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Rahul Johri

Sr VP & GM – South Asia | 20 Jul 2012

Our marketing strategy has been the same; there has been no shift in our marketing strategy. The culture in our company is that we stay on brands, we are not chasing ratings for ratings’ sake. So, the viewer has no surprises; if the viewer comes to us and is expecting something, he will get that. We have loyalty among viewers and we have grown in rating and we managed to establish ourselves.

As Senior Vice President and General Manager, South Asia at Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, Rahul Johri overseas the company’s overall growth strategy in the region, which includes India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal. He has worked across verticals spanning news channels, magazines and print dailies in his career of over 18 years, during which he was also involved in the launch media properties such as Aaj Tak, Outlook and HT City.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Shree Lahiri, Johri speaks at length on how the regional feeds have expanded Discovery’s reach and base; marketing strategies, programming initiatives and more...

Q. How has the journey been for Discovery Networks in India and what are the challenges you’ve faced?

We have grown at a tremendous rate over the last 4-5 years. We’ve gone from two channels to eight and from two languages to five – English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Bangla – that itself is growth. Languages are our mainstay and have been an important part of our strategy. Discovery globally is in 45 different languages. The reason for that is that it is not two Chinese guys talking Tamil, but it’s commentary, so our content lends itself very well to languages, thus making it a more engaging experience for the viewer.

The other thing we have really worked at is distribution. We’ve had a strong joint venture with Sony - The One Alliance, which is now 10 years old. We moved in early into the distribution business and everybody else later copied us. This has helped us establish our products in India. The other big move was last year when Discovery Tamil was launched; this is unique, as India is one of the few countries apart from the US where two Discoveries exist! Discovery Tamil is tailor-made for the Tamil audience, it has separate packaging, separate layout, and is now the No 9 channel in Tamil Nadu; and apart from general entertainment, it is the biggest channel in Tamil Nadu. We have started seeding Discovery Kids and it is going very well.

Q. India was the first country to launch Discovery Travel & Living (now TLC). What are the viewership patterns that you see across global markets?

When we launched Discovery Travel & Living (TLC) in 2004, we had redefined the market. It was the first lifestyle channel in India. And today, you have to be the ‘trend of the trendy’ – that’s what TLC is. We have a niche target, the right people at the right time. We’re ‘bang on’ on the TLC audience. One of our strengths has been, if you saw the launch plan when we launched TLC in 2004, you would think that we had written it for today. It’s been the same – the same proposition, programming mix, it was the right formula, and there was no need to change the formula. Of course, we have deepened the offering now – there’s more variety, the offer has got fine-tuned, packaging is slicker and smarter, but overall strategy has remained the same.

Q. If you were at the right place at the right time, then by sheer logic the marketing strategy was also ditto. Right?

Our marketing strategy has been the same; there’s been no shift in our marketing strategy. The culture in our company is that we stay on brands, we are not chasing ratings for ratings’ sake. So, the viewer has no surprises; if the viewer comes to us and is expecting something, he will get that. We have loyalty among viewers and we have grown in rating and we managed to establish ourselves.

Q. Discovery Channel entertains viewers in multiple languages. What is the range of programming that you offer, and what were the changes in your content strategy?

We are in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Bangla. Discovery Channel is in English, Hindi, Telugu and Bangla; Discovery Tamil is separate; Animal Planet is in English and Hindi; TLC is in English and Hindi; Discovery Science will soon be launched in Hindi, and we have our plans in place for Discovery Kids, which will be launched soon. We have a large range of programmes. We spend more than a billion dollars a year on programme production. We have the largest programming engine of non-fiction programmes. Our promise is to deliver the best content in real time. There’s no lag, and our latest shows are delivered on ‘real’ time.

Q. How has the ROI on local programming changed over the years?

Local programming is important, especially for an international channel, because people like to see where they stand or how we show India. We step up productions year to year – we have been ahead in thinking what to show to our viewers. In TLC we had travel shows like ‘Indian Rendezvous’, ‘Vir Sanghvi Show’. The big production we did was ‘Living with the Super Star’ with Shaha Rukh Khan in 10 episodes. Recently we did ‘O my Gold’, which explained everything about gold. This year we did ‘The Making of Ra.One’. We have just launched ‘Be Blunt’, and then we are doing a show on the Army’s expedition to Mt Everest. A sign of the business becoming important is when big programmes are coming to India. The ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’ is already in India. India is an integral part in that. That is what has made our channel contemporary and relevant.

Q. How has the network performed, especially when compared with the new channels?

We have grown year on year in terms of ratings. In the last four years we have doubled our ratings. How many channels have done that? Why are we growing? India is a young country, where 65 per cent of the population is below the age of 30. They want to see ‘real’ things, they have ‘real’ aspirations and our channels are a perfect fit for aspirational India. We deliver highest quality content, so viewers connect with us. Our channel is the most respected brand in the business, and as clutter increases, the cream rises… and our channels have got recognition, and we can reap the benefits of it.

Q. Do you think that the genre will be able to accommodate more channels in the future? The biggest problem is that while local shows would be more expensive to make than acquire, the viewership and advertiser interest may be similar.

It’s becoming more complex to launch new channels. Why did we launch new channels? We have a strong programming engine and we can leverage that. Secondly, the country is turning digital – the consumer has more choice, and when the consumer has more choice, he has more demands in quality and differentiated content and we have the capacity to deliver that. India is in the cusp of change from analogue to digital and we are perfectly poised to do that with our eight properties. If you look at the channels in India, there are not around 300 channels, but 30 channels of the same kind. Our channels are like no other; each one has a different brand proposition and programme agenda.

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