Jean-Briac Perrette, President of Discovery Networks International, has high expectations from the Indian market even though he maintains that Discovery is still a “relatively smaller player in the landscape of bigger media companies”. However, as he puts it, it is not necessarily a bad thing. “We look at it as a good thing, it means there are a lot of opportunities to build,” he said.
We caught up with him on his recent visit to India. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
What are the challenges that Discovery has faced in India in 2015?
2015 was a big year of transition for us. We obviously have had a very successful partnership with Sony on the distribution side which, based in the changes in the regulation, we had to disband. So that was a challenge because we ultimately had to rebuild our organization and the team did a fantastic job of getting us through that transition. It was a big change and a big challenge, but, in the last 15 months since we kicked it off, has been a great success and we are very pleased with.
We are obviously in the process now of two leadership changes. Last year we decided we needed a leadership change at the Asia level. And so we brought in Arthur Bastings who is our new Managing Director and President of Asia Pacific.
And, obviously, in India specifically where we look at this next chapter of growth. We are excited to see about finding new leadership and talent that can ultimately help drive this next chapter for us in India. Leadership transition is a challenge always but at the same time we look at it as a fantastic opportunity for what’s going to come.
I think then there are market factors like the digitization effort and the fact that it is been slower than I think anybody would have liked. We obviously would like to see that continue to be on schedule and execute it as fast as possible. We had a strong year and with a lot of changes in leadership, a lot of changes in distribution overall we came out of the year very well.
Going forward, what do you think are going to be the game changers for Discovery in India?
Well, the game changers are ultimately scale. The exciting thing is we are a relatively smaller player in the landscape of bigger media companies. But we don’t look at it as a bad thing, we look at it as a good thing, it means there are a lot of opportunities to build. We look at this digital revolution that we are all undergoing and the prospects based on the initial feedback from people like Uday (Uday Shankar, Chairman and CEO of Star India) and some of the leaders who have done really a fantastic job innovating this space. As technology continues to evolve, as 4G becomes available, as broadband penetration and speeds improve; given the age of the population, given the technology savvy population that exists in this market and the young population that exists in the market, the opportunity for digital I think will be enormous and getting people access to our content and to new content that has never ever been seen before. So, I think that excites us.
How much does Discovery India contribute to Discovery’s global revenue?
We don’t disclose any country specific numbers. We are less about looking backwards and more about looking forwards. So for us it’s a top market for prioritization of where we want to try and figure out how to do more. That’s what is most relevant. It’s a top market for us today, but we would like it to be even bigger market for us 3 to 5 years from now.
In your view, what kind of genres should Discovery adopt in the Indian context? For example, you mentioned you are the leaders in the kids segment in Latin America and sports in Europe. Is there any particular segment that you feel Discovery can really be the leader in India?
We are constantly evaluating and revaluating what those segments are. To take one example; the famous saying of ‘Reality is stranger than fiction’ is very true and it’s no truer than in the space of crime and mystery and suspense. We launched a channel in the US, 5 or 6 years ago called ‘Investigation Discovery’ that was the first and only 24x7 channel on these topics. Its non-fiction, true stories about crazy crimes of, you know, driven by money, by sex, by greed, by power and the stories have actually happened.
That brand is now the number one channel for women in the United States. We just launched that brand a year and a half ago in India. It’s still early days and it’s still obviously relatively small today but when we look at the trajectory in every market where we have launched it, we think that this content type is one which over the next few years has enormously more potential than where it’s gone today. So, when we talk about optimizing our current portfolio, there are genres that we are in today where we think we can we do even more and better than where we are. And so we think there is a lot more opportunity there and then there are other genres that we are not in at all today that we will continue to look at. The obvious ones that we talk about given that we are already in them are kids, sports and so we will continue to evaluate those.
How important has the digital medium become for Discovery Network?
The key on the internet is the communities that you can nurture in these online spaces and how do we develop and build that community of fans because we ultimately are a company that has for 30 years focused on. We don’t necessarily always want to be the biggest but our bread and butter is serving super fans, people who are passionate about a very specific targeted genres and doing that well and super serving those people. We are a community-based network. We just have been on a medium that has always been one dimensional, which is the television, and we are now being allowed to go into second dimension, which will be much more interactive and we want to figure out how do we best nurture that community in the years to come.
Does Discovery create original content for digital currently?
We have a team based in San Francisco that garners over 300 million monthly views. They produce only for digital. And it’s basically content that is made for the web, largely personality driven and led. One of the most successful franchises we launched was something called DNews, (Discovery News) and it is 3 to 5 minute segments with people talking about not traditional news but sort of the science and the physics and the ‘how to’ behind the news.
So, if there is a new discovery that happens in space or if there is a crash of a boat as there was a couple of years ago in Italy, it’s not about what happened, how many people died, etc. but how do you get the boat off the rocks, what’s the process to do that, you know what is the physics involved? When you think about the internet, Facebook, YouTube, all the big platforms that are out there, some of the most popular content is exactly in our genre. You know; ‘How to’, animals, science, chemistry, physics, all those things in addition to lifestyle content on the female side are right in our wheelhouse. We are a leader in that space with our Discovery Digital network team and we want to figure out how we do more.
Are you also planning to create India-specific content through Discovery Digital?
Well, I think that’s one of the things we may look at is. Look, India is a market where it’s a huge scale market. So, the challenge is, in a lot of markets we operate in which are too small to necessarily invest in a whole organization that does only that. India is one of the unique markets of the world because you have some massive scale and so there are many opportunities to do that.
You mentioned earlier that you are still evaluating how to reach out to digital audiences, whether it’s through OTT, etc. Is there a possibility that you are also looking at creating your own platform, something like we are seeing a lot of media companies in do, for example, Hotstar. Is that a possibility that Discovery could consider?
I think nothing is off the table, you know. We haven’t finalized any decisions and we haven’t ruled anything out. So, it’s a possibility, yeah, it’s always a possibility.
But would that make sense in the genre like yours?
As I was saying earlier, I don’t think necessarily in the way the advertisers are working today; you don’t necessarily need to be the biggest always. What’s in some cases is more important, certainly for advertisers, we are looking for engagement more than anything else---passionate, fanatical fan bases that are targeted, are incredibly appealing and incredibly rich and so and I don’t think we see any limitation, frankly if we were to do that and do that well, it doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be the biggest, but we think there is enormous opportunity if we do that, super serving those fans, even if it’s in a targeted demographic that’s more a passion following than a broad, you know general entertainment aggregator.
What are some of the media trends that you are seeing globally?
Well, I think it’s not dissimilar to what we talked about earlier. We are seeing viewership of content has never been stronger and never been more robust. The challenges are twofold --- Number one is making sure that the places where all the people are measuring are viewing the content, is actually measured. In 2016 there is only one market in the world that is actually trading on a measurement system that views the way the consumers are really viewing today which means inside the home, outside the home, television device and all other devices, mobile, laptop, tablets, etc. and linear plus on demand. That’s crazy! So, we need more markets to be actually moving faster on the measurement of a contemporary measurement of audience, not an old measurement of audience. Certainly the use of traditional television in the living room is in very mature high broadband penetration markets is declining, but TV content as opposed to TV as a distribution mechanism continues to grow and the desire for high quality content has never been higher because all these companies that are investing in new technologies, 4G, 5G. All of them are just pipes. What they need is great content to go down. So that is a uniform trend around the world which is, all these companies are investing more and more better quality delivery mechanisms are needing high quality content to differentiate and to service their customers, because otherwise it’s just a pipe.