Advertising Interviews

Deepak Shourie

Director | 04 Nov 2011

If you have a product that’s targeted well and the advertising reaches the target, it will do well. The other side to that is that the environment for an upscale channel doesn’t allow mass products and premium products cannot be on a mass channel. India is no longer a cheap market, you have to very careful where you advertise, so when people like Sony, Honda, Tanishq, advertise on our channel, they know what they are getting into, they get an audience they want – it’s an audience that buys these kinds of products.

A veteran in the Indian media industry, Deepak Shourie has a rich experience spanning across print and electronic media. After being the Group General Manager at Living Media, the publisher of ‘India Today’, he conceived and launched a competitor weekly news magazine ‘Outlook’. He was then Executive President for The Hindustan Times and CEO at Zee TV.

Prior to joining BBC Worldwide, Shourie was EVP and Managing Director at Discovery Communications India. During his seven years at the helm, he also launched Discovery Travel & Living in India, and made the company’s India business profitable.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Shree Lahiri, Shourie speaks at length about BBC Entertainment’s programming in India, being upscale, the content strategy, activities around the F1 Indian Grand Prix and more…

Q. BBC Entertainment is a niche channel with a niche audience. After it was launched in India in 2007, how has the response been post the programme revamp in January 2011?

I think in the initial years it was not really a launch. Basically it was available only on one platform - Tata Sky - and we hadn’t really distributed beyond that. Then in January 2011, we launched the channel as one multi-genre channel - it has got factual content, it has entertainment and lifestyle. Today it reaches 25 million homes and is available across all cable and satellite homes across India from metros to towns like Amritsar, Ludhiana, Jaipur, Surat, Vishakhapatnam and Coimbatore.

Obviously, the market was English, and while it was upscale, it is not as big as volumes were not there. People who are familiar with English language want to watch English content, it’s by nature of the language, but it’s the high upscale market where there was a lot of advertising. So, the strategy was a multi-genre channel that appeals to that upscale market - people who watch English programmes. I’m not saying they don’t watch Hindi, Tamil, etc., but they also watch English.

The result that we got was very encouraging. Today, 88 advertisers are on board and these include Tata Sky, Sony, Honda… the big brands, the premium brands that you can think of, we have them.

People will not advertise a premium brand necessarily on national channel or a mass brand on a premium channel. It works both ways. There’s a very good reason – one is the cost of distribution, there’s carriage fees, cable operators’ charge. If I want to go all India markets, it becomes costly. Like in print, if you do magazines, it could be 10,000 copies, and if it’s targeted well, advertisers can reach the target market, the markets that you want to reach (You know, my background was in print). It’s all about targeting, and, therefore, delivering relevant eyeballs to the advertiser.

Q. How has the advertisers’ response been after the revamp?

If you have a product that’s targeted well and the advertising reaches the target, it will do well. The other side to that is that the environment for an upscale channel doesn’t allow mass products and premium products cannot be on a mass channel. India is no longer a cheap market, you have to very careful where you advertise, so when people like Sony, Honda, Tanishq, advertise on our channel, they know what they are getting into, they get an audience they want – it’s an audience that buys these kinds of products.

Look at the Robb Report. Why has the Robb Report come to India? Because it delivers, there is enough of a market that is upscale in India, who will buy it.

Q. Please elaborate on the three focus areas – entertainment, lifestyle and factual content. How is BBC weaving its content around these?

BBC produces a lot of creative, factual content and documentaries. So obviously, BBC has a lot of factual content, which is the USP of the channel.

At 7 pm, when the prime time band begins, we start with our nature series. Then there are our documentaries – on terrorism, such as on 9/11 and so on. In the case of lifestyle, there’s food content. It’s different from what you will find on other channels – more British, different formats. India has been used to that for a long time. The British programmes are very natural, while the American ones are a lot more scripted. India has been used to that, I mean American content. We have to re-establish and that’s what is happening, for there’s food programming, lifestyle, home decoration, fashion programmes. And then there is very strong drama in our weekly content, again which is different to American content. American programmes like ‘Friends’, ‘CSI’ are running across channels as well. But on BBC – ‘Spooks’, ‘Hotel Babylon’, ‘Sherlock Holmes’, ‘Yes Minister’ – though all these programmes may not have as much in terms of glamour, they do have a lot more storyline. I think that’s what the viewers are now getting to watch.

Q. What is BBC Entertainment’s reach today? What share of the English entertainment pie does it have?

We’re now in about 25 million homes, including most of the DTH platforms, and those which are not, we are negotiating. But our focus has been metros as well as the next level of towns which have more English-speaking people. Though we have expanded our reach, we have not gone all over as there would have been a mismatch between content and viewer profile. We needed to be where we will be watched.

Q. Is BBC planning to ‘Indianise’ its content, or launching India-specific programmes?

You know, I am very often asked this question. And the answer is always “No”. But when it will happen, depends on the monetising capacity and on the economy. Some amount of ‘Indianising’ we already have. And also, please remember, the UK and India share a long history. Therefore, a lot of what you see also has Indian content - Indian food, Indian creatives, Indian people in the UK.

Q. Please tell us about the key marketing campaigns that the BBC has undertaken in recent times?

The Royal Wedding, ‘Dancing with the Stars’, ‘Come Dance with Me’, ‘Top Gear’ – all these have been very important marketing campaigns. In fact, ‘Dancing with the Stars’, which is currently on, has got pretty good coverage from the start.

Q. Have you lined up any special content, keeping in mind the festival season in India?

We’ve had a good line-up for the festival season – we have ‘Dancing with the Stars’, ‘Top Gear’, we’re running ‘Sherlock’, the Royal Wedding special. The new elements are – ‘Top Gear’ has Formula 1, ‘Dancing with the Stars’ is totally new, ‘Graham Norton Show’, travel shows like ‘Come Fly with Me’, and so on.

Q. What is the advertiser profile of BBC Entertainment in India?

When someone advertises his/ her product, they will not advertise in a media vehicle that does not match their audience. They have to match their audience to our audience. Similarly, if BMW or Mercedes wants to launch, they will watch where their market is.

Q. What are the challenges of positioning BBC Entertainment as a mainstream channel?

We won’t be a mainstream channel. We will be a mainstream channel in an upscale market. Every day is a challenge with new channels being launched.

Q. How has ‘Dancing with the Stars’ been performing in India? Could you share some TAM figures?

‘Dancing with the Stars - Season 8’ is a 13-week show and is running in its second week now, hence it will be too soon to share TAM data.

Q. BBC Entertainment is targeted at the upscale English speaking Indian audience. Do you think this is fragmented with channels like TLC and Fox, apart from the English movie channels? What steps do you take to retain this audience?

If this is fragmented, then you can imagine what the general audience is fragmented about. Obviously, it’s not fragmented. If they want to see a particular kind of programme, they will go for those. We give less to the intelligence of our viewers than we should. They know what to find. Generally, you see viewers are in the range of 8 to 10 channels, they won’t go beyond that. There may be 500 channels, but if those 500 are not relevant, who cares? But, there are different types of people who’ll watch different sets of channels. Somebody, for instance, more familiar with Oriya, will have that as the core group. I’m more happy with English, so I watch this channel. And, in English, too, what’s my interest area? Mine is news and current affairs, or it may be God. Each person finds his own interest area and surrounds themselves with that. Our challenge is to be in that space, to be part of that interest area.

Q. Any special programming around the Formula 1 racing in India?

Yes, we’ve had some special programming around Formula 1. BBC Entertainment scheduled a special show around Formula 1, called ‘Top Gear Formula1 Special’, which premiered on October 24. This show talks about the cars that were driven during F1 in full length with their drivers like Mika Hakkinen from the McLaren Mercedes team, David Coulthard from the Red Bull F1 team and Rubens Barrichello from Williams-Cosworth. BBC Entertainment also had a contest around Formula 1. As part of the contest, we gave away five pairs of tickets to the viewers and fans to watch the race live. The Top Gear F1 Contest was up on BBC Entertainment’s official Facebook page from September 15, 2011. All fans need to do was answer two simple questions and write a witty caption, and they could be on their way to the Airtel Indian Grand Prix in Greater Noida.

Q. Any social networking activities?

We have a Facebook page and we check out reader reactions and preferences. BBC Entertainment has a Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/BBCEntertainmentIndia , which has a fan following of about 66,000 people. The page was launched in January 2011 and since then the fans have been growing in numbers by the day. Also, this platform helps in reaching out to a larger audience, run interesting contests like Top Gear Formula 1 Special, interact with fans, and so on.

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