Director | 28 Sep 2012
I think digitisation is a most welcome development… The consumer will gain by way of choice, broadcasters will gain by more capacity, the government gains by way of taxes and in the long term, cable operators will gain, otherwise they would have lost out to DTH anyway. So, digitisation is a win-win situation for everyone.
Deepak Shourie is responsible for BBC Worldwide Channels’ operations across South Asia, and spearheads the management of the channels in the region. He reports to Mark Whitehead, Senior Vice President and General Manager of BBC Worldwide Channels Asia. A veteran in the media industry in India, Shourie has extensive experience in the media industry in India. After being the Group General Manager at Living Media, publishers of India Today, he conceived and launched a competitive weekly news magazine Outlook. He was then Executive President for The Hindustan Times and CEO at Zee TV. Prior to joining BBC Worldwide, Shourie was EVP and Managing Director for Discovery Communications India. During his seven years at the helm, he also launched Discovery Travel & Living in India, and made the company’s India business profitable.
In conversation with Noor Fathima Warsia and Shree Lahiri, Shourie speaks at length about digitisation, the strength of British content, carriage fees, English entertainment genre and more...
Q. In the market that we are in now, with digitisation on the anvil, what would it mean for a player like BBC at this moment?
I think digitisation is a most welcome development. With digitisation capacity will increase and when that happens, broadcasters can bring in more channels, and consumers will have a choice. The quality of signals will improve and it has improved against the standard cable; now to compete with DTH, cable operators are putting in their best equipment. So the consumer will gain by way of choice, broadcasters will gain by more capacity, the government gains by way of taxes and in the long term, cable operators will gain, otherwise they would have lost out to DTH anyway. So, digitisation is a win-win situation for everyone.
Q. Digitisation has become a reality now. What is the prep work for the next couple of months?
We have well defined plans and are focused as far as content goes. We have programmes lined up for the festive season. There’s ‘Top Gear’, the ‘Graham Norton Show’, ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and they will be promoted in markets like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, which are critical for all broadcasters, and especially for broadcasters like us, who are dealing with an upscale English-speaking audience. The pace of digitisation has picked up a lot in the last couple of weeks and I think by November 1, we will get over 50 per cent in Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata, which is significant. I don’t know about Chennai, because it has a peculiar problem. On November 1, where there will be no cable television in analogue, there will be a rush.
Q. Many multinational companies, especially American companies, have refocused on the English entertainment content genre, which will open up the market in a big way. There are many genres of entertainment coming in today that are waiting for digitisation, and competition would have intensified a bit more. Would you agree with that?
You’re right, there could be more offerings coming in, but I think we are particularly well placed. The content that will come in will be basically from the US and not the UK. In the UK, I don’t think anyone can compete with the BBC on the quality, the extent and width of content that we have. We build 30,000 hours of content every year. So, the BBC with its British focus will continue to have a significant advantage. Competition will always come, with more number of channels, people will try, but how many channels do you really watch? Generally, the audience watches between eight and 10 channels, and if we have found a place in the audience profile that we are catering to and our advertisers are interested in, then we will only succeed.
Q. There was a time when carriage fee was not such a burden for players like BBC...
That’s not true. The carriage fee has been a major deterrent factor to our ability to expand and grow faster. There is too much money going out. If there was no carriage fee, the BBC would have done much more by now than what we have achieved. We have achieved a tremendous amount in the short space of time that we had. We are today at 9 minutes of viewership, while there’s 5 minutes in AXN and 4 minutes in TLC (which is a bilingual channel), and of course, there are others. In the last 4-5 weeks, we were higher than Star World. This is due to the multi-genre content of the BBC.
My whole philosophy is – if it’s a soap channel, people will watch from beginning to end, because there’s a storyline; and when it’s not a soap channel, people watch the whole programme at different times of the day. The point that really comes out is that we have been able to achieve this high viewership because we have different kinds of content for different audience profile, but the audience in terms of the socio-economic category is similar. If I wanted to watch factual content or entertainment, I’d go to different channels. But here you have a channel that gives you the best of British content, the best of products not viewed elsewhere; for instance, there are some serials that are seen across channels, like ‘Friends’.
Yes, it’s a slower build, but it is a surer build.
Q. In English entertainment, people are trying to cut down the time between the international release of a show and the Indian telecast...
The reduction of time matters to TV buffs, who want everything all the time. You can’t look at this 5-7 per cent of the audience alone, who are important, but must look at a wider audience. It is happening online, but there’s a difference between people watching online and on television. One might watch online – I watch on my iPad, we have an iPlayer in the, but it hasn’t come to India.
Q. Because of the presence of US-based shows, the connection to Hollywood and Oscars and so on, there is an eagerness among people to go after such shows, which become immediate attraction-grabbers.
We’re doing that now. We have released ‘Top Gear Series 18’ at the same time as the US; and ‘Graham Norton Series 12’ will release in November at the same time as the UK, while ‘Top Gear Series 19’ will also be released at the same time. But we were unable to do so for ‘Sherlock Holmes’ as we were four months late. To bridge that gap is very necessary so that we can offer the content before it goes online. Our technology is changing everyday and it could become a real world where everyone is online. When 4G becomes a reality, the quality of bandwidth will improve and then it will be necessary.
Q. Because there is this view of you as a prominent player for British content, do you also see yourself as a genre builder?
I think it’s a natural corollary. It will happen because viewers will look upon the BBC as an authentic place for British content as they get more accustomed to it. How did you get accustomed to American content? When BBC is seen and gets the kind of attention it will get, then British content will also become popular.
Q. Will BBC undertake initiatives that will build British content category like going on ground with a movie or a festival – which is all about building the category than just BBC Entertainment?
I think that’s a good point. When the Royal Wedding took place, BBC was in the forefront. It was not only the best news content coverage, but we had a celebration at the High Commission with Indian invites and the Indian media picked it up in a big way. Also, the coverage of the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen. I am sure this is something we will do as we build the brand.
Q. English entertainment channels have experimented with an India mix in content. It’s not Indianising the content, but bringing some original Indian content. Is this on the radar?
Obviously, it’s a great opportunity. Is it imminent? No. It has to fit in with the character of the channel; the quality of production also must be good so that it blends with what you are showing on the main channel; and it must not just have an Indian appeal, it must also have an international appeal. Indian content always works. Is it absolutely essential? No, but it is desirable, so that I would say the quality must be such that it does not stand away from the existing quality of the channel and must be monitisable not only in India but all over the world.