Television

Video consumption by premium audience on digital exploding: Karan Bajaj

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Mumbai: Karan Bajaj, head of India/South Asia at Discovery Communications India, comes across as a curious mind. In an exclusive conversation with Indiantelevision.com, he spoke on a range of topics-from Discovery’s latest digital ventures to the network’s foray into the general entertainment space with the much-awaited Jeet.

In the course of our conversation, Bajaj revealed that TV viewership would grow at a 10 per cent rate in the coming five years. Despite a difficult year for television, he believes that the launch of a GEC like Jeet, which has a differentiated proposition, will give Discovery the benefits of growth.

Here are the excerpts:

How do you see the TV market in India shaping up?

I follow my own thesis and don’t just imitate the market. There are about 250 million households, which can be ranked in a pyramid. The top 15 million households have fixed broadband at home and premium DTH connection, the next 120 million predominantly have cable television connection and mobile phones for their individual snacking consumption. Out of the last 120 million households, 20 million have Free Dish and the remaining 100 million do not have access to television.

While projecting for the next five years, the top layer will grow aggressively from 15 million to 30 million and will move towards the digital space. So, here, television viewership will decline and digital viewership will grow exponentially. In the next 100 million households, television viewership will continue to grow at about 10 per cent rate because the bottom 120 million will enter the space and will aspire to get a cable connection. So, a big chunk at the bottom will be rising to the middle of the pyramid as the middle starts to migrate to the top. My thesis says that in the coming five years, television viewership will grow 10 per cent because of those 120 million households, bottom line people will get TVs at home and Free Dish will grow exponentially. And, this made us launch Jeet, a mass entertainment channel, specifically targetted at the tier 2 and tier 3 audience.

What is your thesis to move to digital space?

My current business is queued towards the top 30 million households, which is migrating to digital. This is the premium category where TV viewership might be going down by 15-20 per cent but their video viewership on digital might be exploding. Again, when we look at TV viewership pie in India, the current arc of English factual and lifestyle content is about 1 per cent of TV viewership in India but on digital, it is about 15 per cent. Things like auto, food, tech, lifestyle, outdoor, military, female comedians or activist comedy are consumed 10 times more significantly on digital.

Now, if I project out for the next five years, I see two successful models that are emerging in digital. One is the aggregator whose role is that it becomes the single point of contact for a wide variety of content, from movies to entertainment to sports etc. There can be maximum three or four aggregators who can make money in the coming ten years but not all the 20-25 aggregators available for consumers. So I decided not to compete in that space. The other space that I find interesting and exciting is the passionate community space. For instance, on YouTube, a Gujarati comedy show emerges as a fast-growing channel in the last six months.

We are starting our own food vertical with Scripps Network Interactive. I get very excited on seeing the niche digital and the passionate community in India for food is a $120 million market with no market leader. We are not launching an OTT channel, but a brand.

What makes a digital community strong?

A digital community is made passionate and strong when there is extremely frequent engagement such as by uploading one video per day because that builds loyalty. Refresh rate has to be high on digital and the quality of content should be delightful content. But if the creator is investing in creating high quality content every day, how he will make money? Brand integration is the way to look forward but it’s tedious. So, here Discovery comes with an advantage. Discovery has 6000 hours of original high quality global content library to edit, curate and create. So, my cost of production is nothing, all I need to put is the cost in editing. Here, I am able to create a very passionate community with my global library.

On top of that, we are producing tent pole content which is amortised across both digital and linear in different formats. For smartphones, the format will be of 7-10 minutes. On Discovery channel, it would be between 30 to 60 minutes. Though we aren’t paying much for 80 per cent of the content volume, we are paying highly for the remaining 20 per cent. It is an attractive financial model and dramatically expands the reach of Discovery Network.

What are the passionate communities you are planning to build on digital?

I am looking to create rabid passionate community on digital including YouTube, Facebook, Jio TV, Airtel and Vodafone. First, we are launching Veer, which is a military passionate brand and Rise an activist female comedy show, both launching on 26 January 2018. Then we are coming up with auto and food with Scripps in March. These are massive scale shows with Veer having 1000 videos a year (average 3 per day) – one from our library and remaining from our tent-pole content. In three to five years, when we will have six to eight such verticals, four of them will become significant like the top military community, auto community, food community, activist comedy community. We are entering in a space where nobody has entered yet. We enjoy the advantage of having fresh global content library while other creators have to get into production first and then distribution later.

What is Veer all about? How does the content for Veer deal digitally?

Veer is a military passionate online brand by Discovery. In our global library, there are 1000 hours of global content in Hindi language dubbed, which we will be putting out as two-three videos a day. We have best hero content while shooting in top commando schools in India. We have top quality Breaking Point that went crazy on digital. Now, we are planning Breaking Point next year in land and under water (part 2) of 45 hours of content. Military content has a passionate community with 12-18 million unduplicated people in India who watched it on digital.

Did demonetisation affect the business of Discovery Networks? What were the after-effects?

The initial six months of demonetisation and GST we were prepping. We did not launch any show between January and June, but after July, we launched Queens of Comedy on TLC and Breaking Point on Discovery and we were not left with space for sponsors to come in. Breaking Point was a six-hour show and Queens of Comedy was four hours. In 2018, we are creating 45 hours of content for both the shows.

How much scale and reach did you get from military content?

We have military at scale. Every month we will be having new military series coming and multiple platforms to launch. Digital has tripled our reach. Historically, the reach of Discovery is 60 million (unduplicated) per week but now it has set a benchmark of 145 million based on our projections. TLC has an unduplicated reach of 35 million but now we are projecting that the channels we are launching across platforms will expand our reach to 105 million.

Do you have an in-house studio to churn out the content or you will outsource it?

Veer and Rise, are structured differently. For Veer, we have our in-house team for editing, cutting and clipping the global content for all the videos at scale. The hero content we are outsourcing from different production houses who are specialists in making military content. We have low to medium cost weekly formats, one is Military Lessons in Life done by a General father and son, and other is Military News.

For Rise, we will outsource the high quality content like Queens of Comedy, Kings vs. Queens and for hygiene content, we have tied up with a bunch of local creators for exclusivity and we will own the IP rights of all.

Tell us about your revenue model for digital ventures?

The military content attracts a powerful set of male advertisers. Our revenue model is built on linear commercial time, TV and digital brand integration, YouTube digital revenue which is the icing on the cake, international syndication revenue and licensing of the content on other digital platforms. The content will appear differently on YouTube and other digital platforms. The arc of the whole story will be portrayed in five to nine minutes packs for various digital formats. We are doing offline and online marketing campaign for Veer and Rise.

What is your thesis for constructing Jeet?

We have learnt from our past attempts that the only way to scale in GEC is through daily viewership. Everything on Jeet is being mounted as a soap opera. We are constructing three to four hours of daily content and two hours of weekend content for the tier-2 and tier 3-town family audience. Overall, in the first year, we are coming up with 1000 hours of original content for a year. We have constructed it as four hours of weekdays content and two hours of weekend content. The core prime time bands will have Swami Ramdev: The Untold Story and Saragarhi. Then, we have shows like Anjaan and Hero Hiralal that are constructed like GECs but their quality is premium as compared to other GECs.

I have realised that in this genre, you need to have IPs, which people refuse. In 120 million households where Jeet will be visible we need ratings or else we won’t have a compelling proposition. The idea is that we are reaching a sophisticated consumer with affinity content not measurable by ratings. When you have that kind of content, ratings sky rocket.

What is so unique about your 1000 hours content?

It is premium. Swami Ramdev: The Untold Story is a dramatised version of real events and is a finite series of 23 minutes every day. Saragarhi is a story of 21 Sikh soldiers, a finite series produced by Contiloe production house. These both series will restrict to 85 episodes. Anjaan and Hero Hiralal are infinite series. The former is a supernatural TV series produced by Lotus Talkies Productions, the production company of Sony TV’s Crime Patrol. It’s a 45 minutes weekday show. Whereas, Hero Hiralal is a conceptual series that revolves around an auto-rickshaw driver and his seven-year-old daughter who needs a heart transplant. The show is been edited by the in-house team of Discovery Communications. For weekends, we have non-fiction comedy shows.

Will Jeet attract advertisers?

Jeet will scrape a good chunk of the premium layer. I don’t want to replicate the competition’s model, rather I wanted to focus on perception selling. I am confident about the scalability of brands and advertisers. The context of the show where you advertise is at times strikingly in contrast to what the brand stands for. So to get scale advertisers have no other option. Typically, if you are a progressive brand, like Ariel that I handled, you end up advertising in a very regressive soap opera as that’s the only way to get scale. Jeet will allow brands to flourish by not only providing them with scale but also premium content that matches the brand philosophy and enough to attract a premium audience.

How will Jeet be packaged to consumers? Will it be an FTA?

Discovery Communication currently has 12 channels and Discovery Jeet is replacing Investigation Discovery channel. Jeet will be available on subscription-based pay TV. We have a very robust affiliate business. For syndicating, we are very singular in our offerings. Jeet is a singular proposition and not like any other GEC, which is replaceable. We have a strong launch plan in which distribution is very important for us. Vijay Rajput is the distribution head of all channels of Discovery Communications India.

The interest in this sort of content is super high and soon we will be announcing our digital partnership. I am swamped by the international syndication request before launch. They are independent affiliate networks who have sampled the content through some other form.

Who is supervising the functions of Jeet?

Discovery Communications vice-president real world products south Asia Sameer Rao is leading Jeet. The middle-east team of Discovery has made a significant offer of syndicating the content globally. Christopher McGrath will be taking care of content syndication globally in Discovery Communication. We have a strong management and sales team in the leadership of Vikram Tanna and Rajput.

Also Read:

Discovery to launch digital channels, ties up with telcos

Discovery launching Hindi GEC in Q4, re-brands ID as Discovery Jeet

Discovery India hires Geetanjali Bhattacharji 

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