indiantelevision.com's Ashwin Pinto caught up with NGC India senior VP content and communication Rajesh Sheshadri to find out about the network's growth plans in India.

Excerpts:

NGC is looking to launch more channels in India. Could you shed light on this?

The four new Nat Geo channels that we plan to launch in India have already proven to be popular in countries where they are currently available. Nat Geo Music, Nat Geo Wild, Nat Geo Adventure and Nat Geo HD allow us to expand our commitment to quality programming and to create specialist channels in genres which are at the very heart of the National Geographic brand.

The core channel will continue to expand its successful contemporary science, technology and exploration strands and will be clearly differentiated from the specialist Nat Geo Channels.

Our aim is to offer compelling programming across genres and we feel that this is the right time to launch new channels that will cater to the growing public appetite for high quality television viewing.

When is the launch happening?

We have applied to the government for the licenses. We are looking to launch these channels within a month after we get the approval. We would look to launch all four of them together as the impact would be much more.

Is there a gap that these channels are looking to fill in an environment where audience expectations are growing exponentially?

Absolutely! All the channels are unique in their category. There are no other channels that compete with them. We need to create channels to cater to the maturing taste of our audience.

Will local content play a key role in these new channels like it does for NGC and THC?

Yes! 15 per cent of content on our existing channels is local. We want to hit this mark as soon as possible for our new channels as well. It could happen within the first quarter of launch. Local content will allow us to connect in a very effective manner with our TG.

Distribution is going to be a huge problem for the new channels with cable networks demanding high carriage fee. How do you plan to tackle this?

We will have to plan our distribution strategy carefully and see that we are present with those operators and platforms who best serve our TG. There is no need for us to be present en masse.

What is the core TG for these channels?

The programming on these new channels is targetted at audiences eager to stretch the boundaries of their knowledge about the world they live in. In some cases, the channels will target the same demographic but clearly a different psychographic.

Nat Geo Wild will appeal to the entire family: men, women, children, from 6-60 years old.

Owing to the technology involved, Nat Geo HD will attract premium, affluent households in the bigger cities. With the enhanced picture frame composition, sharper picture quality and surround sound system, National Geographic Channel HD will deliver more intimate, closer to life and theatre-like experiences. The channel will feature explorers and cutting-edge filmmakers. It will showcase documentary programmes, stories and credibility that viewers expect from us.

Nat Geo Adventure, whose DNA is around travel, adventure and culture, will be targeted towards the 18+ age group while Nat Geo Music is targetted at an older audience above 25 years.

As far as your two existing channels go, what kind of revenue and viewership growth are they seeing?

Both the channels have grown significantly in terms of viewership and revenues over the last few years. They have registered double digit growth in revenue over the last year. We are also seeing an increase in viewership and in time spent on the two channels.

What prompted the rebranding of The History Channel?

In its two years of existence in India, The History Channel had established itself as a credible authority and owner of the theme of history. The strategic shift allowed us to move the channel to the next phase of evolution and broad base its appeal.

The History Channel's fresh and stylishly packaged look and feel has been created and designed internally to reflect a much more distinctive on-air presence. The primary objective behind this makeover was to make history entertaining for our audiences. The look is more edgy and young.

What are the major tentpole properties coming up for it?

History Rocks, one of our biggest properties this year, is currently on air and will go on till September. A 17-part series, it brings together concerts, documentaries and interviews featuring rock icons of yester years and offers a glimpse into the life of these rock legends.

We organised a series of rock concerts across Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore featuring some of the best Indian rock bands including Parikrama (they performed at the first History Rocks concert held on 23 May in New Delhi), Galeej Gurus (performed on May 30 in Bangalore) and The Works (performed on 5 June in Mumbai)

Going forward, you will see more big-ticket activities. We will air Warriors, a new series from 4 July every Friday night at 9 PM, which will comprise spectacles based on the lives of eight men who shaped the world around them, either by sheer force of will, genius, courage or even greed.

Another series that is in the pipeline is an eight-week show called Human Weapon, starting 21 August every Thursday night at 10 pm. This new series features two martial arts adventurers, who embark on a journey to reveal the history behind the different forms of combat.

Chinese Whispers is a series wherein each episode will challenge an accepted fact to uncover the truth behind history's most intriguing topics - using the latest DNA and underground technology and new archaeological evidence. This new series will be aired every Wednesday night at 10 pm starting 3 September.

Is THC also creating TG specific slots like for women and kids?

Yes, we have specific slots for women and children as well. We have a band in the afternoon that caters to women. For the children, we have a weekly slot on Sundays called THC Classroom. THC classroom showcases curriculum relevant content for school children. We believe that this band will help make history more entertaining and engaging to children.

'Fifteen per cent of content on our existing channels is local. We want to hit this mark as soon as possible for our new channels as welle'
In what manner has THC grown its community outreach programmes like Save Your History over the past few months? How important is it from a brand building perspective?

Save Your History is a concept that we believe in since it brings history closer to an individual. However, last year there was an internal realisation that we had to make this concept into a much bigger initiative than initially planned.

Such platforms are important for us as The History Channel is committed to making history entertaining. Initiatives such as these allow people to share and collaborate on entertaining facets of the genre. Currently, we are revising our plans for this initiative. We'll be able to share these plans once we firm up the details.

In terms of local shows, are you talking with local production houses to explore ideas?

Yes we are. We are always looking at ways to localise the channel. We believe that local content always has that additional traction with viewers.

The Mission properties have been key for NGC. What have the learnings been from doing this over the years?

Over the years, Mission properties have become synonymous with NGC, which I think is a great achievement given the clutter in the market and the absence of clearly differentiated content. From our perspective, the largeness and the uniqueness that is associated with it puts a lot of responsibility on us too.

We don't want to commoditise that positioning and hence we are very careful when it comes to using the 'Mission' name for any property. We, therefore, need to ensure that the topic being covered is also unique and a first.

Before deciding on a subject, what are the key elements that you look for? How much research goes into it?

A Mission property by definition is a 'by India, for India' property. Through the Mission property, we look forward to reach out to a larger segment of people. The idea, therefore, should have a broad based appeal, should be locally relevant and above all should be in sync with our philosophy of making viewers 'Think again'. The idea here is to take viewers to places where no one else can. It has to, therefore, be unique and an unparalleled 360-degree experience.

What is next in this regard?

There are always a lot of ideas but a Mission property is a big initiative. It requires a lot of planning and background work. We are planning to launch a Mission this year and will share the details soon.

Are there any changes going to be made in terms of how NGC is programmed like time slots, genres?

Right now, we are focussed on building specific nights. We have our existing slot of Megastructures on Thursdays at 8 pm, which is performing extremely well. We plan to build that slot. Later this month, we will be premiering a new series Super Factories on that slot. Super Factories takes viewers inside the shop floor of iconic brands like BMW, Corvette, etc.

We also have Brand New Sunday, which showcases our newest and best programmes. We are looking at renewed product and communication to strengthen these slots.

Over the next three months, we have an exciting and interesting line up. We have Long Way Down featuring Hollywood superstar Evan Mcgregor, World's Deadliest Animals and Food Lover's Guide to the Planet. All these are extremely informative and entertaining shows and we believe that these properties will get the requisite traction from the viewers.

On the advertising front, how are the two channels faring?

We had an inventory growth of 15 per cent on NGC and 30 per cent on THC. We also had a 10 per cent increase in the number of active clients on the channels. These I think are great indicators of how the revenue is shaping up.

What are the kinds of solutions that long term clients can avail of that go beyond just the 30-second spot?

At Nat Geo, we take pride in seeing each brand as a unique entity and offering innovative solutions that best suit the advertiser's needs. Our association with brands like Godfrey Phillips Bravery, Lufthansa, Titan and Makemytrip.com are examples of our ability to go beyond the brief and delivering out of the box solution for our partners.

With our latest initiatives 'Lufthansa Nat Geo Genius' and 'Trapped', we went way beyond the conventional 30-second spot and incorporated our sponsors' messaging in a simple yet effective manner without it looking like a forced fit for viewers.

Godfrey Phillips Bravery has been honouring the brave since 1990 and we found there was a natural fit between their mission and the essence of our series 'Trapped', which was to showcase and salute the strength of human endurance, will and determination. Similarly, our internationally acclaimed game show's Indian edition, Nat Geo Genius was a perfect platform for Lufthansa to reach out to its target audience.

As part of the innovative tie-up with Titan, we created an exclusive commercial for their new Aviator range using the exclusive footage on fighter planes from our 'Top Gun' series. For makemytrip.com, we created a special adventure zone on their website by sharing assets such as Nat Geo adventure wallpapers and screensavers to boost their adventure travel segment.

These associations demonstrate our ability to provide integrated marketing solutions to our partners and going beyond the conventional commercial time.

Abroad, broadcasters have started to create separate channels for the mobile and Internet. Content is specifically tailored for them. How far away are NGC and THC from doing this?

For NGC, we have mobile-ready content. We have a complete range of short form virals (30-45 seconds), mobisodes (3-4 minutes), ringtones, wallpapers, text based content, etc. We are in talks with both mobile service providers and handset providers to launch NGC on the mobile.

We are already present on the Plus application on 57827. We run regular SMS contests on the channels to engage with our viewers. In addition to the mobile space, we are also making significant investments in the online space. We are redesigning the NGC website and the new version should be launched in the next couple of weeks. The NGC website, going forward, will function as a full fledged destination in itself.

The English entertainment space will see new entrants over the next two years. Do you see this growing viewership for the genre or will it simply increase fragmentation?

Today, every brand must make that additional effort to connect with the consumer whose needs and wants are changing by the day. As long as a channel owns a clearly defined space in the mind of the consumer, fragmentation wouldn't really matter.

National Geographic Channel and The History Channel have a clear and distinct positioning in the mind of the viewer. All initiatives by the channels are to reinforce this distinct positioning, and as long as we keep doing that, the launch of other channels will not affect us.

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