Swati Mohan took over as the Business Head-India, Fox Network Group on March 30 2015, a year in which the Indian television industry saw a transition in its rating system from TAM to BARC. In addition, in September 2015, 21st Century Fox acquired a majority stake in National Geographic, creating a new holding company called National Geographic Partners under which all the assets of the erstwhile National Geographic – magazines, cable TV channels, digital properties, merchandising – now reside.
Mohan, who was elevated to her current role from her previous role of Vice President - content and programming at Fox International Channels, India, now heads the mandate for nine channels of Fox Network Group in India – National Geographic Channel (NGC), NGC HD, Fox Life, Fox Life HD, Nat Geo Wild (NGW), NGW HD, Baby TV, Nat Geo People and Nat Geo Music. She says the acquisition has led to a change in focus with new strategy being formulated around consolidation of brands and opportunities. The network recently started the uplink of all its channels from India and localized its Indian beam, a move which will result in a lot more focus on brands.
Says Mohan, “National Geographic Partners will consolidate its messaging and business model to allow what works best. We will see consolidation later in the year.”
Looking at the year gone by, what has stood out has been the performance of HD channels. Mohan says, “The growth of HD channels helped us in our focus when it comes to subscription. Our HD channels are well placed and available across all the top DTH and MSO players. It’s definitely going to be a higher growth rate than previous year.”
On the ratings front, the flagship channel, NGC is consistently among the top five channels in the infotainment space. Commenting on the niche channels - Baby TV, Nat Geo Music and Nat Geo People, Mohan says, “The uplink happened recently. We need to strengthen our distribution; that will be a focus area this year, that the availability and connectivity is good.” Mohan adds that lifestyle channel, Fox Life, which completes two years in June, is the genre leader in its space.
Power of content
One of the big successes on National Geographic Channel was the documentary, ‘BSF: India’s First Line of Defence’, which attained TVT of 812 (Wk 4, 4+ All India) when it aired on the eve of Republic Day and became the most watched show of the infotainment genre. The documentary also notched up massive viewership on the OTT platform, Hotstar. Mohan says that the network will allocate larger investment on content and continue to focus on “iconic story-telling, world class content and localized relevant content”. The BSF documentary was part of this effort and other examples include documentary film ‘He Named Me Malala’ which aired on Women’s Day.
Localized also means that National Geographic channel is available in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Bengali in addition to English. Fox Life is available in Hindi, Tamil, Bengali and English and one or two regional language feeds are in the works for Nat Geo Wild.
While local content makes up 15% of the overall content play, the strategy is to have local content within the global brand of National Geographic. Mohan adds, “A big change for us is that we will not be confined to just unscripted content. We will be delving into scripted content and will keep the filter of National Geographic in mind when those shows are being developed.”
Major emphasis has also been placed on co-creation of content with advertisers. Mohan recalls a time when brand integration was focused on how the brand/logo looked and the primary requirement in the brief was all about the product. The scenario today is different. Explains Mohan, “Advertisers want customized solutions, they don’t want to just sell the product. There are enough and more brands that are present in the space who want to tell a longer story about the brand and the affinity to the brand.” She adds, “We have seen sponsors come back on franchisees. We are now co-creating our content along with advertisers from scratch. Branded content is moving brand scores and allowing for a much larger kind of engagement.”
One such brand integration saw National Geographic Channel join hands with Ford for an adventure drive series, MyEndeavour Alterrain, where five celebrities drove the Ford Endeavour across India and related their experiences while driving the SUV. Similarly, other travel shows have associated themselves with tourism boards and travel portals and Mohan says that brands are seeing a qualitative impact due to better targeting of viewers.
Customer engagement is also driven via social media. With a social fan base of 10 million for National Geographic and three million for Fox Life, it is the perfect platform for marketing of shows and sampling of content. While all the channels of the network are available on Hotstar, efforts are on to be present on other emerging distribution platforms. Says Mohan, “When it comes to on-demand content, we are present on Hotstar. But, will there be newer areas that will develop? Yes, we are in the process of developing new platforms and that will be our focus going forward.”
She adds, “Eventually it will be about the power of content. This year will be testing to say if you got great content; it doesn’t matter where it is. That is a behaviour change and that is a perception change that the whole industry will take some time to get used to. Everyone is slowly adapting to the fact that if content is available somewhere else, it isn’t going to cannibalize my television rating. Everyone will overcome that fear and know that content is everywhere, it should be everywhere, and we should try and get the subscriber everywhere.”
Finally, commenting on the value of the National Geographic brand, Mohan says, “National Geographic is a 128-year-old institution. We have our strengths and will continue to play on that. We play our own game. While nobody minds being Number 1, what’s wrong with the Number 2 attitude? I have never seen that to be a problem. For us, protecting the brand and being true to that is way more important.”