The factual entertainment genre in India has grown by 29 per cent since History TV18’s debut, and the channel is the number one factual entertainment channel across some key metrics. India is an interesting market for factual. Some other territories have been reticent to push the boundaries of the genre, though when they do, viewers are very open to the change. That’s not the case in India; it’s an exciting, dynamic market at the forefront of new programming trends.
Sean Cohan oversees the International Division of A+E Networks, managing the company’s brands, content, and services outside the US, and a staff based in New York, London and Singapore. The division’s activities include branded channels, content sales, and digital media distribution. Today, A+E Networks operates 54 branded international pay-TV channels and distributes their extensive library across a range of platforms.
In this interaction with exchange4media’s Synjini Nandi, Cohan speaks about the evolution of the factual entertainment genre in India, the global outlook of the growth of this genre and the introduction of original Indian content in the channel.
Q. How would you describe History TV18’s one-year journey?
We are thrilled with the success of History TV18 in its first year. Ajay Chacko has assembled a talented and dedicated team, and their hard work and creativity has truly paid off. From launch, the channel has made a tremendous impact in the market. The factual entertainment genre in India has grown by 29 per cent since History TV18’s debut, and the channel is the number one factual entertainment channel across some key metrics. History TV 18 has the highest time spent per viewer in the factual entertainment genre. It’s clear that we’ve made an impact versus competitors who have been in the market for 10 to 15 years.
Q. What, according to you, were the important milestones that will define the way forward for A+E Networks I TV18 JV per se now?
There were a number of important milestones for JV this year. First and foremost was the extraordinary launch campaign the team developed for History TV18. We have a mantra at A+E Networks: go big or go home. There’s no doubt about it – the launch of History in India was big. I keep coming back to the word impactful; the advertising and promo launch campaign was just that – the brand was everywhere. Having Salman Khan, one of Bollywood’s biggest stars, as launch spokesman sent a clear message to viewers and to the industry.
Another critically important milestone was the outstanding success of the original production, ‘The Greatest Indian’. The programme saw an unprecedented 20 million viewers tune-in for the finale. And the marketing team generated great buzz for the program by engaging viewers through a comprehensive social media campaign. The campaign reached over 20 lakh Facebook users and generated a number of discussions across other platforms. Viewers even started their own Facebook pages to advocate for their choice. It was a really exciting initiative – more so when you consider it was for the channel’s first original production during the first year of broadcast.
Q. Are you happy with the market share that the network holds in India? Do you think there could have been more market share in the first year?
Are you happy with the market share that the network holds in India? Do you think there could have been more market share in the first year?
Q. 'Discovery' and 'NGC' occupy a certain mind space with the Indian viewer. What is the kind of space that History TV18 would like to create for itself, since in a manner of speaking the brand is relatively new?
In the US, History is a top five pay-TV channel across all key demos. Under the leadership of Nancy Dubuc, the President of Entertainment and Media for A+E Networks, History has become the hottest brand in US television and has some of the most talked about programmes in all of television. Our competitors in the US are watching and imitating us. I’d like to think that History TV18 can have the same success in India – to be viewed as a leading entertainment channel, not just a leading factual channel.
Q. Could you share the global outlook on the status/ growth of the factual entertainment genre in other key markets? And comparatively, how has the genre evolved in India?
Factual entertainment is absolutely a growth area for television worldwide. The genre is bringing in bigger audiences than ever and we’re seeing some really innovative programming being developed by channels around the world.
History is available in 150-plus countries, and we see clear evidence of the worldwide growth of the genre through the success of our brand in overseas market. This is a very exciting time for factual – television networks like History and our flagship brand in the US, A&E, have really pushed the genre into new directions. The great news is that viewers are responding very positively.
India is an interesting market for factual. Some other territories have been reticent to push the boundaries of the genre, though when they do, viewers are very open to the change. That’s not the case in India; it’s an exciting, dynamic market at the forefront of new programming trends. That being said, factual is still a comparatively small proportion of total viewership so we see lots of room to grow viewership more dramatically in the coming years.
Q. We have not seen much of original Indian content on the channel, except for ‘Greatest Indian’, and it looks like that effort paid for the channel. In light of that, can we expect more original Indian content on the channel? Any specific plans that you can share?
With the History brand, we always emphasise to our partners the importance of local programming. History is a very personal subject and we know viewers want to watch shows about their country’s History told from a regional and global perspective. History TV18 launched two original productions this year, ‘The Greatest Indian’ and ‘Saving the Ganga’, and you can expect this output to grow in the future. It’s an important part of the brand’s evolution in India, as it is in every market. While it will be difficult to replicate the outstanding success of ‘The Greatest Indian’ every time, the success of the programme clearly demonstrates that viewers want to see more original, local content.
I don’t have any specific announcements at this time, but I’m sure Ajay will have more to announce in the near future.
Q. Right now, while you have the Network18 strength in the background, for A+E Networks I TV18 JV has only one channel in India. By when can we expect the launch of the other planned channels?
A+E Networks has a strong and vibrant portfolio of channel brands that target diverse demos, and our strategy is to launch all our brands in each market, including History, Lifetime, Crime & Investigation Network, BIO and H2. We have had on-going conversations with partners about launching our other brands, but have nothing to announce at this time.
Q. Finally, some targets earmarked for A+E Networks I TV18 JV for the year ahead?
For year two, we expect continued growth for History TV18 in India on a number of fronts including ratings, channel position, ad sales and increased original production. We also will likely see another channel brand in the market.