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Discovery has consolidated its leadership by anticipating emerging trends: Rahul Johri

Discovery Networks’ India and South Asia boss, Rahul Johri, shares insights about the network’s content, what helps it stay at the top of the factual entertainment genre, plans for 2016, and more  

Aanchal Kohli | Mumbai | February 9, 2016

Rahul-Johri-Discovery-Networks-Asia-Pacific Rahul Johri

Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific has been dedicatedly satisfying curiosity, and engaging and entertaining viewers with high-quality content through its portfolio of 15 brands, making it the numero uno Factual Entertainment bouquet of channels.

In India, Discovery Channel was launched in 1985, and it reaches out to 275 million subscribers in the country with its bouquet of 11 channels.

From survival to natural history, wonders of science to extreme jobs, motoring to travel and lifestyle, and the latest engineering marvels to live sporting events, each channel offers distinct must-watch programming.

BestMediaInfo caught up with Rahul Johri, Executive Vice-President & General Manager, South Asia, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, who shared insights on Discovery’s India strategy, plans for 2016, and what has kept Discovery at the top of the pile in Factual Entertainment. Edited excerpts:

How would you define the growth of the Discovery Network in the year gone by?

Discovery completed 20 years of its enriching journey in India in 2015. In the last two decades, the network has grown from one channel to a robust 11-channel portfolio in India. Discovery has diversified its portfolio in six distinct genres, ranging from factual to lifestyle, kids to Hindi entertainment, regional to high-definition.

We have built a dynamic bouquet with differentiated channels that offer high-quality and a great mix of programming to suit viewers’ tastes across different demographic and age-groups. We have deepened our relationship with viewers through innovative campaigns, topical programming, India-centric content and our network is now available in five different languages.

The year also saw Discovery developing its in-house affiliate set-up with one of the finest teams in the television industry.

Discovery is at the top in the Factual Entertainment genre. What is the content strategy that has propelled your bouquet of 11 brands to this position so consistently?

Discovery has created and consolidated its leadership in the non-fiction genre by anticipating emerging trends and offering matching solutions. In a cluttered television environment, viewers look for unique content that can inform and entertain. Discovery offers a varied portfolio of brands. Everyone can find something in our offering, which is unique, rich and diversified. We bring refreshing programming inventory quarter after quarter on each of our channels. Indian audiences have embraced our rich library of high-quality programming because it inspires them to dream and satisfy their curiosity about the world around them.

Discovery has been a pioneer in unique content channels in India. After giving viewers a taste of non-fiction content with Discovery Channel in 1995, we created Wildlife genre with the launch of Animal Planet in 1998. In 2004, we pioneered Lifestyle entertainment with the introduction of TLC that mirrored the evolving face of the urban upscale male and female audience, affiliate and advertisers. In 2010, we doubled our portfolio with three new channels each reflecting the needs and aspirations of the new India – Discovery Turbo, Discovery Science and the gold standard Discovery HD World. We entered the Kids genre in 2012 with the launch of Discovery Kids, offering a distinct proposition of igniting imagination of children in the country.

We further strengthened our foothold in Factual Entertainment with Discovery Tamil, the first factual channel in Tamil language.  In 2014, we entered the Hindi entertainment genre with the launch of ID – Investigation Discovery, and the same year, we enhanced our high-definition offering with the launch of two new channels; TLC HD World and AP HD World.

With our high quality content, unmatched characters and distinct brand propositions; all these channels have received great response from viewers, advertisers and affiliates. We will continue to localise our brands and content to remain entertaining, enriching and relevant.

Share some highlights on the localisation initiatives that you plan to take.

Localisation forms the bedrock of our India growth strategy and we continue to champion it with best in class content. The network through its eclectic programming mix across 11 channels offers the right blend of Indian and international content. We have consistently presented India themes that can travel the world and international themes relevant to India.

Last year saw a wide repertoire of themes being launched across genres catering to diverse interests and tastes of Indian audiences. In 2015, we launched a variety of India productions on Discovery Channel, ranging from Jai Ho with AR Rahman, to HRX Heroes with Hrithik Roshan, Mumbai Railways, India Emerges, Humayun’s Tomb, 1965: India’s Battles and Heroes and Lion Queens of India.

In 2016, we will continue to surprise viewers and push the bar for delivering extraordinary content. Some of the shows include: Revealed Siachen which premiered on Republic Day and showcased the heroism and sacrifice of the Indian soldiers posted at the world’s most treacherous war zone.

The network has also announced a new series called Spirit of India – The Festivals. The show highlighted the rich traditions and diversity of cultures in India. Other notable productions include subjects such as Leopards of Jawai and India’s Frontier Railways.

On Discovery Kids, our aim has been to form an enduring bond with kids through a local superhero, Kisna. Kisna will continue to mesmerize millions of his fans with his shenanigans in exciting new episodes all through 2016. We have also presented India through another animation series, Luv Kushh, and are working to develop more franchises this year.

On our Hindi entertainment channel ID-Investigation Discovery, we have added local appeal through popular Indian television stars, Rohit Roy and Sharad Kelkar. Rohit Roy presents Khooni Saaya, a captivating series that pieces together the twisted tales of murder mysteries. Hosted by Sharad Kelkar, Shaitaan investigates some of the most frightening crimes across India.

Animal Planet has represented India through its innovative campaigns like Where Tigers Rule, putting the spotlight on India’s national animal tiger. The channel’s annual property, Yeh Mera India, celebrates the enchanting wildlife of India through an animal anthem.

TLC through a blend of international and Indian content continues to showcase emerging trends in the country, especially amongst youth like cuisine, travel, fashion, make-over, tattoos and more.

The differentiated approach and strategy for India-programming has helped us gain viewership and establish a strong foothold in the country.

Looking at the changing consumer mindset and preferences, what are the viewer trends shaping the television landscape, especially in Factual Entertainment?

India is a robust market with diverse tastes and preferences across regions. This is a young country and there is immense drive among viewers for factual programming. Propelled by rapid globalisation and steady economic growth, the Indian viewer has become a lot more global minded which has had a huge impact on his/her viewing habits.

The Indian TV viewer is now spoilt for choice, with over a hundred channels and shows from a variety of genres that cater to various age-groups. While the choice of channels has increased, viewers have stuck to their favourite set of 10-12 channels. The choice parameters have been very similar to what Discovery as a brand stands for – high-quality, unique and entertaining.

Are we likely to see more channels from the Discovery network this year?

Currently, we have a robust portfolio of 11 channels in the country. We are constantly evaluating new opportunities and will make an announcement when the time is right.

Are there plans to give an English feed for the ID channel?

ID is a Hindi entertainment channel dedicated to true stories of investigation, crime and suspense. The channel’s audience is the same as that of other Hindi entertainment channels and as such, we decided to present the channel in Hindi. Currently, there are no plans to make the channel available in any other language.

On the measurement front, do you think BARC ratings since April last year has strengthened Discovery’s position?

Rural viewership data released by BARC has added sizable audiences to the television households. It is indeed a wider representation of viewers’ across the country.  The data presented by BARC reinforced Discovery’s appeal and penetration in the country.  As we were confident that our diverse portfolio appeals to viewers across age-groups and segments; the data findings have reiterated the same. We have witnessed that there is preference for differentiated content across various audience segments. In fact, we have observed that the youth from smaller cities is even more curious to discover and explore.

How well has the regionalisation of your channels through multiple language feeds worked for you?

Localisation is a key component of our strategy. Local content and language dubbing are two critical factors in this vision. Exploring every opportunity to expand our offering and localise our product, we launched multiple language feeds for Discovery Channel – in Tamil, Telugu and Bengali. Hindi and Tamil for Discovery Kids, and Hindi feed for Animal Planet, TLC and Discovery Science. We launched ID only in Hindi as a refreshing offering for the viewers.

The introduction and success of multiple language feeds have brought in huge dividends at various intervals and expanded our reach across the country.

Discovery Network has been creating quite a few consumer engagement campaigns. How would you like to highlight those?

We engage with all sets of our audience ranging from youth and adults to kids at various touch-points to give them an opportunity experience our brands.

For Discovery Channel’s series Mumbai Railways, we leveraged the digital platform to dialogue and drive real life stories of Mumbaikars and their unmatched bond with the iconic Mumbai local. The channel created a viral video campaign which struck an immediate chord with the audience generating a phenomenal 65,000 video views and nearly 1 million reach!

To connect with our young audience, we launched the Discovery Kids Joy Express, India’s first activity and experiential zone on a train. This first-of-its-kind initiative offers exciting games, contests, activities for children and also brings kids closer to their favourite Discovery Kids superhero Kisna. This initiative is a step towards bringing alive the Discovery Kids ‘Smart Fun’ experience on-ground for kids. So far, over 3000 kids from across Delhi-NCR have experienced the ride.

How do you see perception based media planning as they tend to help and hurt at the same time? For example, the Factual Entertainment genre may be losing out to the English movies genre. And this could hurt Discovery Channel even though it may have won the perception game. At the same time, pure data and logic led planning kills the premium content theory. Do you have any solution in sight?

Discovery is uniquely positioned with its well-entrenched portfolio across a variety of genres. We deliver distinct audiences and add value to the advertiser. We have been widely recognised and respected for our high-quality content and distinct offering.

Which have been the key markets for your network?

India is a diverse country with varied habits and preferences amongst the audience in different parts. Our channels cover an entire gamut of genres and cater to audience from both urban and rural parts of the country. Our focus is on all parts of India and to provide best-in-class content to our viewers.

On a personal front, you have helmed Discovery for the past 15 years. That’s a long innings. What personal targets have you set for yourself?

Yes, I have worked at Discovery for the last 15 years and every day has been a satisfying experience. Our vision moving forward is based on, firstly, maintaining leadership across genres; secondly, to grow channel share; thirdly to build on the strength of Discovery Kids and establish ID as a “must watch” channel; then continue to produce path-breaking India content; then to continue to innovate and deliver value to advertisers and relentlessly explore new opportunities of growth.

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