Managing Director | 07 Sep 2012
Digitisation allows you to segment even more, because up until now, the critical mass that we needed as a channel was being denied to us because of analog distribution, where there was only space for 100-odd channels. With digitisation and space for 500-600 or as many channels as you want, you can finally have segmented channels which appeal to very small audience segments, but still those audience segments ascribe a very good value to that channel and are willing to pay money to acquire that channel and view it.
As Managing Director of National Geographic Channel and Fox International Channels, Keertan Adyanthaya is in charge of NGC, Fox History & Entertainment, Fox Crime, FX, NGC Wild, NGC Adventure, NGC Music and Baby TV. He has over 16 years’ experience and has earlier worked Star News, Star Movies and Star World, Vh1 and Channel [v]. He began his career as a media planner in 1995, working with Euro RSCG and then Ogilvy & Mather and Mindshare Fulcrum.
In conversation with Noor Fathima Warsia, Adyanthaya speaks at length about the factual entertainment and information genre, segmentation in the genre, language feeds and more…
Q. First leg of conversation is on what is happening with your group of companies. As you mentioned when we started off NGC is in a good place right now across all of your channels but the genre became really active a year ago with lots of new players. Was it true for the genre that the advent of new players grew the category?
Yes, in fact, like you see in many other categories any new player brings in a lot of energy with the existing players as well. We all start taking a look at our businesses and see how we can grow our business a) from an internal point of view itself as in how do we make our business bigger and also from a point of view of protecting our shares, protecting our category, protecting our brands by looking at how we can bolster these brands to not let competition chip away at them. The launch of History last year let us force the other competition as well as ourselves to relook at our business and see what we can do better to get faster, stronger, higher in our business.
Q. History was no stranger to the Indian market, however the way the AETN-TV18 partnership played it up this time and in a sense according to people redefined the genre, was that something you were expecting having had experience with the player?
If you look at what the brand is in the rest of the world, that’s the kind of brand that they are – they look at factual entertainment, whereas we look at factual information or factual knowledge, we are knowledge channels. National Geographic, if you look at it as a brand, it’s a brand that has been there for the last 125 years. It came about as a brand because people wanted to know more about the world that they live in and that’s been our mission throughout these 125 years, you find a very few brands that live the same mission for 125 years. But that mission of ours, which is to make people know more, it is still so relevant today as it was 125 years ago, when people didn’t know beyond their neighbourhood. Today, people don’t know beyond what’s inside the brain and they don’t know beyond what people tell them they know. It’s very important for a brand like ours to expand that knowledge, and while we do try to be entertaining our mission is far higher than just entertainment and we believe that there a lot of brands in the country that perform a very good job of entertaining the people, brands like Star Plus, which is one of the biggest entertainment brands, Star World, Star Movies, which entertain people very well. But there is a pressing need gap for somebody who actually lets you know more, lets you discover more about the world that you live in, expands your knowledge base, make you smarter as human beings – that’s the brand that National Geographic is. It does not just entertain; you spend half an hour watch the channel, you walk out richer in terms of knowledge. You know something that you didn’t know before.
Q. That caters to one kind of target audience. We have started seeing further slicing in the genre, with the attempt that Discovery Kids and finally what it shapes up to be, it was clear that you can further segment that genre. What have been your efforts to first identify your segments and then target them?
If you look at it, around the world even we have multiple like Nat Geo Kids, etc. We have launched some of those brands in India, but we do have other brands like Nat Geo Wild, which is all about only wildlife and is in India. We also have another brand called Nat Geo Adventure, which is about going beyond the boundaries and experiencing something that you have not experienced before; we have another brand called Nat Geo Music, which is present in India in a few select DTH platforms and is all about world music. So yes, we do believe in segmentation as well and we are making efforts at segmentation, but the category is catching speed only now, whereas in the rest of the world , this category is much, much bigger. Going forward, you will see much more segmentation. In fact, digitisation allows you to segment even more, because up until now the critical mass that you needed to have as a channel was being denied to us because of analog distribution, where there was only space for 100-odd channels. Now with digitisation and space for 500-600 or as many channels as you want, you can finally have segmented channels which appeal to very small audience segments, but still those audience segments ascribe a very good value to that channel and are willing to pay money to acquire that channel and view it.
Q. But between wild, adventure and mainstay channels, it’s a lot of overlapping TG. You have cut it via content taste, but it is not really cut via demography or even the psychography profile…
What we do is when we launch Wild in any market, then immediately the percentage of content of Wild that is there on the core channel starts going down and the core channel relies a lot on technology, on cultural instances, etc., to attract audiences.
Q. What will be needed for you to consider more brand launches? What is it that you are targetting?
In terms of targetting, whenever we see critical mass of enough audiences following a certain genre, following a certain segment, that’s when we begin to think whether we have more content in this genre or in this segment to satisfy the need for a full channel. We look at those kinds of reason and logic before we consider a full channel. Of course, we also have to look at whether this channel has viewer interest on one end, because that’s one of our constituents, whether it has trade interest, because that’s another set of audiences for us in terms of people as a business party who will partner in distributing these channels. So there are two parties here – one is the affiliate trade and the second is the advertising trade. So we will have to get a buy in from both these parties.
Q. So you don’t think there is a market for kids’ channel right now?
At this point we are not launching a kids’ channel, because if you look at it, the kids’ segment is heavily under-indexed – Cartoon Network, Pogo, etc. If you look at them as a genre across all the channels – Disney, Turner, Nickleodeon – they get a lot of viewership. In fact, I would go so far as to say that after GE and Hindi movies, they are the third biggest segment and third biggest revenue generator. The investments that you make there will remain under-indexed for some more years to come. When we launch a kids’ channel, we would launch it for knowledge reasons and we wouldn’t want that channel to be reliant so heavily on advertising alone, because then you are exposing the children who are sitting there to learn something to a lot of commercial messages. That’s not something that we would want to do. We feel that that’s a negative. We will wait for the subscription model to become stronger, so that we can provide people a very clean channel and they are exposed to knowledge alone. After being in this world for 125 years, one of our missions is education and we don’t want to corrupt that mission. We stand for that and we don’t stand that much for entertainment. There are so many brands that are entertainment brands, one more entertainment brand – who are we trying to fool?
Q. What do you do to synergise between the NGC group of channels and the Fox channels, considering they are different offerings?
We work very closely with STAR, with their portfolio of channels like Star Movies, Star World, FX, Fox Crime, and our portfolio which is National Geographic, Fox Traveller – we cross promote a lot on our networks. We look at high points in our channels and try and coincide them so that all of us can do better together. The same ad sales team headed by Louise Ralf sells these channels.
Q. Factual entertainment as a genre and infotainment, since you are focusing on information and knowledge so much, went very interesting when they started experimenting a lot with languages and language feeds, but we are not sure whether from a revenue point of view that makes too much difference. What has been you experience with this whole foray into languages?
It’s an interesting experience so far. Some languages do way better than others, South Indian languages do quite well. Our Bengali feed has also been a pretty good experience as well, also because we experimented a lot with Bengali, re-scripted according to the Bengali style and we used a few English words mixed in with the Bengali and not just a pure Bengali feed, which helped us as well. But having seen this, we are not planning to expand to further new languages because we feel at this point we are at an optimal level. The languages left for us really are Kannada, Marathi, Gujarati perhaps. Our Hindi feeds do better that other people’s Marathi feeds.
Q. Last year and the year before that, we saw this whole branch out of these food and lifestyle channels. Do you find them complementing or do find them competitive?
I would put them into two separate categories – one is the food channels and the other is the travel and lifestyle channels. If you look at it a food channel is very different from a travel and lifestyle channel because for the viewers who watch a food alone channel there are recipe driven food channels and then there are lifestyle driven food shows. That is the travel and lifestyle category. There were three food channels launched and one dropped out. There’s only FoodFood channel to talk about in that genre.
And then there are the travel and lifestyle channels, which is where you have Fox Traveler, TLC and NDTV Good Times, and that’s a place where we have done really well. We were a new entrant in that category and last year we led in 24 out of 52 weeks.
Q. How do you cut your market, what is the TG that you are looking at?
We look at seven metros, upmarket audiences, SEC A. It’s been really good because we produced a lot of Indian content. Earlier, in our National Geographic network, we used to do only about eight hours of local production, so with this we did another 50 hours plus 8-10 hours, so it was almost 60 hours of this kind of content being produced.
Q. Measurement in your genre – it seems to be the sore point for the longest time because the current measurement system doesn’t really do justice. But do you think when digitisation truly takes off this problem will sorted out?
Some of these categories continue to be measured the way they are, but I guess there’s no alternative, today this is the measurement system that we have. Of course, as an industry we are talking to the measurement body and figuring out ways and means of how to expand the panel, how to make it more robust. There will always be pain points that we will have some people saying we are not represented and some people saying that the households that we have do not represent the real SEC. But these are problems that will continue to plague the industry, we have to figure how to continue and find a way around those kinds of problems. At the end of the day, you have to make content that appeals to people and get people to watch that content. In a nutshell that’s what television is all about and then of course, find people who would advertise too!
Q. When you are talking about locally created programming and acquired programming from your network what is the ideal ratio that works say in a channel like Fox Traveler?
I’ve found that there is no ideal ratio, it’s all about gut feel. If you had enough money, nothing like creating a 100 per cent local travel and lifestyle channel, it’s great situation, but you have to have the money to fund it. Today there is not that much money to fund that kind of content because then you would talk about creating 400-500 hours every year from India, because there is enough in India to cover that – you could perhaps send Indian anchors abroad to cover their journey. Is there enough money to create that kind of content in the way that it needs to be created, because some of it needs to be really slick, some of it needs to be very high end productions. So if you look at it, when I say enough money you have to understand which point of view I am coming from. I can go out and buy content which is really slick and up there, which is the kind of anchor that Indians like to watch for X thousand dollars per episode versus if I had to create the same content with the same thing, it would cost me 10X thousand dollars if I created it myself.