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Aiming to triple viewership through digital channels, says Karan Bajaj of Discovery Networks

The broadcaster is lining up various initiatives, including revamping TV content, launching a fact-based mass entertainment channel and rolling out mobile-first content to increase its viewership and revenues

Karan Bajaj

After being in the pure infotainment play ever since its launch in India, Discovery Networks is now entering the mass general entertainment genre with Jeet. The broadcaster is revamping the programming of its kids’ channel Discovery Kids to become more mainstream and is strengthening its digital presence with differentiated content for mobile screens.

These multiple initiatives are being rolled out to increase the broadcaster's overall viewership in India by at least 300 per cent in the next few years, along with growing the revenues in the same proportion.

In an interview with Bestmediainfo.com, Karan Bajaj, Senior Vice-President & General Manager, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, said, "Our target is to strengthen digital offering for the top 50 million households and enter the next 120 million households.”

Talking about the growth he expects from the digital segment, Bajaj said the broadcaster's digital play would not eat into the revenues of broadcasting as both pipes would complement each other and not compete in terms of content. "Now, we are thinking of mobile screen first and the ways to make it a great linear show as well," he said.

Bajaj said that Discovery wanted to be the leader in the factual genre on the digital platforms.

"There are no leaders in these genres and we think we can capture that space and become the leader in passionate niche communities," he said.

Speaking about Discovery's first general entertainment channel and revamping of the kids’ channel, Bajaj said, "Here we are very clear that we are bringing up mass entertaining product with the genes of Discovery. In the kids’ segment, we want to break into the top three."

Excerpts:

How is Discovery Networks looking at Indian market today?

There are 250 million television households in India and we think of it as a bit of pyramid with 15 million households at the top of it who have either fixed broadband or premium DTH connections. Then there are next 120 million households predominantly having cable TV connections with mobile phones. And then we have the final 110 million households having either free-to-air connections or no TV at all. 20 million households have free-to-air and 90 million have no TV. If you see Discovery’s historical presence in India, our affinity had been the highest with the top 15 million households who are English-speaking and consume foreign content. These households are having a second screen experience with digital on Amazon, Netflix and any other OTT platform consuming long form of content.

Our strategy is very much akin to that pyramid structure where for the first time in India, we are eying to enter the next 120 million households with ‘Discovery Jeet’, which is our core general entertainment channel, and the reinvention of the kids’ channel to make it mainstream.

On the top of the pyramid, we are doing massive digital reinvention where we will have a very strong linear strategy but we will also have digital brands which are meant for the smartphone. That’s my two pronged strategy – strengthen digital offering for the top 50 million households and enter the next 120 million households.

What digital platforms will you use?

We think that there are only two kinds of successful models in digital. The first model is an aggregator model and the other model is passionate community model. We are going into the passionate community model. When we look at the digital consumption in India, almost 15 per cent of it happens in factual genres such as food, lifestyle, outdoor, auto and beauty. There are no leaders in these genres and we think we can capture that space and become the leader in passionate niche communities.

We are thinking of ourselves as a brand that will attract deep passionate community and along with our own platform. We will also deliver the content through YouTube, Facebook and Telcos. We think that the right way to deliver passionate community content is through every mechanism that consumers have access to and we do not want to own the pipe necessarily.

Do you think that the revenue model for digital is stronger enough to justify your investment in content?

Yes. We are not taking in the cost of the technology and the platform. We are taking in the cost of content and we are going to monetise it on digital as well as linear. Now, we are thinking of mobile screen first and the ways to make it a great linear show as well rather than taking the approach that we have a linear show and let us put it on digital as well.

How big will be Jeet’s launch and the marketing spends on it?

Jeet will be a pay channel and only GEC which is launching in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu together and marketing spends will be significant to break into this category. 

Who will Jeet compete with?

When you start with that mindset, I would call it derivative thinking because you end up following competition when you think of them in the first place. We are coming up with a very consumer-led thought. All our research is pointing very clearly to a very significant gap in the current entertainment landscape, which is fact and purpose-inspired entertainment.

Is there any successful example of such shows?

Hopefully not! Because that is where our uniqueness lies.

But doesn't Epic have content on similar lines?

There is a very big difference. If you mean by their specials, they are 13-part series. What we have learned is that the only thing that aggregates the scale on TV is daily appointment viewing. People are coming on your channel daily and watching characters over very long period. So our model is not Epic model where you are doing a bunch of good special programming, we are doing soap operas. So our soap operas on Baba Ramdev and Saragarhi are 85 episodes each to be telecast on Monday-Friday. We will have five hours of original content and all of these will have minimum 85 episodes each and can go up to 300-400 episodes. So the thesis is very different and we are following the grammar of TV and yet we are disrupting the content of TV.

Will you also have weekend programming?

Absolutely yes! We are doing a differentiated comedy show and a crime show for the weekend. If there is any reality show that fits into the thought process of the channel, we will consider that too. The thought process and thesis of Jeet is ‘underdog winning’ and the whole idea is that in tier II and III towns in India, we are seeing a significant consumer unmet need around the fact that there is a boom happening in India but they are not getting a part of it. And that is where the thesis of the channel ‘underdog winning’ lies. We are going to celebrate stories that won.

When you say reinventing your kids’ channel, what does that actually mean and how much focus will it have in comparison to Jeet?

There will be parallel focus with both the kids’ revamp and Jeet launch taking place early next year. Discovery Kids has done a bunch of good stuff but again we have never done more than 30-40 episodes of any show and we have also struggled a little bit with the positioning whether we are entertaining or informative. Here we are very clear that we are bringing up mass entertaining product with the genes of Discovery. We have done a lot of research to pick one completely self-grown local IP and the disruption there is that we are doing 300 episodes of it.

What ambitions do you have for Discovery Kids with the revamp?

We want to break into the top three by the end of next year in the age group of 6-9 years.

Would the departure of Arthur Bastings as President and Managing Director, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, impact Indian market in anyway?

He was a great leader and supporter of India and now we are directly reporting to JB Perrette, President & CEO of Discovery Networks International (DNI). I'm sure the momentum will continue. 

Different markets and different cuts into the TG yield different leaders. How worried are you about your leadership position?

In the 15+ Male NCCS AB All India (Urban), Discovery Network channels still own 45-50 per cent of the genre pie. If you cut the TG into 2+ and 3 or 6 mega cities, there are different leaders using various cuts. When it comes to targeting top of the pyramid urban affluent adults, we are by far clear genre leader in every category that we are competing in. The more exciting thing for us is that if we are genre leaders on TV, we are also expanding our viewership pie through the launch of digital channels and triple the viewership.

Would you be looking at smaller markets for your infotainment channels?

Doordarshan just shared a research with us and the finding shows that when they did qualitative consumer work in small villages in India about freedish, the channels that consumers want were Discovery and Animal Planet. So for me, there is a strong intent to sample our network across the whole board. But from affinity and monetisation perspective, there is a bias towards the affluent urban audiences.

What TG do infotainment channels sell on?

15+ Male NCCS AB All India (Urban) is the viewership which we offer to our advertisers.

If this is the selling parameter, why does BARC consider 2+ NCCS AB 6 megacities when it comes to sharing data for public on its website?

It is up to them to answer. As far as public perception is concerned, I concede that it is creating a wrong perception if we consider the TG which we sell on.

Like other broadcasters, aren’t you afraid of digital eating into broadcast revenues?

For me, it is a golden opportunity because digital and linear are pipes and we are the leader of the content. We just have to remember that the two pipes are different and we have to fit our content into both pipes.

If our strategy and structure for content on digital is clear, our viewership is not getting impacted. I’m excited that now the second pipe is actually leading to tripling our entire viewership. So our advertising revenue is also going to expand.

How confident are you about RoI on digital at a time when many OTT players are bleeding?

Aggregator has to obviously spend more on content and that makes survival tougher on digital. As far as Discovery is concerned, we are following community model and not spending on creating or content or platform. And in my view, a passionate community model could be a profitable model. But any broadcaster who does not have clear digital strategy is going to suffer.

How is the focus on profitability of the entire Discovery Network?

We are a very fiscally disciplined company with a very high focus on profitability. That’s why we make very measured bets with a clear thought process. Hence, our profitability is always growing year on year.

You have been marketer before joining the broadcast industry. How has been the transition?

You are not truly a marketer in a consumer products company. You run a P&L and you handle a full business management and your core competence from brand is about consumer-led proposition building. And I think that consumer-led proposition building is very helpful in media. From a business point of view also, there are a lot of synergies. Like affiliate relationships in broadcast are very akin to distribution relationships in consumer products.

When the entire broadcast industry is looking to move from CPRP to CPT metric for selling, what is your view on this?

CPRP was one but not the only benchmark of selling. It is different for different channels. If we are launching a very meaningful proposition which is attracting consumers who want meaningful content, we will get the right CPRP for that. It does not concern me right now.

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