"Our metric for National Geographic is different (from BARC)" : Swati Mohan

Maintaining the legacy of a top-ranking brand is not smooth. 2016 saw increased focus on localisation in the infotainment and lifestyle genre, both, in terms of local content and Indian language audio feeds. National Geographic began the year with a major announcement in February about its rebranding which came into effect on 14 November.

At the helm of it is the National Geographic India and Fox Networks group business head Swati Mohan. It has just been a year for her at the company, and Mohan has already mapped several strategies for the channels she heads.

With a refreshed National Geographic, Mohan and her team are all geared up to provide high-quality premium quality content to its viewers which will be a mix of both, local and global. In an interview with’s Megha Parmar, Mohan sheds light on the channel’s rebranding, its purpose and vision, local content, digitisation, 4K, the infotainment genre, BARC, the channel’s next big production, etc.


Congratulations on National Geographic’s rebranding. What is your vision and strategy, going forward?

The timing, the consolidation of assets and a new National Geographic channel - these are the three reasons for re-branding. I think it really brings out and underlines the brand purpose stronger than ever before. With ‘Further’ as the new philosophy, there are four things we have kept in mind. First, the look, feel, treatment, style, font and packaging of the channel has completely changed. Secondly, it is the depth of the content. For eg., Mars is a completely different format of blending Hollywood-stature scripted entertainment with world-class documentary style sequences and stunning visual effects.

There will be a lot more delving into newer formats and scripted entertainment, which would really bring out cinematic experience.

Underlining ‘Further’, our third strategy would be going ahead with the talent that we are bringing on the channel and with producers who are creating this content. A few weeks ago, we premiered Leonardo DiCaprio’s ‘Before the Flood’( which generated 12 per cent viewership in India for the channel),  Years of Living Dangerously, etc., this is just onscreen talent. If I look at the behind the scene talent, we have Mars, then we will have the likes of James Cameron, Martin Scorsese, Ridley Scott and many more Hollywood directors. All of them will be coming forward to make content for us, which is important.

Lastly, the topic of content for the world, and especially India. Several conversations and activations will happen around the need to drive change. All this could be seen as content which may not resonate very well and might look international in nature. But, we have a data point where we can say this is testament to the fact that it will work in India. New content brings together scale, purpose, talent, which is a combination that is resonating well in India.  We will also have localised content which will tick off all these points. But, it’s not that the global content is not working. It’s equally important for us.

When you talk about original/local content, who is providing this content? Is the production done in-house or outsourced? Which major production houses are involved?

Yes, we are in talks with different film-makers, production houses, to really try and embrace not just the local need but also the global vision of the kind of scale and breadth of the content that we are looking at. We will talk about it in the next few months. National Geographic is not just a channel, it has never has been; it is an institution. People have experienced the brand’s magazine much before the channel was launched. It is important for us to provide them world-class high-quality, premium experience with everything that we do.

It is important to balance our global content with local content which also needs to measure up to that high quality and premium stature of the way we have always done.

What will be the percentage of acquired versus original content on Nat Geo, going forward?

There is no particular percentage really. We are working with our global teams to have co-productions which will also focus on India.

For us, it is irrespective of who is producing out of which market. India as a topic is important for us. We have David Letterman interviewing PM Narendra Modi. We are doing our own work with local production houses here and we are also working with the global team to see what we can do for the world, and India in particular.

Fox Life has Kalki’s Great Escape, Twist of Taste -- what are your plans going forward? Are you delving more into original content production? Who are your partnering with?

Fox Life is something which attracts a lot of advertisers. We get a lot of demand for associations, integrations and, of course, the local content has done very well for us. That is why we do 4-5 series on the channel every year.

What is the criteria for acquiring international content or creating original for the Indian audience?

Well, I think the criteria will not change from what we have, which is access, never seen before content and world-class quality. And now, we will also drive this entire thing of purpose, change, higher scale and access to great talent who will associate while making the content.

Though it has just been two days, how have the advertisers reacted to the channel’s rebranding?

So far, we have got some astounding results on the new look, feel and proposition. Some very good results and buzz around Mars from across leading film-makers, industry leaders and the marketing head. Some feedback stated that this was the required leap and something that they were waiting for -- which has taken them back to the roots of National Geographic. We are not here to create a new brand, we are here to bring together all the assets in one line and consolidate the mission on one term which can be followed.

Heading nine channels is not an easy job. What are the key elements that you keep in mind to have differentiated content for each of the channels? What are the challenges that you face?

The rebranding is only for the National Geographic channel and its assets. It will not have a bearing on other channels such as Baby TV or Fox Life. That is separate. I think they are still unique and global brands with differentiated content and purpose.

What do you think about 4K? Are you looking at providing UHD feed on any of the channels?

When it comes to categories with spectacular vision and stunning quality, we have a few genres, and infotainment is definitely up there. We are well placed when it comes to having 4K content. We are just waiting for a lot of technology to just make way for this to be received by the consumers. There are enough and more opportunities and challenges in the world of content distribution, and I think this will happen simultaneously and in parallel. We will not be left behind that curve as we have content that lends itself to that spectacular experience.

With DAS IV to roll out soon in India, what traction are you expecting from rural India?’

It depends. We are available in four languages and I can’t say that rural is not the focus for it. We are at an interesting place where we cut across all markets, demographics and age-groups, which we are proud of. I think we are getting at par with the info genre in terms of the traction that we see for rural. And, our languages just help us to cut across these various TGs. For us, the metric is way beyond what ratings may provide. It is the brand's worth, and it helps us in getting partnerships from advertisers and platforms which has been reassuring for us in the past few years.

Our position on digitisation is very clear, it is going to help the industry. Our partnership with Star really help us to distribute our channels. As a brand and with Star, we are ready to take on this new development.

But, National Geographic is not the dominating channel in the genre going by BARC data. How important is BARC as a metric for the channel?

Our metric for National Geographic is different. We just don’t measure metric. We have top of the genre shows, both local and global in many weeks. The growth of the brand is becoming stronger. It is also our performance on the social and digital platforms. It would not be fair to measure the power of a brand and conversations that it can drive.

Is infotainment a profitable space in India? If yes, do we have space for more entrants?

For us, we welcome more people making this content and getting into the genre. The more the merrier -- is how we are seeing it. As long as they are driving a purposeful conversation, they are changing the face of the industry which is very important to do, we absolutely welcome them. It will just be a compliment to us. We see that as a positive thing with more players driving the agenda. The agenda is way more important than anything else. Our company gives 27 per cent of the profit back to the National Geographic Society which further fuels more exploration in the world of science. We are very proud of it and I don’t think many companies can say that.

I think, if someone has a unique proposition, then there definitely is space. There are so many clever and strategic minds out there and I think everyone is looking forward to the changes in the industry, digital, affordable data and everything that it can offer for consumption of data. If there are people who can make a difference in the same space, we are in, its fine.

You once stated that the network is in the process of developing new platforms and that will be the focus, going forward. Though you are available on Hotstar, what is this new platform all about? Are you looking at launching an OTT or VOD kind of a platform?

Yes, there is something in the pipeline that we can talk early next year. It will be a global offering with a local connect as well. All our content including Mars is available on Hotstar.

What are the marketing and promotion strategies for your channels?

We are a platform with a high and wide reach. That is something which will drive the fact that the channel has changed, it has got a new tagline, entire assets will carry that and of course we are focussed on getting viewers to the channel through the premiere of Mars. We have got fantastic response for it from the industry. True to our style of having imagery and experience leading the way, we had a significant 360-degree marketing campaign in three cities across print, TV, on-ground activation, cinema halls, etc. Our on-ground campaign with virtual reality has been extremely successful and has told us how curious, and how the sense of awe and wonder that continues to remain in the people. The response for Mars has been outstanding.

We have done a mix of all markets. Since we are across a lot of markets in terms of our priorities, we have chosen TV channels and the top six cities for print and cinema. Other than that, we have used high-reach platforms to make sure we reach the country far and wide. Our sister network, Star, has also helped us in the process.

Which is the next big production (show) planned? Is it acquired or local content?

The next big production that we have planned is a global show called Facing Icons. It’s a show which has the greatest two in a particular industry whether it is sports, movies, etc. It is a very interesting take in biography format, and has the top two opponents in any field who talk about what they are feeling when they were really facing the other opponent. The show goes on air by the end of this month, which is a global premiere.

Our local production would sometime be in December which we can talk about after some time.

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