The first channel from the TV18 and A+E Networks JV in India, History, made its official debut in India on October 9, 2011. History, a brand which is not unknown to the Indian audience, will now be seen in a brand new avatar, where the intention is to grow an alternative form of entertainment that is not based on fiction but facts, popularly also called the infotainment genre.
In a conversation with exchange4media, Ajay Chacko, President, A+E Networks I TV18, is quick to point out that the more appropriate reference for the genre is factual entertainment. He explained, “It is a global phenomenon that fiction-based entertainment that has typically commanded a lion’s share of the market, has been flattening. In the process, a strong alternative has emerged in fact-based entertainment. If you closely observe the so-called infotainment channels, a few years back, they consciously decided they had to belong to one set – and it was entertainment as opposed to news, but the premise was fact, not fiction.”
At present, the factual entertainment genre in India is around 1.5 per cent of the overall television industry. The size of the business is estimated around Rs 200-250 crore. Media observers don’t hesitate to point that like many other genres, factual entertainment or infotainment is under-monetised in India. A senior buyer said, “Infotainment channels have six times the viewership of news channels and one-fourth the ad revenue.”
The changing television market dynamic, which is seeing more dollars spent for lesser number of eyeballs, has been one of the key triggers for Network18’s interest in this genre. The second is the popularity of some of the factual entertainment shows, and hence the genre potential to become a relatively mainstream alternative to fiction-based entertainment. Chacko quoted the example of ‘American Idol’ and ‘Ice Road Truckers’, where the latter is a show on History channel, and compares to ‘American Idol’ in both its reach and appeal.
Haresh Chawla, Group CEO, Network18, said, “We believe that the Indian market is ripe for alternative formats and that is one of the reasons for us to bring in channels like 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 are confident that History, the first product from our partnership with A+E Networks, will widen the appeal of the genre and pave the way for many more initiatives.”
According to Chacko, it is clear that audiences want to see things they have not seen before, and this could be in the form of setting, locales or the kind of drama. But it is the adventure or the action quotient that is being viewed – the setting could be wildlife or dangerous terrains or even something like weapons.
History, by the way...
Chacko also acknowledges the challenges of delving with a genre like this. He said, “Factual entertainment implies having to take facts and create entertaining formats out of it; the narrative has to be set literally in an out-of-box environment, and it is very important to engage the right production houses to achieve this.”
History has invested in choosing the right production partners. Shows like ‘Ice Road Truckers’ are brought to India, and the terrain chosen are the Himalayas. An important point that Chacko makes here is the difference in the way in which History itself would be presented on the channel.
He explained, “The channel’s baseline of history being made everyday gives one the latitude to play with themes that are contemporary. In the case of ‘Ice Road Truckers’, for instance, the mainstay content would be about navigating those dangerous roads, and how those people would be doing it in the Himalayas; the history of the locale is told by the way – the show is not a history lesson.”
“Weapons – once upon a time you would have a weapons expert coming and taking you through it. ‘Top Shot’, 16 of the world’s best shooters competing with each other using a whole range of weapons from different time periods – history is again told by the way,” he added.
The India component would there in many of the shows on the channel, but History is clear that viewers want things that they have not seen before, so even if it is a local commissioned show, the channel is looking for global scale and production. “One good test of that would be that it should go in the international system and should not just stay in History India,” said Chacko.
History & Road Ahead
History’s launch marks an important milestone in the Indian media space as it the first manifestation of the alliance between TV18 and A&E Networks. History is the first in a bouquet of factual entertainment channels to be launched by the joint venture.
In a prepared statement, Abbe Raven, President & CEO, A+E Networks, stated, “We have eagerly anticipated the launch of History in India, a market that represents important growth opportunities for A+E Networks’ global strategy. Since 1995, History has been entertaining viewers around the world with our innovative, original programming, becoming the leading destination for factual entertainment. We are excited to partner with TV18 to bring History to audiences in India, and believe the channel will be as successful there as it is in the US and other territories.”
History is available in six languages – English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Marathi – in HD across all major markets in India and will reach out to more than 50 million households in the launch phase itself. It will be available on both cable TV and DTH platforms.
The channel has signed on Salman Khan to be the face of the channel in an attempt to broad base the appeal of History and the factual entertainment genre.