Interview: Rahul Johri, SVP & GM - South Asia, Discovery Networks Asia Pacific

'I would really like to see the entire suite of Discovery Channels here in India at some point of time'

BestMediaInfo Bureau
New Update
Discovery's Rahul Johri joins BCCI as CEO

Interview: Rahul Johri, SVP & GM - South Asia, Discovery Networks Asia Pacific

“India is a robust market but complex too and one has to navigate it well. I would really like to see the entire suite of Discovery Channels here in India at some point of time”

December 3, 2012:

publive-image Rahul Johri, Senior Vice President and General Manager – South Asia, Discovery Networks Asia Pacific

12 years and still counting with Discovery Networks! How would you describe this journey?

It's been a fascinating journey. We started with just two channels - Discovery and Animal Planet and they weren't doing well initially. We were having some challenges and we were restructuring the business. When you revamp the business, you look at how well structured your decisions are? Starting from our Ex-Managing Director Deepak Shourie's tenure, our decisions have played out well till now. It is really a hearting thing that we did the right thing at right time that helped the business grow.

In an industry that sees a fair amount of attrition at the top, what in your case makes the bond so strong and long?

Discovery is the best place to work in.  I enjoy working here. It's more about challenges, initiatives and opportunities that kept me excited every day. There has never been a dull day in this office.  The greatness of this company is that it is a bottom-up company where nobody gives us instructions. We decide here from this office what we have to do for India but of course we have to convince people. So whatever we decide, we are able to implement.  If you see over last 4-5 years, we have launched  5  new  channels , 4 new languages  across  multiple brands  so we have really managed to expand  the operation.

Every career sees ups and down and particularly in these 12 years did you face the same?

There is no any business which does not have challenges. The key lies in how well equipped are you to handle those challenges. Because we have the freedom to take the decisions to navigate those challenges, it has been very interesting. Of course, the economy goes up and down but the good thing is that we have been able to hold our ground and able to expand our business.

Any revenue pressure from International headquarters?

There is no such pressure. Usually, people misconstrue that term. Every business has to grow and we managed to grow. It could be any kind of management, be it the local owner or investors outside the country, they expect returns from the business and delivering on expectation is really the key.

Have you been to fulfill all the expectations?

If I haven't, I wouldn't have been sitting here.

Under your leadership, we have seen several new channels from Discovery Networks? Is there any particular strategy behind this expansion in the Indian market?

Strategies could be very simple. One has to engage the Indian viewer much more. Today 65% of Indian population is of 30 years of age. Today you might be fashionable, you might be contemporary but how do you get fashionable or contemporary is by the virtue to know more. Today if you see the Indian Television landscape, who is providing the appetite of knowledge? It is the Discovery Network. Discovery Network has always been on brands and that is our key. Being on the brand we deliver the viewers what they expect from us. That is what has played out well for us and that's why our ratings continue to grow. That is why people relate to the Discovery brand. We have Discovery Turbo, Discovery Science, Discovery HD, Discovery Kids and Animal Planet, TLC and Discovery Channel and if you see each of these channels, these all channels deliver to a clear cut slice to the audience, and it's that fine target which has really played out for us.

Are we likely to see more niche channels from the network? Can you share some details on the timeline?

You can never say 'No'.  India is an expanding market.  We are at the cusp of digitalization. Metros are already digitalized, which open opportunities for us because the bandwidth constraint of analogue cable is not there anymore. I would really like to see the entire suite of Discovery Channels here in India at some point of time.

Do you see any specific content worldwide which is yet to enter India but is capable to make space here?

The future of TV lies in specialized content and more well defined content. Not one channel will be providing you all kind of contents. If you go to a magazine store you find magazines on men, women fashion, kids, computers , telephone etc.  The same will play out in television because the television space will have very-very targeted focus and we are really preparing for that. Which is why we are having Discovery Turbo, Discovery Automobiles, Discovery Science and we have Discovery for kids etc. We are getting into a pay TV scenario where you should have specialized content according to the viewers need for what they are paying.

Is the Indian market fertile enough in terms of profitability for niche channels if you compare it with other international markets? There are quite a few today…

India is one of the key priority markets in the world of Discovery. That is why we expanded here and if it was not that then how would we be launching our new channels.  India is a robust market but complex too and one has to navigate it well.

Among other factors deciding the ad revenues for a channel, TRPs are always the most important factor. Is the absence of TAM data for more than 2 months affecting your revenues or impacting any of your channels in any manner?

This doesn't effects us any ways for sure.

We saw the closure of BBC Entertainment and CBeebies complaining about the delay in digitisation. What's your take on this?

Digitisation is happening in India. We are pretty confident that India will go digital. India is long-haul country and one has to be patient.  Discovery is operating here for last 16 years and we only go from strength to strength.  We are pretty sure about it.

How is digitisation going to help niche channels?

Analogue cable had the constraint on carrying over 60-70 channels and in a whole digital world you can carry up to a thousand channels. We are one of the largest content generators in the world and we have that ability to bring that content and so sometime back we were discussing about expanding our portfolio. If compare the ratings of our specialized channel's on the basis of digital vs analogue, all our channels are much better in digital because of availability.

What are the plans keeping digitization in mind?

One may look at October 31, 2012 as the onset of digitization, but for us the digitization of India started when first DTH operator started operating. Today, 33% of our homes are DTH homes so 33% of India is already digitized. As far as we are concerned that number is growing, so we started planning our operations to be suitable for the digital environment   5 years back.

Did the strong competition like Fox ever bother you much?

We believe in doing our job well and that has been our strength.

Discovery has been the leader in factual entertainment genre over the years. How have you managed to hold this position in a strategic sense?

Discovery has always been the best brand in the factual entertainment genre and our approach has been to be on brand.  We don't chase ratings for ratings sake. We will always be on brand and we will always do the right show. There have been times when we have debates in the office that we know our show which is absolutely fantastic, but we also know that it would not be the highest rated show. There are sections of audiences which will really like us, but it would not be the highest rated show. However we took a decision that if Discovery will not run the show then who will? We have taken these decisions at times and we really get the reward for that.

Do you see HISTORY TV 18 as a challenger?

As said earlier we do our work. Today we are way way ahead of them. We are focused on ourselves. We look at every TV channel as a challenger.  When a viewer picks up remote, he or she has the choice of all 300 channels. We are operating in that ocean and we look at every channel as a competition.

Recently you added one more feather in your cap - Media Person of The Year. Discovery Network has won several international accolades. What does an award mean for you? 

I'm grateful to the people who have given me this honour. Awards are important. The award is really a testimony to the quality of work.  We're seen as a mainstream media company which has navigated the Indian market place well and that is why these awards are testimony and important for us, because it gives recognition to our work.

What is your forward looking statement from here?

To keep growing our business and presence of our company and touching as many lives as possible.

Rahul Johri Discovery Networks Asia Pacific