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Ajay Chacko

President | 16 Dec 2011

Our ambition and mission is to broad base the genre and ensure that every young Indian is tuning in to our channel. We look forward to having History leading and growing the genre progressively into an alternative to mainstream general entertainment channels. This is the general trend world over: factual entertainment channels actually compete with regular mainstream entertaining channels and we expect that to happen here as well.

Ajay Chacko is President A+E Networks | TV18, the JV between A+E Networks and TV18. In this role, he is responsible for the day-to-day operational, strategic and financial management of the joint venture and its suite of channels and services.

With a career spanning over 15 years, Chacko has rich experience across a variety of roles in sales, marketing and general management within the media and entertainment and services industry. During his tenure at Network18 over the past seven years, he has served as Director of TV18 Business Media & Chief Operating Officer - New Media Projects for TV18 and CEO, Forbes India. He has been responsible for the P&L, new products and revenue lines on CNBC-TV18 & CNBC Awaaz since the year 2004.

As CEO of Forbes India, he launched the Forbes brand in the country. He was responsible for the Forbes brand and the P&L of Digital18 Media Ltd, the publisher of Forbes India, an affiliate of Network18 Group.

Chacko’s earlier stints were with IL&FS (Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services, India), one of the country’s largest financial institutions, and he has also been part of the startup team at Sharekhan, the country’s pioneering online trading platform. He started his career with the Indian Express Group, where he worked in different capacities across distribution, research, sales and product management.

In an email interaction with exchange4media’s Suraj Ramnath, Chacko speaks at length about History’s growth path in India, growing the factual entertainment genre in the country, content strategy and more…

Q. How is History breaking through the perception that it is only about the past?

History’s show selection and content mix are based on exhaustive studies, content testing and feedback with a variety of audiences. ‘History, Made Every Day’, the channel’s position encompasses the breadth of content and themes that History brings to Indian audiences – History here is not just about the past, it’s as much about people making history today. With such a strong positioning, we are clearly differentiated from the competition and our strategy is more proactive in nature and in line with our strategy of growing the genre.

Through months of extensive research and testing of content, the channel has found that Indian viewers across demographics are interested in experimenting with alternative forms of content, as long as the entertainment quotient is not compromised upon. The channel has been launched with universal themes that use the premise of history, but are entertaining, engaging and thrilling and would appeal to a very wide audience, including younger demographics and also discerning audiences. We will also, very shortly, announce a few big-ticket local productions that match international scale.

Q. How has the response to the channel been? How has the channel been able to touch a chord with the viewers?

We’ve achieved a lot of what we set out to get – to expand the genre and not just to compete with existing players. In Week 49 ’11, History created history by gaining the No. 1 position in six metros market cluster. The channel garnered 33 per cent market share vis-à-vis Discovery’s 31 per cent and National Geographic’s 13 per cent. History’s launch has also helped grow the genre by an unprecedented 57 per cent.

History continues to garner the highest time spent per viewer with 40 minutes vis-à-vis Discovery (29 minutes) and National Geographic (16 minutes). It has maintained a significant lead since its launch, which is an indication of differentiated programming and the stickiness quotient of its content.

With a connectivity of 50 million households across leading cable TV platforms such as Hathway Cable, In Cable, DEN Networks and leading DTH platforms such as Tata Sky, Dish TV and Airtel, History reaches out to over 40 million viewers across India since its launch.

Q. How is the factual entertainment genre performing in India? Where do you see it headed in 2012?

We believe that factual entertainment will emerge as one of the mainstays of the Indian television space and that the Indian market is ripe for alternative formats. That is one of the reasons for us to bring in History into this market. Factual entertainment is emerging as the new preferred choice across the world and the genre has the potential to become mainstream in India as well. We expect the overall per cent of the entire genre to be around 2-3 per cent from the existing 1 per cent.

Q. How is your content strategy shaping up? Going forward, what would be the focus areas for History's content?

We have a plethora of new shows lined up for December. We have special shows, which are one-offs, focusing on interesting concepts like ‘History Must Watch’, which includes shows like ‘Child Warrior’ that talks about in-depth journalistic report of the escalating international crisis of children who are recruited and used as soldiers in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Eastern Congo, Nepal and Columbia; ‘Ancient Ink’ – an insight into the world of tattoo making and how tattooing has changed over the centuries; ‘Scammed’ – which takes viewers inside long and complicated schemes and even the micro-cons that have plagued unsuspecting people for hundreds, even thousands of years; ‘The Real story of Christmas’ revealing interesting and unknown facts about this religious festival; and ‘South Korea – a nation to watch’. But probably the most promising one is the thoroughly enjoyable ‘Freddie Flintoff versus the World’ – where ex-cricketer Andrew Flintoff travels across the world meeting celebrity opponents, unraveling challenges and competing on extreme sport.

Soon, we will also be announcing a few big-ticket local productions that match international scale.

Q. After the initial campaign are you planning to come up with any new ads featuring Salman Khan?

We’ll be happy to discuss this once are plans are frozen at a later stage.

Q. What have been the main challenges in drawing eyeballs to a channel like History?

We have already crossed our biggest hurdle – before we launched, History was associated with the past. We managed that through our positioning as explained earlier. Another significant challenge is to correct the pricing of the genre, which we believe is considerably undervalued.

Q. How have you created differentiation for History vis-à-vis channels like National Geographic, Discovery, even Animal Planet?

History has a very distinct look and feel, which is as refreshing as it is innovative. Also, we have considerable breadth of content cutting across genres of factual entertainment, be it adventure, wildlife, contemporary history, action, survival, food, travel, which is unparalleled.

Q. What has been the focus of the marketing plans for History? What have been the marketing spends like? Also History has recently tied up with CBSE for conservation of Indian monuments. Please tell us more about this tie-up?

History’s launch campaign has set a new standard as far as scale goes in the genre.

As a channel, we’ve always laid stress on innovation more than anything else. That DNA of innovation is being replicated everywhere, including every marketing exercise we undertake. For instance, we now have a comprehensive partnership in place with CBSC and its 10,000 schools on exciting on-ground events, activities and quizzes. History is also reaching out to every possible audience with access to a screen – be it a TV screen, a computer screen or a mobile phone. The channel has forayed on the mobile platform and is now available across major operators on live streaming and video on demand. On social media, History already has more fans than most of our competition. We have a healthy social media community where every show generates interesting conversation currency on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter a week before its launch.

Our marketing spend is in the range of around Rs 12-15 crore for the year, but that’s largely because this has been a launch year. Going forward, we will be looking at creating innovative clutter breaking marketing concepts, along with exploiting synergies with our sister channels.

Q. Any other tie-ups that History channel has lined up?

There are several. In the near future, we’ll be announcing an interesting tie-up with UNESCO.

Q. Going forward, how do you see History sustaining the viewership?

Our ambition and mission is to broad base the genre and ensure that every young Indian is tuning in to our channel. We look forward to having History leading and growing the genre progressively into an alternative to mainstream general entertainment channels. This is primarily because we believe there is a lot of inherent weariness and audiences are looking for new content beyond the regular sitcoms served on television. This is the general trend world over: factual entertainment channels actually compete with regular mainstream entertaining channels and we expect that to happen here as well.

Q. We are staring at another economic slowdown. How does it affect your expansion plans?

We’ve always believed that if you get the fundamentals right, everything else will fall in place. We know we have a great product offering and believe there is a strong market for us. Moreover, the breadth of our audiences and advertisers provides a bit of a hedge as compared to categories and genres that are independent or have fewer advertiser segments.

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