NGC: Thinking again to entertain and educate

Grow the brand without losing share. That is the challenge that existing players in genres like infotainment are facing.

Towards this end, National Geographic Channel (NGC) underwent a repositioning earlier this year. Meanwhile, sibling The History Channel, which was introduced a couple of years ago, has made some ground but there is still room for improvement.

This report examines where NGC stands today.

Shows like The Serpent have helped NGC localise

Ratings Scenario: Data shows that people are spending comparatively a little less time on NGC and The History Channel. Tam data c&s15+ SEC A,B Five metros shows that for the period Jan-Apr 2005 viewers spent an average of 3 minutes 37 seconds each week on it compared with 4 minutes and 15 seconds each week in the January-April period in 2003 and 3 minutes and 49 seconds in the January to April 2004 period.

As is the case with other English channels localisation initiatives have worked well for NGC. Both Mission Mars and Leopards of Bollywood crossed the 1 TVR. The History Channel has catching up to do. The time spent on it went down marginally to 0.53 seconds in the January to April 2005 period from 1 minute and 12 seconds in the January to April 2004 period.

In terms of share in the primetime band 8-11 pm among infotainment channels NGC comes in a second to Discovery along with Animal Planet. While Discovery had a share of 36 per cent NGC and Animal Planet both have a share of 21 per cent. The History Channel is on the same level as Discovery Travel and Living with 11 per cent.

The Top Shows on NGC in 2004 and 2005

Mission Mars 1.15 Serious Jungle 0.90
Leopards Of Bollywood 1.14 Forest 0.65
Wolves: Legends 0.9 India Special 0.63
Moments 0.77 Shebas Secret 0.58
Mission Mars 0.76 When Animals Attract 0.57
Salton 0.70 Tsunami: Killer Wave 0.53
White Wolf 0.68 Toxic Croc 0.53
Calling All Crocs 0.68 The Serpent 0.53
News Break 0.67 Expedition Africa 0.53
Reds: Myths and Misconcepts 0.66 Mega Series 0.51

Think Again: With the two fold aim of aggressively driving ad revenues and viewership NGC launched its new channel positioning Think Again in India as part of its global repositioning campaign earlier this year.

The aim was to get out the message that NGC had become bolder, more contemporary and is also about entertaining the curious mind.

With this repositioning NGC made a concerted effort to deal with issues that impact people‘s daily lives. That way the channel is hoping to build up a direct connect. Therefore relevant topics like SARS, bird flu, mad cow disease, Aids and small pox are increasingly being tackled. Observers express optimism over the fact that instead of just dealing with facts NGC is now increasingly introducing the human element into its content line up.

Speaking on the programming strategy NGC India senior VP marketing Rajesh Sheshadri says, "We have adopted a simple strategy that caters to intelligent and entertaining programming for our viewers. We want our viewers to ‘Think again‘ of the world they live in, we want to give them a new perspective.

"The programming on the new NGC deals with issues that impact us in our daily life. Issues that are relevant and topical. From Unlocking Da Vinci‘s Code to Extraterrestrials, from microkillers like SARS and bird flu to Terrorism in the 21st century, from Mega Cities to Mega Structures, we show our viewers the world they live in today."

It is worth pointing out that at the same time the challenge is to retain the historic essence of National Geographic as it continues to grow in the direction of the viewer‘s interests and needs. The new on-air graphic elements that were introduced feature light and vibrant effects. To promote the new look and feel, the channel rolled on-air IDs and advertising spots based on the "Think again" theme. The IDs and spots communicated the theme "Think again".

Like its arch rival Discovery NGC too seeks to cater a variety of palettes. Subjects that have been tackled include adventure, history, space, animals and unusual sports. For instance Nat Geo Investigates took viewers across borders to track down fugitives and bring criminals to justice. Another show Expeditions to the Edge showcased expeditions where something went terribly wrong.

Over the years NGC has also celebrated discoveries made in the field of science and medicine. A few years back it brought down geneticist Dr. Spencer Wells in order to promote the documentary Journey of Man. Here Wells presented evidence that showed that all human beings came from one African man who lived 60,000 years ago.

Industry observers feel that apart from educating and entertaining NGC does a good job in giving a seemingly average topic an aspirational bent. An example of that would be the $100 Taxi Ride. While travelling in a taxi is mundane spending 100 dollars on a ride is something that the average Indian cannot afford. In this way the viewer is entertained through something unique.

Constantly ideating: This has been one of the cores to NGC‘s brand proposition. It has looked to use India as an incubating market to test out new ideas.

For instance earlier this year in January, NGC started to offer a dedicated kids block, called Nat Geo Junior. This was created specifically for children aged between seven and 14 years, which was a first in the history of the company. The aim was to offer space where kids could be entertained while learning. It offered a mix of shows like Backyard Science and the Serious series. For animation lovers, there was Doc Eurek- an animated series that brings alive inventions and inventors.

What do media planners thing about it? Information available with indicates that NGC made around Rs 250 million last year. NGC is aiming to push this figure up by 200 per cent by the end of June 2006. A media planner Rahul Panchal feels that NGC‘s recent claim of growing revenue by 300 per cent in the past couple of years could have been possible as the channel started from a very low base. "Earlier NGC and the History Channel were simply sold with the Star bouquet. It was treated as an underdog which to an extent helped rival Discovery garner revenues that go towards the infotainment genre. Now though a dedicated team is in place for NGC and the Hsitory Channel. The media planning community is certainly more aware of their USP.

"I expect some plateauing in terms of revenue growth to happen sometime next year. It has certainly helped that the channel is trying to customise content to the needs of advertisers. There are advertisers like Asian Paints and Nokia who have put their faith in the channel as it seeks to become more sleek, relevant and sophisticated. I am sure that NGC through initiatives like It Happens Only In India will seek to reward those clients. There will also be clients who have not yet come on board but who will later on."

A scene from Megastructures

Mindshare‘s Amin Lakhani says that the advantage an infotainment channel like NGC has is that the absolute costs are low compared to an English movie channel or an English news channel. It will be a fraction of that. So it is a cost effective way to reach out to the cr?me de la creme viewer. "Normally on NGC one does not buy spots based on shows. The aim is to rotate it across different genres of programming.

"The exception is when they do something big like a Mission Everest. Then you would certainly want to be associated with it. I think that now NGC is more in the minds of media buyers compared to say two years ago. The one thing that you have to keep in mind though when looking at the cost effectiveness of genres is that infotainment channels do not have content that is urgent in nature like news channels. New blocks like Nat Geo Junior would have helped NGC attract some kids brands which were not there earlier."

Information available with indicates that a ten second spot on NGC goes for around Rs 850-900. Discovery would be around Rs 1200. Its sibling Discovery Travel and Living averages Rs 1000. Animal Planet will be around Rs 450 as is also the case with The History Channel. HBO would be on an average Rs 2500. Star Movies would be around Rs 3000.

One of NGC‘s key properties is Mission

Going on Missions: Arguably NGC‘s biggest initiatives have rested in the localisation arena. It commissions Indian production houses like Miditech and UTV to make shows for it. This is done through its tie up with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) for the Documentary Production Fund. The commissioned shows air across Asia. In 2004 NGC received 125 entries from Indian documentary producers at, the interactive website that acts as an interface between the channel and producers.

Leopards Of Bollywood which did well in the ratings told the terrifying story of leopards that have stuck terror in the commercial and film hub of India - Bollywood.

Another special Vultures: Death Watch by Miditech for NGC set out to find what‘s killing vultures on the Indian sub-continent. The biggest challenge was also to put into a coherent story, the scientific investigation that has troubled and perplexed experts across the world. Keen journalistic research work coupled with a taut narrative looked to resolve a mystery that was unfolding even as the film was being made. Stuntmen of Bollywood from UTV examined the life of stuntmen.

Having said all that NGC‘s biggest localisation initiative which is also its most expensive is the Mission property. It started in 2003 when it did Mission Everest. This was the first time that NGC did a show keeping the India viewer specifically in mind. NGC sought to leverage the 50th anniversary of the Everest climb. Everest spanned a period of six months and the broadcaster associated with the Indian Army for this. NGC invested over Rs. 110 million on the initiative which gave Indians the chance to reach base camp of the famous mountain. It had also tied up with Jamling Norgay whose father Tenzing Norgay was the first to climb the mountain along with Edmond Hillary.

Sheshadri says that India-centric initiatives like Mission Everest are an extension of the programming strategy. "Mission Everest helped us become the number one channel in our category post its launch and that‘s what we expect from our other localisation initiatives as well. Localised initiatives give us that cutting edge when it comes to connecting with our viewers."

A scene from Leopards Of Bollywood

What is interesting is that the way planners deal with NGC has also changed. This is also the case with other infotainment channels like Discovery. Earlier because one spent a certain amount of money on the channel a client would get sponsorship positions. Today if one wants a sponsorship for a Mission property or for It Happens Only In India then one has to spend a certain amount of money on NGC.

Sheshadri says, "We see ourselves as solution providers and it is this very mindset that has seen us increase revenues by over 300 per cent over the last two years. We have a very informed and motivated ad sales team who are constantly looking to see how we can work with our clients to provide market solutions for their brands."

Talking about what is important in retaining a more demanding viewer who has more options to choose from today compared with a few years back Sheshadri points out that programming has to be relevant; it should engage and be presented in a manner that‘s relatable to the viewer. "Unlocking Da Vinci‘s Code for example, was relevant and contemporary and hence a share of 40 per cent for the show wasn‘t surprising."

The top shows on The History Channel

Boys Toys 0.45 Lifestyle Dot TV 0.37
Mission Critical 0.45 The Unexplained 0.34
Biography 0.37 In the Line Of Fire 0.34
Boys Toys 0.36 In the Line Of Fire 0.30
Biography 0.35 Biography 0.27
Mission Critical 0.34 Biography 0.26
Salton 0.33 Histories Mysteries 0.26
Conquest 0.31 Biography 0.25
Modern Marvels 0.29 Biography 0.24
Moments In Time 0.29 Hollywood Heroes 0.23
Biography 0.29 History‘s Lost And Found 0.23

A Blast from The Past: One can argue that the most unique of all the English infotainment channels from a content perspective is The History Channel. Launched a couple of years ago when Adventure One, which failed to attract an audience was gradually phased out it was positioned as being a channel that brings the power and passion of the past to life. As an industry observer points out the brand recognition is immediate.

There is no other channel on Indian television that deals with history. What is unique media buyers opine, is that history can speak to anybody - kids, youth, people over the age of 45 and high end consumers. The advantage that The History Channel has is that topics of a historical nature are done only sparingly as an occasional stunt by some channels like news channels. The other advantage is that at times there is similarity between NGC and Discovery in ternms of topics covered. That is not the case with The History Channel which rather than dealing with facts and figures like the other two channels is more educative.

Sheshadri says that one of the main aims of the channel is to break the notion that history is dull and boring. That is why even for a topic that is over 100 years old like French Revolution the aim is to give it a contemporary look and feel. The show was a recreation and the promo spots were designed to give the feel of a movie. One show that is airing now is The Write Stuff. It examines the lives of famous writers like Shaespeare. Information available with indicates that The History Channel would have earned in the region of Rs. 70-80 million last year.

Observers feel that going forward The History Channel would do well to look within India for more content as there is a great opportunity here to grow viewership.

At the same time there is also a feeling among the industry that the History Channel perhaps needs to market itself more aggressively both on a trade and on a consumer level. Since it is very educational in nature school and college contact programmes could be done. That would provide for an advertiser on the History Channel to get an opportunity for brand activation at the ground level as well.

And what of the belated Adventure One? While it is available from midnight to 8 am on cable NGC officials feel that it has better scope in a Cas led or in a DTH environment. It should make an appearance on Star‘s upcoming DTH platform.

Conclusion: Clearly greater customisation is imperative if the two channels are to grow in terms of viewership and ad revenue. NGC is certainly on the right path as far as making itself more relevant is concerned. Now it is the turn of The History Channel to take a leaf from NGC‘s book in terms of localising both on the air and on the ground.


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