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Rahul Johri

Senior Vice President & General Manager | 16 Apr 2010

The smart planner has narrow-casted his plans. Another good thing that had happened in the industry was the downturn, as everyone started looking at things in a more critical way and at their spends too… We have been able to increase the ad rates even in the slowdown. The way things are going, you can only expect to see better platforms, better service and better distribution structure.

Discovery Network was one of the few media companies that were still launching channels in late 2009 and early 2010. The network is now six channels strong, and according to Discovery officials, has seen strong growth in the last year. Rahul Johri, who has been at the helm of this growth, is bullish on the network and its targets for 2010.

In this interview with Noor Fathima Warsia and Khushboo Tanna, Johri speaks about Discovery’s future plans, his views on some of the industry issues and where he thinks broadcasting in India is headed.

Q. How has 2009 been for the Discovery network?

The underlying approach that Discovery has been working on is that India is a very young country and the habits of viewers are changing much faster than you and I think they are. We have to be one step ahead and cater to the aspirations of the changing audience and we have been working on that, and that is why you see more channels from the Discovery network. In 2009, Discovery channel’s market share grew by 32 per cent and it is now the 15th largest channel in the country. If you take away Hindi entertainment and Hindi Movies, we are the No. 1 non-fiction channel in the country. We beat all news channels and we are ahead of English movies, English music and English entertainment.

Some people still compare us with Nat Geo, but we are 133 per cent on an average in 2009, ahead of them. 62 per cent of India is under 30 years of age and another 35 per cent is under 15. Their aspirations are different, and hence, there is tremendous appetite for unique content. That is what we are providing and that is why our channel has grown. There will be a very small set of channels that actually airs unique content. In 2009, we grew our TVR by 17 per cent, and we grew 29 per cent in clientele. This is during 7 am to 12 am, CS 4+, all markets.

I can slice and dice this even better based on my core TG. Genres besides Hindi GECs and non-fiction such as Discovery Channel and lifestyle such as Travel and Living have not grown in the past year. We grew on our own by 17 per cent, other channels fell, so our channel share became 32 per cent.

Q. You have clearly set the benchmark very high for yourself in the manner that you are comparing yourself to all kinds of competition, but when you are in the market talking to advertisers, do they speak the same language?

They understand it far better than anybody else, because they are putting their money on that. If they didn’t understand it, Discovery Channel’s inventory wouldn’t have been sold out. You need to understand that if you look at it purely from an advertising person’s point of view, he is buying ‘reach channels’ and ‘frequency channels’. Discovery Channel is the largest among the frequency channels. For large scale package and servicing goods, we would be the biggest frequency channel. Amongst the people we are comparing ourselves with, especially news, news fluctuates easily, but a channel like Discovery doesn’t fluctuate. Discovery is the benchmark of every efficient media plan. That is the reason why it’s doing so well and why it is has so much attraction with the advertisers.

Q. Does the rating for C&S 4+ resonate with your advertisers? Advertisers must have been hung on C&S 15+ as they identify that to be Discovery Channels’ core TG?

While C&S 15+ is our core audience, the ratings are even better in C&S 15+ male audience. But Discovery is a mass channel, and hence, you will find a lot of advertisers on the Discovery Channel. And the high-end brands are on Discovery Travel and Living.

Q. Besides content, what are some of the reasons that Discovery Channel is getting these numbers?

The primary reason is the content. Since we are a pay channel, we have to provide content of the quality that viewers will want to pay for. The advertisers value the number of viewers and the type of viewers that tune in to the channel. There are two types of channels -- one that just chase eyeballs at any cost, and when you do that, your content becomes less important. And the other is like ours, where viewers pay for the content. We are a factual channel and not fictional and hence, we always have to deliver as per the viewers’ expectations.

Q. What are the new initiatives that are happening on Discovery Channel in 2010?

We are a company that we will deliver what we promise. Now, we need to consolidate our gains. We want to begin the mass marketing of Discovering Science and Turbo. We want to surprise the viewers every month. We have been working on this for the last two years and it is manifesting now. Beginning last year, we made a target that we want to be bigger than Hindi news. In the second quarter, we had become equal to Star Movies and India TV. In the 4th quarter we became the No. 2. In December, we were ahead of everybody else. Even in primetime 6 pm to 12 am, we were ahead of them as well. We are probably one of the best distributed channels in the country. Each channel such as TNL, Animal Planet, etc., is different and hence, their strategy is also different. But even though Travel and Living is more city-specific by virtue of content, it does not mean that it is just available in the eight metros. The aim for Discovery Channel is to be available in every home in the country. We also started our Hindi feed for Animal Planet in 2008. We found out that the channel performed much better on digital as compared to analog. The ratings of Animal Planet are 25 per cent higher on digital as compared to analog.

Q. Which are the markets that you get your core audience from?

Gujarat is a core market for Travel and Living. Travel and Living is in its 6th year and is very well recognised and it is consumed well in big cities as well.

Q. What is the investment ratio between content distribution and marketing?

Content has the biggest pie, but I can’t give you an exact percentage. We don’t have to spend on distribution as we are a pay channel. We have a well robust distribution platform called the One Alliance and it’s probably one of the best distribution platforms.

Q. How are the language-based initiatives working out for you as compared to say Hindi or English?

India is much more than English and Hindi, and Discovery is available in 34 languages around the world. Last year, on October 1 we started Discovery in Tamil for four hours a day and on January 1, we made it a 24-hour Tamil channel. It’s a very well accepted channel there. And in one month, the reach of the channel increased 10 times. On January 26, we launched Discovery Science and Discovery Turbo and then we started Discovery HD.

Q. In terms of priority, is there more investment coming in from international for Discovery India now, or is it at par with what it was previously?

Globally, we are completing 25 years and we have completed 15 years in India. We will do everything that it takes to establish the business here.

Q. On a more industry level, do you think the move towards narrowcasting that so many had wanted has happened in India?

The smart planner has narrow-casted his plans. Another good thing that had happened in the industry was the downturn, as everyone started looking at things in a more critical way and at their spends too. For example, Travel and Living is a niche channel, but it has a lot of attraction with the advertisers. There will be a market for a targeted niche channel.

Q. Do you think the digital distribution will pay off?

The success of DTH in the country just proves that it is just a matter of time for this segment to be a success. Viewers know the value of good service.

Q. The Government had an issue with offering licenses. What is your take on it?

It’s not that the Government has put a stop to it, it had just stopped it temporarily. The Government was studying the market and would come up with something that had a positive impact on the overall scenario. There is no denying that there is a capacity constraint on analog. This is the reality of the market, and if the Government wants to take some time off to study these implications, then it is fair. I do think that there should be no stringent terms or measures for new licenses. What’s good is that they are in a continuous improvement stage to keep pace with the changes in the market.

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