Television

“India programming is the key growth pillar of our content strategy:” Rahul Johri

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Completing twenty years of operations in India this year is Discovery Channel and it can be safely said that since its launch in 1995, the network has not only grown in terms of the number of channels but also in terms of producing original content.

 

Helming it for the past 13 years is Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific South Asia senior vice president & general manager Rahul Johri. In his decade plus stint, Johri built a robust portfolio of 11 brands in the South Asia region including Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, TLC, ID-Investigation Discovery, Discovery Kids, Discovery Science, Discovery Turbo, Discovery HD World, TLC HD World, Animal Planet HD World and Discovery Tamil. Moreover, he is also credited with generating revenue, affiliate partnerships, viewership growth, content creation, government relations and talent management.

 

In conversation with Indiantelevision.com’s Seema Singh, Johri throws light on the network’s journey in India so far and more.

 

Excerpts:

 

How has the network’s 20 years journey been in India? From setting up operations to getting in viewership, what were the challenges that the network faced?

 

It’s been a fantastic journey for Discovery in India. We have presented and engaged the viewers with new brands and compelling content over the years. We expanded penetration in the country with our localisation strategy.

 

We have brought in an eclectic programming mix across networks that have the right blend of Indian and international content. We have consistently presented India themes that can travel the world and international themes relevant to India.

 

Throughout the last 20 years in India, Discovery Channel has demonstrated its commitment to satiate the curiosity of viewers by showcasing them some of the most fascinating stories from the past, current and future; breathtaking locations across geographies, continents and universe; and astonishing and most passionate personalities from across the world.

 

What have been the high points of this 20 year journey?

 

The last 20 years have been quite a fascinating journey for us. Discovery pioneered factual entertainment in India with the launch of Discovery Channel in 1995 and introduced a refreshing new wave of programming and completely changed the viewer’s expectations from television. 

 

One of the high points has been the encouraging feedback from the viewers on our content. The success of our languaging strategy was immensely satisfying as it brought the viewer in every corner of the country closer to the Discovery world.

 

Having unmatched access to produce shows of remarkable stature like Rashtrapati Bhavan, National Defence Academy in India and present them to Indian audience and around the world is extremely gratifying.

 

And of course the expansion of our portfolio into 11 unique content channels catering to distinct viewer segments is a testimony of the value our brand offers and the trust it enjoys among its core audience.

 

What was the thought behind launching these 11 different channels? Are there any new channel launches in the pipeline?

 

We have expanded our portfolio three times over the last five years. Each channel launch was aimed to offer new and distinct entertainment experience to the Indian viewers. We expanded the definition of factual entertainment by launching Animal Planet in 1998, which presented wildlife programming.

 

When we launched India’s first international lifestyle channel – TLC, viewers announced their liking for it almost overnight. It was a strong inflection point for the burgeoning Indian television market. The entire industry, including the advertisers and affiliate, took note of the refreshing content and what it meant to viewers.

 

The aspirational, well-travelled and globally active Indian viewer demanded more unique content, 24-hours 365 days a year. Therefore, we launched two successful media brands from our global portfolio– Discovery Turbo and Discovery Science in 2010.

 

We brought in premium viewing experience with the finest HD portfolio in the country with the launch of three HD channels – Discovery HD World, Animal Planet HD World and TLC HD World.

 

We entered the Hindi entertainment genre with the launch of India’s first Hindi entertainment channel dedicated to true stories of mystery, investigation and suspense – ID.

 

Filling in the gap for meaningful entertainment we launched Discovery Kids delivering smart fun programming to millions of kids in India.

 

We are committed to the Indian market and will continue to present the best brands, content and finest viewing experience to India.

 

What is the current viewership of the network in general and Discovery Channel in particular? What are the steps being taken to improve these numbers?

 

The network has grown to a total of 11 channels, reaching 267 million cumulative households. We will continue to invest in content, communication and availability across all our networks. 

 

The JV with MSM to distribute its channels has now ended. What is the plan now? Has the distribution team started working on the deals?

 

Discovery has the finest team and with the addition of the affiliate team, we are a formidable strength and fully geared to capitalise existing opportunities and create new growth avenues.

 

Our success depends on the power of our brands and we continue to offer maximum value to our partners.

 

What is the content strategy for the network going forward? How many hours of content would we see getting added to the network by this year end and how many of these would be Indian productions? Can you elaborate on the content strategy for each of the channel in the network?

 

The content strategy of the network is to deliver high-quality and differentiated programming that satiates the curiosity of the viewers. We will continue to make a difference, ignite minds and entertain viewers.

 

Discovery globally spends over a billion dollars on content every year and Indian audience, similar to other markets around the world, get access to this content through the various networks present in the country.

 

In India, Discovery Networks launches the maximum variety of programmes in the industry. India programming is the key growth pillar of our content strategy. We started with Indian Rendezvous as the first India series back in 2002. We went on to present path-breaking India shows ranging from exclusive accesses such as Revealed: World’s Biggest ElectionsLine of Control, Humayun’s Tomb, Living with KKRand many more.

 

Continuing to offer the widest repertoire of programmes, we launch more than 300 high-quality programmes every quarter catering to the interests, passions and demands of children, youth, women, men and families. We strengthened our India content slate with an unprecedented 100 original hours in the last two years bringing unique stories, pristine subjects, and exclusive accesses.

 

How has advertisers’ interest grown towards the network’s properties?

 

We are fortunate that advertisers find value on our platforms. We continue to enjoy advertisers’ confidence and respect. We have strived very hard to offer distinct audience segments for different product categories. We have one of the largest client portfolios on our network. As the leader of factual entertainment in India, we believe we are in a good space.

 

From when the network entered the market to this day, what’s your take on subscription revenues in the country for a network like DNAP? With digitisation in Phase I and II cities, has the condition improved? Do you see the subscription revenues going up with phase III and IV getting digitised by 2016?

 

Digitisation is a change agent in this country. We are absolutely delighted that it is bringing positive results for the viewer and for other stakeholders including the broadcasters.  

 

We believe that the networks that are investing in their content and differentiating their brands will continue to reap benefits.

 

After 20 years… how do you now plan to take the journey forward? What are the future plans?

 

Our vision moving forward is based on a few key principles. They are:

- Maintaining leadership across genres

- Maximising viewership

- Building on the strength of Discovery kids and establish ID as a “must watch” channel

- Continue to produce path-breaking India content

- Continue to innovate and deliver value to advertisers

- Relentlessly explore new opportunities of growth

 

How do you plan to stay ahead of competition in the genre?

 

Our network of channels enjoys strong brand equity and viewership across the country amongst viewers, affiliate and advertisers alike. What differentiates Discovery is its ability to respond to change and innovate in line with the current and emerging viewer trends. From early adoption of new technologies, creating viewer-delighting content and building winning partnerships; we have set multiple industry benchmarks.

 

If you reflect on Discovery’s track record of last 20 years, we have been ahead of the curve in anticipating trends that match the needs of the viewer. Be it launching the lifestyle channel TLC to being the first high-definition channel available in the country with Discovery HD World. We have offered viewers remarkable and never-seen-before content in innovative formats, delightful themes and finest personalities.

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