Satisfying the curiosity of young Indians

 Today, the international footprint of Discovery is huge. Presence in more than 180 countries, 40 languages and more than 1.5 billion cumulative subscribers. It makes an interesting story as to how the network still thrives on the same idea that it was launched with, which is to provide new and refreshing content.

e4m by Rishi Vora
Updated: May 17, 2011 9:51 AM
Satisfying the curiosity of young Indians

It was in 1985, in America, when Discovery Channel was aired for the first time. The reach was minimal then, but the idea was to offer something that the Americans had not experienced before. Today, the international footprint of Discovery is huge. Presence in more than 180 countries, 40 languages and more than 1.5 billion cumulative subscribers. It makes an interesting story as to how the network still thrives on the same idea that it was launched with, which is to provide new and refreshing content. And the need to continue that in today’s age is even more, as media has exploded and fragmented in big way. Especially in India – a growing market for Discovery. The testimony of that is the increasing viewership across group channels (now six channels with the launch of Discovery Science and Discovery Turbo) and the renewed focus on languages.

In 1998 Discovery Channel launched its 24-hour parallel Hindi feed – it gave the channel nationwide viewership. On January 1, 2010, it launched a 24-hour Tamil feed, after which Discovery Channel moved up its rank by 25 positions, time spent by the viewers on the channel increased eight times. Then it launched the Telugu feed, increased its viewership in Andhra Pradesh by 175 per cent (source: Discovery) and the recent launch of Bangla feed. Which means the channel is now available in five languages including Hindi and English.

Animal Planet is almost the same size of National Geographic, claim company executives. They’ve also indicated that the channel has outperformed its rival from the Star Group in Digital ratings. (Animal Planet is available in two languages – English and Hindi). TLC – Discovery’s definitive lifestyle channel has struck the right chord with its viewers in India, if one looks at the viewership and distribution statistics.

So it would be only fair to credit the company, which is said to be the first mover in its space to go regional. It has penetrated deeper into India and has earned the tag of India’s 9th largest channel cumulative reach-wise: A strong reflection of the brand’s mass popularity and the India changing story.

Rahul Johri, Senior Vice President and General Manager – South Asia, Discovery Networks Asia Pacific explains Discovery India’s journey. “The 15-year journey for us in India has been outstanding. India has changed. Digitisation has contributed to that change and the youth is a major influencing factor in India’s growth story. There is tremendous scope beyond the metros. That’s where our future growth is.”

The last decade witnessed an unparalleled increase in the number of television channels, widening of the broadcast platforms -introduction of the exciting new formats and evolving demands of advertisers and affiliates. How does Discovery look at this? Who does it consider as competition? For Johri, it is the whole television landscape and not just channels within the same genre. “The consumer does not differentiate channels genre-wise. Today Discovery is 20 per cent bigger than Hindi news, it’s bigger than English Movies – all the English movies put together; it’s bigger than all the English news channels put together. We’re almost four times the size of National Geographic. We don’t look at them as competition. So outside of entertainment and cricket, we’re the biggest channel. And the viewers have given us the opportunity to be such a big channel and we will continue to deliver on that.”

Johri further elaborates on the group’s success. “We have a very strong distribution network in place. That’s because One Alliance which distributes us is the strongest distribution platform in the country. We’re available in virtually every home in the country. Now what’s the next step for us? It’s really about enriching the viewer experience. How do you do it? The best way is to provide your global content in the regional language that the local viewer understands and converses in.”
Apparently, Discovery is the only company in India which has launched three channels in different languages in a year, where content on each channel remains primarily the same; what changes is the language. So a viewer gets the same global content, but in his mother tongue.

With distribution – one major hurdle being crossed, the challenge for Discovery India is to keep raising the bar as far as viewership is concerned. Johri tells IMPACT why it would be one – successful in sustaining the numbers it has delivered, and two – to be able to grow them in the years to come.

“Over the last few years, we have doubled our network portfolio and have substantially increased our viewership base. Discovery’s strength of bringing non-fiction content based on topical and enriching subjects, presented by finest entertainers, experts and renowned personalities, has been able to serve its mission of satisfying viewers’ curiosity.” He further states that not many companies can claim to be leaders in six unique genres. “We are pleased to be in such a coveted position. We’re the No1 non-fiction entertainment channel. TLC is the home of lifestyle television. Animal Planet is the only one of its kind. Discovery Science, Discovery Turbo and India’s first 24-hour definition channel Discovery HD World have broadened Indian television landscape. So there is no reason why we shouldn’t continue delivering. With consistent, differentiated and high-quality global programming, unmatched India productions and unique and exciting new formats, I see a very bright future for all our brands in India.”

International clout
Discovery, as is known, is a listed company in the US. Its revenues in Q1 of 2011 saw an increase of 9 per cent to $951 million. Chief Executive Officer David Zaslav was quoted on saying, “Discovery Communication’s consistent investment in content over the past four years, along with a drive to expand our subscriber base domestically and internationally, has enabled the growth of audiences across the globe. In the first quarter of 2011, we recognised the value of our increased viewership through double digit advertising gains that further built upon the strength we demonstrated throughout 2010.”

As for the future, Zaslav said that the company will remain focused on delivering sustained operating leverage and free cash flow growth, while also continuing to invest in Discovery's diverse set of brands and platforms around the world. With the networks growth, comes the focus on India – the No 1 market in the Asia Pacific regions, said Johri.

The road ahead
The company had an eventful 2010 with series of new shows, new channels (launched Discovery Science and Discovery Turbo, revamping the old ones (the rebranding exercise of Travel & Living to TLC, and last but the most important move – to increase its reach in the regional space. On how TLC has shaped up as what they position is the definitive lifestyle channel, Johri said, “TLC is a big channel for us. It completely dominates the lifestyle genre in India and we will continue to work on that. I look at TLC as one of the most successful channel launches in recent years in India. It has defined and established a genre and the way its viewers relate to it is fantastic.” The rebranding exercise of the channel saw a high octane multimedia campaign, and the channel to change its name and yet increase its viewership is indeed a task well performed.

As for the year 2011, the focus will be to engage younger audiences and as Johri indicates, that will be done via various marketing initiatives and campaigns.
How does the Discovery model work? Does advertising take the driving seat, or is it also subscription revenues that contribute to the overall kitty? Johri says that the revenue split between advertising and distribution is even, and that the company will look at consistently building on both.

The content sharing practice and the partnerships with Discovery companies in other markets, plus local acquisitions are factors which has enabled growth in the bottomline and establishing a solid base of viewership in the country.

The company’s target for the next five years is to continue its endeavour in satisfying the curiosity of millions, and make television viewing as expansive and entertaining as one could imagine. “We are in India for the long haul,” concludes Johri. The past few years have brought rich dividends. Launch of local languages, investment in programming, execution of high-decibel local productions, a robust distribution system, and the widening of the viewership base – all combine together for a victorious innings for Discovery Group in India. As viewership patterns change over the years, it will be interesting to see how the international giant manages to adapt itself to Indian broadcast complexities.

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