"We already allocate 16 mins to ads, so coping with 12 mins will be easy"

Post DAS, viewers seek quality content; if you provide that, you don't have to worry about the rest, says Rahul Johri, Sr VP & GM - South Asia, Discovery Networks

"We already allocate 16 mins to ads, so coping with 12 mins will be easy"

In a freewheeling conversation with exchange4media, Rahul Johri, Senior Vice President and GM – South Asia, Discovery Networks talks about how digitisation has levelled the playing field. He also shares his view on carriage fee and the 10+2 ad cap, along with the TAM imbroglio.

Johri also shares how the network is gearing up for future challenges. He is also Head of Revenue, Pan-Regional Ad Sales and South East Asia.

Excerpts:

Post digitisation and all the recent turbulences in the broadcast industry per se, where does a niche network such as yours, which caters to special interest of audiences, stand?
We are firstly not a niche network, neither in terms of content nor in terms of viewership. Had the content been niche, people would have not related to it ever. You might call TLC niche. Digitisation does away with the bandwidth constraints of analogue and all our channels get traction. The moment digitisation happened, we saw viewership of Discovery Science go up, along with that of TLC and Animal Planet. This was possible because more and more people are getting access to this content.

We as a company have been tracking digitisation for five years. With the launch of the first DTH platform in India, we sensed India is getting digital and we now need to prepare to expand our portfolios. There was no point of expanding one’s portfolio then because channels wouldn’t have received distribution. We operate in 203 countries and territories around the world and we have experienced that as markets turn global, our channels start finding traction. Hence, we prepared in time and that is why as the country is turning digital, we have multiple languages. Today all our channels are on every DTH platforms, on the basic platform of every digital cable. According to me, there is no turbulence in the market. Every market goes through a churn or change. What we have to ensure is that it is moving in the right direction.

What do you have to say about carriage fees?
It is always a big issue, but we never paid for carriage. There is a difference. We are not an entertainment channel. We are different. If I started paying carriage for a channel, audience will be losing here, because there will never be a business case for a specialised channel. That is the beauty of pay TV or cable – a viewer will be able to get content that he wants.

How will you gear up for the 10+2 ad cap scenario?
We already operate in that environment. Most of our shows are global and hence are made for standard cut. It is not that at the cost of content, we show more ads. We already have discipline of certain limit over advertisements. All our shows are made to a 44-minute cut and the balance 16 minutes are for ads. We can easily cope with 12 minutes. As viewers have access to more content post DAS, the value which they would seek is quality content. As long as you are providing that kind of content, you don’t have to worry about the rest. India has predominantly been a free-to-air market. Discovery operates on a pay environment and that is why we invest so much in our content. We produce the content. If you are in a free-to-air environment, you are chasing eyeballs at any cost, which results in sensationalism. Changes now will make the content more responsible. Whoever is offering better content will win.

Are you confident that subscription will be the key driver of your revenues now?
Yes. Ad revenue will come to the network which focusses on quality and hence, there will be a surge in inventory cost as well. Post DAS, ratings would cater to better content and not to the channel that pays a higher carriage fee.

Since content will be the driver now, will we see a change in the content strategy of the network?
Our channels work in a pay TV environment all across the world. We are creating content for that environment already. All our channels went paid in the year 1998.  If you look at our strategies, we never chase ratings. We would never do anything that is off brand. And that is why when you switch to our channels, you know what to expect. As clutter increases, one needs to stick to brand identity. Some channels are experiencing pay revenue for the first time, which is a good thing as their content strategies will become more mature. We don’t produce speculative content. We will stick to our core and will do what we do best.

What is your stand on TAM ratings?
It’s a good thing that has happened. We have always reporting TVR in thousands and that is the benchmark we have been working on globally. So it’s a good thing that what we do internally and what has now become external is the same.

What do you think of the TAM universe and what hopes do you have from BARC?
No research is complete, it is indicative. We have a lot of hopes from BARC. As far as I know, we are on a solid path.

You switched from weekly ratings to monthly ratings and then again to weekly. Why the shift?
Individual companies take individual decisions. Fact of the matter is that we believe TVR in thousands is the right call and right way forward. We are happy that through discussions that is what has been achieved.

Citing your global experience, where do you rate the Indian market?
No market is easy. TV in itself is a robust market. Some markets are ahead of India, some might reach there. We can use the experience of India in the weaker markets. India is a key priority in the Discovery International world. We won’t let any opportunity go by.

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