Remote control: Discovery is here, there, everywhere

Remote control: Discovery is here, there, everywhere

“We watch Discovery and National Geographic in Hindi, as we get to see different animals in open jungle and their behaviour, which otherwise in our life time we would not have known about them…Our children are learning Hindi and English by watching TV.”-- A woman in Gujarat’s Bhuj tells a team of New Delhi-based Media Foundation during a research study.

On Independence Day in 1995, Discovery channel beamed its first programme into India. Nineteen years later, the network has grown to offer a bouquet of 11 channels providing feeds in five languages. Carving out a niche for itself, it rose to become one of the “most popular” channels in some of the poorest regions of the country than state broadcaster Doordarshan.

With exquisite programmes ranging from wildlife to history to travel to lifestyle to science, the Discovery network now reaches out to some 240 million Indian households, which is a whopping 37.5 per cent of its subscribers in the Asia-Pacific region.

For the Discovery network, India is one of the “dominant markets” where they see unbridled potential for growth. “India is growing younger, aspirational. People are curious. You want specialised content and that is our USP. For us, India is top priority. That is why we continue to launch channel after channel,” says Rahul Johri, Executive Vice-President and General Manager (South Asia) of Discovery Network.

Expansion and consolidation
Johri is not exaggerating when he says that the channel has “tripled our network in the last five years”. Since 2010, the network launched five new channels and high-definition versions of three existing ones. Three of them – Investigation Discovery (ID) and HD versions of TLC and Animal Planet – were launched only two months ago. In pursuit of audiences, the network is leaving no segment untouched. The network has launched an exclusive channel for children, started regional language feeds and extended its reach to every nook and corner of the country — reaching half of the six-lakh villages in the country — even as digitisation picked up.

The Discovery team in India believes that 2010 was the turning point for them. From New Year day in 2010 after it launched a round-the-clock Tamil feed, the network has not looked back. “We did too many things that year. We launched Discovery Science, Discovery Turbo and Discovery’s HD version that year. We introduced Tamil and Telugu feeds. We produced ‘Living with a Superstar – Shah Rukh Khan’. So, that year was a lot of work. Now, we are consolidating that,” Johri says.

For expanding its business in India, Discovery soon realised the untapped potential in regional languages. Three years into its existence in India, the network had launched its Hindi feed in 1998, but took another 11 years to start a regional language feed in Tamil. Telugu and Bengali feeds followed over the next two years.

The big picture
After the introduction of the Tamil feed, viewership rose by 800 per cent in a week. This, a senior Discovery official said, made the thinking heads in the company sit up and take notice. They understood that a market exists for a separate language channel, and duly on Independence Day in 2011, they launched Discovery Tamil. India, the official says, is the second country in the world after the United States were the network operates channels in two languages, and this shows how important the Indian market is for the company.

Therefore, when discussions on launching ‘Investigation Discovery’ gathered pace, Discovery executives had no doubts about launching it in Hindi by presenting “true stories” from the world of crime. “The market is huge for Hindi and we went for it,” Rajiv Bakshi, Discovery’s Vice-President (Marketing – South Asia), says. Echoes Johri: “The English speaking population is less than 10 per cent. We read English papers, but watch Hindi channels.” The channel, though, does not have immediate plans for launching new channels as they are into “consolidating” the market. The channel is using the services of some 500 people in Mumbai, many working with Bollywood, for translating scripts and dubbing them into Hindi.

Spending $1.5 billion a year on creating quality content, Discovery believes that it could add more viewers and advertisers into its portfolio with a phalanx of specialised programmes. Ask a Discovery official about how the network will survive amid a deluge of entertainment channels, and he will insist at the outset that Discovery is an “entertainment” channel, though with a difference. Discovery officials like to call themselves a non-fiction entertainment channel. “We are staying with our strength. The fiction content perishes, but non-fiction content has longevity,” Johri reminds.

Discovery executives in India are not too discomfited about the competition and see space for its new channels like ID, even though a number of Hindi channels are currently telecasting crime serials and shows. Similar is the case with the network’s dedicated children’s channel Discovery Kids, which has seen a 127 per cent rise in viewership this year.

Newer pastures
But success will not take the focus off the competition. “When you reach home at 9 pm from office, and if you don’t watch me, then whatever you are watching is my competitor. Everybody is busy and I have to catch you at that hour,” Bakshi says. That is why Discovery has branched out into several segments with the intention of usurping different pockets of the audience stream. They are confident of growth in business, as viewership will grow further, which would help fetch more advertisements.

And, advertisements, say officials, are not a problem for Discovery. “We have over 700 clients advertising through our networks. Our inventory is full for this year. You will see all advertisements that appear in other channels in Discovery as well,” they say. To reinforce the point, executives say that Discovery Tamil which is beamed into some 10 million households attracts 200 local and national advertisers.

Matching up against the competition, Discovery is also producing India-based programmes on which mainstream channels have not really invested much time or money. The network has produced over 100 hours of Indian content in last two years, which include a special episode on Line of Control, Rann of Kutch and Lok Sabha elections.

It is also launching ‘Kisna’, an animation series directed by filmmaker Ketan Mehta, this month. The customised content has fuelled ratings as in the case of Discovery Kids, which telecast series like ‘Little Krishna’ and ‘Akbar and Birbal’. While on the subject, the network’s programmes on Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Uttarakhand tragedy and the National Defence Academy have in recent times captured plenty of viewer eyeballs.

Discovery officials refuse to speculate on the network’s future course of action. They say they are always exploring new business avenues. The last five years have been a rocking journey for Discovery which believes that with India growing younger, it will have more and more opportunities to tap here going ahead.

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