The focus is to create more original content in India: Avinash Kaul

Kaul, Managing Director, A+E Networks | TV18 and CEO-Broadcast for Network18, talks about the growth of the infotainment genre, success stories of HistoryTV18 shows and more

e4m by Sonam Saini
Published: Mar 26, 2021 9:06 AM  | 7 min read
Avinash Kaul

Infotainment was one of the genres that were impacted last year by the pandemic. As per the Pitch Madison Report, 2021, the genre de-grew to 28% in FCT, while it contributed Rs 400-500 crores to the total TV revenue. 

HistoryTV18, an infotainment channel, owned by a joint venture between A+E Network and TV18, announced the launch of its longest-running hit factual entertainment series, OMG! Yeh Mera India season 7 that starts from March 29. The network also owned a lifestyle channel FYITV18, which was discontinued last year in July by the broadcaster.  

In conversation with exchange4media, Avinash Kaul, Managing Director, A+E Networks | TV18 and CEO-Broadcast for Network18 talks about the growth of the infotainment genre, HistoryTV18, and the decision to discontinue FYITV18 last year. 

Edited Excerpts:

History TV18 is launching the seventh season of OMG! Yeh Mera India. What has been the success story of the show? How has the advertisers’ response to the show been over the years? 

The show OMG! Yeh Mera India is about all the inspirational stories of Indians. The stories that we showcase make the show different. It's a 10 episodic show with 40 different stories of regular Indians who are creating history every day. With History TV18, our endeavour is to chronicle the journey of these common people of India.

For instance, in this season, we have a tree-climbing scooter story. We also have one where a person makes an actual aircraft on his rooftop. Every season will have different flavours from across the country and nothing is repetitive. So there, it doesn't necessarily need to have something new. What you will see new here is the changed title track, which is sung by Benny Dayal. The stories are massively interesting and they get better and better every year, and the best stories finally set to go on air.

We have never found any advertiser having any issue with it and they have always been a great support right from the launch because this is something that is very close to India. It is positive in nature and it's on a platform that offers you a substantially higher viewership than most of the smaller channels. This time Byju's, Havells and few others have become associate sponsors of the show. We have always found advertisers to be very keen to associate with the positive narrative that we are bringing to the table.

Have you increased the ad rates for this season?

It always happens. Typically what happens is that for India’s originals, there is always a premium rate involved. So the sponsors do support us with that, and this year was no exception, we do have a substantially higher premium than usual for India’s originals.

What is the target audience for History TV18? And how is it differentiated from other channels in the infotainment genre?

For History TV18, our target audience is Urban. We are probably 1 per cent lower than Discovery in terms of ratings. The reason I'm saying so is that there is a content mix between us and our competition, and for us, there is no wildlife or survival content on our channel as we are not about those platforms at all.

We are obviously contemporary, our genre programming is different. We have shows like Surgical Strikes, Forged in Fire, and more, that aren’t available anywhere else. We define our audience as the urban audiences, which caters to more. The largest concentration on our strategy has been primarily on India’s original content as opposed to any of our competition who've been around for longer than HistoryTV18, which is seven-eight years old in India.

But sadly, the initiative wasn't taken up by our competitors, but the local production initiatives have been heavily preferred by History TV18 in India and that continues to be our strategy. A bulk of our viewership comes from our Indian originals and that is what we take pride in.

How do you see the infotainment genre growing in 2021?

In the previous year, some genres had been hit hard and infotainment was no exception. Given the fact that we have a huge digital footprint, we launched a digital-exclusive travel vlogging series - Road Tripping with Rocky and Mayur.  We've already done three seasons now with them in different geographies. These types of shows you won’t find on television channels; it's primarily seen on digital. We reinvented, and not just relied on, typical FCT coming from regular sponsors because those businesses got really impacted. The focus shifted to co-creating content with our sponsors and that has helped us immensely in making sure that we end up with a year that has been good for us, as a plan. As the profitability of the channel is concerned, so we are probably on track.

In terms of revenue, the year 2020 has been challenging, because volumes have de-grown massively. Especially in the first and the second quarter, it was a huge drop in volumes. Things have corrected themselves from the third quarter onwards. We've managed to hold on to our diversification into branded content or other areas and our subscription, of course, coming in handy. But I don't think this is a year where there are major growth stories in terms of the size of the business, anywhere.

How big is branded content for History TV18?

For History TV18, the branded content is just growing. Till you get the regular FCT going, you don't tend to focus as much on the branded content. But there are times when it is required that we relook at it. We've been doing branded content for the last few years, I don't think the focus has been as sharp as it was this year. A lot more focus shift happened this year and we are hoping to build on that in the next year and then in the future years, to make sure that we are able to tell these stories using our digital and television assets, combined. 

Last year in July, the network discontinued its lifestyle channel - FYITV18. What led to this decision?

From the first week of its launch, FYI TV18 remained the number one lifestyle channel in India.

But it has to make business sense and unfortunately, the entire genre went through a whole lot of turbulence. The NTO introduction made sure that the footprint of the channels got reduced significantly. Also, advertisers' support wasn't really forthcoming at that point in time because the general absolute viewership did fall while in the lifestyle genre we were obviously far higher than other channels. But the advertising volumes really weren't sufficient enough to make sure that we were able to cover our cost and make a profit on that. And the decision then, finally, was that in the COVID days, it's better for us to take a pragmatic call, and shut that business down, rather than, continue to wait for a longer period of time. So it was a choice that wasn't really easy for anyone.

Do you plan to launch new channels?

Going forward, whether we look at new channels or not, it's too premature to say. The models are also evolving significantly and we are seeing that with digital becoming more and more mainstream. It may or may not always make sense to go for linear television, there might be digital variants. The FYITV18 television channel doesn’t exist but we have a digital presence of the channel. We are doing branded content on FYI on digital. So, the brand continues and it is alive and kicking in digital. In the future also, we will be very keen on looking at from a digital footprint, and depending on how the industry shapes up, we will be taking those calls closer to that date.

What is the focus area for this year for HistoryTV18?

The focus area from a revenue angle is to look at more and more branded content partnerships. From a content perspective, it is looking primarily at creating more fantastic original content in India. From a marketing and digital standpoint, it is to consolidate and grow our digital footprint, even more, to make sure that when we offer solutions to our clients with a 360 approach, and not just related to the television screen, but also on the smaller screen in people's hands.

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