As Discovery completes 20 years in India, Rahul Johri speaks about the network’s journey in the country, the factors that have helped it stay ahead of the herd and future growth plans
Aanchal Kohli | Mumbai | August 19, 2015
Discovery Channel, the flagship network of Discovery Communications, completed 20 years in India on August 15, 2015.
Launched in 1985, Discovery Channel reaches 209 million subscribers in Asia Pacific. It offers viewers an engaging line-up of high-quality non-fiction entertainment from blue-chip nature, science and technology, ancient and contemporary history, adventure, cultural and topical documentaries.
Today, Discovery has expanded its portfolio in India to 11 unique content channels catering to distinct viewer segments and is available in five languages – Hindi, English, Tamil, Telugu and Bangla.
Rahul Johri, Executive Vice-President & General Manager, South Asia, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, speaks at length to BestMediaInfo.com on Discovery’s journey in India, the strategy for success, evolving viewer preferences, future plans and more. Excerpts:
20 years is a long journey, but if you have to chalk down some key high points of Discovery’s journey so far, what would they be?
It’s been an enriching journey for Discovery in India. We have presented and engaged the viewers with new brands and compelling content over the years. We have expanded our penetration in the country with our localisation strategy.
In the last 20 years, Discovery has pioneered factual entertainment in India with the launch of Discovery Channel in 1995 and introduced a refreshing new wave of programming and completely changed the viewer’s expectations from television.
One of the high points has been the encouraging feedback from the viewers on our content. The success of our language strategy was immensely satisfying as it brought the viewer in every corner of the country closer to the Discovery world.
Having unmatched access to produce shows of remarkable stature like Rashtrapati Bhavan, National Defence Academy in India and present them to Indian audience and around the world is extremely gratifying.
And of course, the expansion of our portfolio into 11 unique content channels catering to distinct viewer segments is a testimony of the value our brand offers and the trust it enjoys among its core audience.
How would you like to define your stint with Discovery so far?
When I started my career in the media industry, print was the dominant media category. However, I realised the imminent change in the landscape and the emergence of the television sector.
When I joined Discovery in 2001, the industry had further gravitated towards television and today it has surpassed all other media to become the leading platform for entertainment and business. At Discovery, it is a matter of great pride for me to satisfy the curiosity of 267 million households through our 11 unique content channels.
In an industry that sees ups and downs so often, how do you feel being a successful brand in that space?
It feels amazing and the reason behind our success is that we understand the pulse of our viewers and offer what matters most to them.
Throughout the last 20 years in India, Discovery Channel has demonstrated its commitment to satiate the curiosity of viewers by showcasing some of the most fascinating stories from the past, current and future; breathtaking locations across geographies, continents and universe; and astonishing and most passionate personalities from across the world.
What has been that one thing that has made you lead and reach the position that Discovery is at right now?
For a broadcaster, it is very important to understand the viewer and back it up with creative strategies in all three areas – programming, distribution and marketing.
That’s exactly what we have been doing over the last 20 years. We have delighted our viewers with some of our extraordinary shows, giving them an opportunity to watch and enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experiences such as ‘Skyscraper Live’ with Nik Wallenda – a live event which has been a huge hit all over the world.
Today, Discovery network reaches a cumulative base of over 267 million households. We will continue to invest in content, communication and availability across all our networks and deliver an unmatched experience to our viewers.
What kind of challenges do you face being in such a competitive space?
Our network of channels enjoys strong brand equity and viewership across the country amongst viewers, affiliate and advertisers alike. What differentiates Discovery is its ability to respond to change and innovate in line with the current and emerging viewer trends. From early adoption of new technologies, creating viewer-delighting content and building winning partnerships – we have set multiple industry benchmarks.
If you reflect on Discovery’s track record of the last 20 years, we have been ahead of the curve in anticipating trends that match the needs of the viewer. Be it launching the lifestyle channel TLC to being the first high-definition channel available in the country with Discovery HD World. We have offered viewers remarkable and never-seen-before content in innovative formats, delightful themes and finest personalities.
Under your leadership, we have seen several new channels from Discovery Networks? Is there any particular strategy behind this expansion in the Indian market?
Discovery Networks has been delivering unmatched entertainment experience to the Indian audience for 20 years. We have been widely recognised and respected for our high-quality content and unique offering. We have expanded our portfolio three times over the last five years and take pride in our strong and well entrenched brands.
Each channel launch was aimed to offer new and distinct entertainment experience to the Indian viewers. We expanded the definition of factual entertainment by launching Animal Planet in 1998, which presents wildlife programming.
When we launched India’s first international lifestyle channel – TLC, viewers announced their liking for it almost overnight. It was a strong inflection point for the burgeoning Indian television market. The entire industry, including the advertisers and affiliates, took note of the refreshing content and what it meant to viewers.
The aspirational, well-travelled and globally active Indian viewer demanded more unique content, 24-hours 365 days a year. Therefore, we launched two successful media brands from our global portfolio – Discovery Turbo and Discovery Science in 2010.
We brought in premium viewing experience with the finest HD portfolio in the country with the launch of three HD channels – Discovery HD World, Animal Planet HD World and TLC HD World. We entered the Hindi entertainment genre with the launch of India’s first Hindi entertainment channel dedicated to true stories of mystery, investigation and suspense – ID.
Filling in the gap for meaningful entertainment, we launched Discovery Kids, delivering ‘smart fun’ programming to millions of kids in India. We are committed to the Indian market and will continue to present the best brands, content and finest viewing experience to India.
How are you celebrating this milestone of Discovery?
We presented a brilliant series that unfolded rare archival and never before seen footage to narrate the story of the birth of independent India in ‘India Emerges: A visual history’, that was aired on the Independence Day weekend recently.
To celebrate the completion of 20 years of Discovery Channel in India, the channel took its viewers back to the start through a special line-up ‘20 Years of Discovery India’. The special series covered the wide spectrum of Discovery Channel programmes that have satisfied the curiosity of every member of the family. From showcasing programmes that required exclusive access like ‘Revealed: National Defence Academy’ to offering the best of survival programmes such as ‘Man Vs Wild’, ‘Man Woman Wild’, Discovery Channel offered many more such enthralling programmes.
Where do you see the television industry, particularly, your genre heading in the future?
Discovery has a pan-India presence and is watched by everyone from the smallest village to the largest city. The aspirations of Indians are the same everywhere, whether in Tier I, II or III cities. In fact, we have witnessed that the youth from smaller cities is even more curious to discover and explore. A testament of this, our channels are available in 267 million households across India.
Primarily, we are entering interesting times in the life of the industry. It is not about showcasing new concepts in an entertaining way that will create your hold over the audience, but the relevance of the story to the viewer in his language, with his/ her people discussing things that are for him is what makes all the difference. We have acknowledged that and have consciously moved from genre to genre discussing matter that is localised and personalised.
Can we expect to see something more in terms of channels or shows from Discovery?
As said earlier, what differentiates Discovery is its ability to respond to change and innovate in line with the current and emerging viewer trends. From early adoption of new technologies, creating viewer-delighting content and building winning partnerships, we have set multiple industry benchmarks.
Continuing to offer the widest repertoire of programmes, we launch more than 300 high-quality programmes every quarter catering to the interests, passions and demands of children, youth, women, men and families. We strengthened our India content slate with an unprecedented 100 original hours in the last two years bringing unique stories, pristine subjects, and exclusive accesses.
When it comes to monetary and revenue growth, do you feel India as market is fertile enough?
India is a priority market in our overall scheme of things. In the last few years, we expanded our business on all parameters: new channels, new language feeds, India productions, availability across analogue and digital households, impetus to ad sales and high-decibel marketing. Each of the channels has received encouraging response.
Discovery has been the leader in factual entertainment genre over the years. How do you plan to hold this position in a strategic sense?
We will continue to invest on all three fronts – programming, distribution and marketing, to increase the channels’ viewership.