Discovery India, the broadcast house with channels such as Discovery, TLC, Discovery Kids, DSport and Jeet under its umbrella, has seen a steady growth in the last few months.
The network, which has gradually transformed itself from being a seller of international content into a creator of local content, hasn't been shy of innovating in the recent past – be it in the animation genre, sports or through its newly launched channel Discovery Jeet, which has a massy content based on real-life stories.
In an interview with BestMediaInfo, Karan Bajaj, Senior Vice-President and General Manager, South Asia, Discovery Communications India, said that though Jeet did not pan out as per expectations, the silver lining was that he hasn't lost the strategy of TV being a dominant mass play.
"Jeet was never supposed to be a regular GEC. With it we were launching a separate category of fact-based fiction content that would have a GRP of 40," Bajaj said.
On the future of Jeet, Bajaj said that the network was contemplating a change in brand name. "We'll have no fresh original content for Jeet. But with acquisition of Scripps globally, we'll have access to a lot of international realty content that could go on Jeet."
For its sports channel, DSport, Discovery plans to have more content for passionate audiences of horse riding, golf and cycling, etc.
The launch of an OTT platform – tentatively called 'House of Discovery' with content around food, auto, wildlife and other passionate communities – is also around the corner.
Discovery Kids was in the top five channels’ list of BARC India for a week on the back of Little Singham’s launch. But it could not sustain the viewership. Is it so difficult to hold kids’ attention?
We are very confident of holding our position in the top 3/5. There is a strong correlation with the number of episodes being played in a certain week. In the first three weeks, we kept rotating about 20 fresh episodes. Now there is influx of new episodes coming. The moment we have new episodes, we have a spike in viewership. The bet we made on Discovery Kids is quite dissimilar from how any network would have planned a new local IP. We had commissioned 300 episodes of Little Singham even before the show was launched.
Based on our current levels of reach, distribution and marketing, once we have 40 episodes, and then we will be able to schedule a bulk of the channel around it, settling the channel at top 3-4. We will then slowly ramp up our distribution. The response to the IP is phenomenal. There’s a Little Singham movie on June 2.
Discovery Channel’s position is now being threatened by Sony BBC Earth. How do you look at reclaiming and keeping the top spot?
If I look at 2018, all our channels – Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet and others – are growing by about 15 to 25%. One has to structurally analyse the data as to where are things going. The gap between us and the competition has been highest ever. The revenues are growing in high double digits. Structurally, the business is going very strong. I think you have to analyse the viewership over a longer period of time.
Even TLC is facing a similar challenge from FYI TV18 in the Lifestyle genre. How do you look at consolidating that too?
Again, if you look at TLC, it has been growing by about 25% in the last six months. Now the global acquisition of Scripps is giving us access to an excellent library of food, home and travel content. I think the gap between TLC and competition should really increase further.
One of your biggest bets was on Jeet, which didn’t show the colours of success. Was it a positioning fault or a programming miscalculation?
If I look at the net summary of everything, Jeet was unlike any other GEC since it was meant to be a creation of a new category going after fact-inspired fiction, reel-blurring-real-life-entertainment kind of content. Since it was a new category, we didn’t want it to be the No. 1 GEC, so we didn’t plan a 100+ GRP channel. We wanted to create a highly differentiated proposition that aggregated to a scale of say 35-40 GRPs. That’s what the broader community of advertisers were rallying behind – 40 GRPs of highly differentiated content in a new category that is extremely purpose driven and inspiring.
When you plan such a proposition, it is more like a Goldilocks model where the level of investment was about one sixth of what a normal GEC would have, in terms of marketing, distribution and content. Our aim was never to be No. 1 on distribution slot or having a lot of non-fiction or anything like that, which gets sampling into the channel. That’s how a typical GEC is constructed and planned. If you are spending six times more into marketing and distribution, you ought to break out of the clutter and get noticed.
For us, it was meant to be that goldilocks model, where you wanted just enough people to see us, and I think somewhere, we missed getting that balance right. All the individual pieces were promising, though.
One thing that I am proud of is that this was an organisation that once did just three to five hours of original content and now it was doing about 1,000 hours of original content across all channels – Discovery Kids, Jeet, Discovery Channel and even TLC. We have restructured the DNA of the organisation from being a business organisation that sold the international content to being the creator of content.
Jeet had replaced ID which ensured the availability of the channel on already existing distribution platforms. So do you think distribution was never the fault?
We have a 40-member distribution team compared to a 300-member team at other channels. The team made it a mission to make it available across all the networks in the country. When we had launched, we had 94% opportunity to see (OTS), according to the Chrome report. So it was widely available. We spent at a certain level on the EPG to be in the top 10, and our average EPG was 8.3. We never wanted to be the first or second channel on EPG; that would have had a completely different spending pattern. Everyone has a view as to what didn’t work with the channel and even I have a view. But I guess what people thought was that Discovery was launching a new GEC, but it was not. Discovery was launching a new category which was supposed to be at a certain level of scale (40 GRP).
You didn’t go for a landing page and all as a launch marketing technique. Did you?
We did everything to the level that we were investing in as per our benchmarking of spends on marketing. From marketing point of view, we did invest in landing pages at a few places, like Dish for the first six months, but we didn’t go all out to displace existing channels from their landing page contracts. But as I said, we had an optimal level of spending and the interplay of the three might not have worked.
What happens to Jeet now?
The intent is to not do any more original local content and to have a balanced investment thesis of the channel. But the lucky thing for us is that while Jeet was happening in India, Discovery acquired Scripps globally, which allowed us thousands of hours of real-life entertainment content to come in. The whole idea of Jeet was also about real-life entertainment, bringing reality and fiction together.
We are still discussing whether to keep the brand name Jeet or change it, depending on the nature of the content.
What are the plans with Scripps content, would it all be for Jeet?
A lot of Scripps content will also go to TLC, because the hardcore infotainment parts fit well with that channel. Largely, it is only Jeet and TLC where the content will suit.
You had launched a unique digital strategy of putting content on YouTube for free. A completely AVOD model. Do you think it is working and will work in future?
There are generally two types of models on digital – you are either an aggregator of content, the likes of Amazon, Netflix etc, while the other side is about the passionate niche communities which I keep talking about. While the first type is very famous and is talked about a lot, the college wrestling app is the example of the second one. This has about a million subscribers, each paying $5. This community might never grow beyond 1-2 million, but it has a steady following.
In India, these passionate communities include military, auto, outdoors, wildlife, travel, home and nobody is serving that specifically. Whatever is being given to them is at a very basic scale. The motto for Discovery will be to serve these passionate communities. Veer was the first attempt and it has done very well. We are now doing Food and Auto. Initially we used social and telco, because we are learning.
By the end of this year, we are going to aggregate all of this content into an OTT, which will host only these passionate communities. Tentatively titled House of Discovery, it will also have content from other creators. We are using the global chassis and putting all this content. I am tentatively targeting November, but the timing might deviate a little bit.
Would you like to give another try to something like Jeet, with all the learning?
Like I have always said that at the top of the pyramid are 20 million households who are completely internet-enabled now and I need to create a digital delivery system for them, which is Veer, Food, Auto and others. Looking at the next 120 million, I had said that TV is still dominant viewership and I wanted to have a mass TV play and that’s how Little Singham and Jeet were placed. When I look at it, my structure hasn’t changed. Whether I do a standalone channel like Jeet or do lot of local mass content that can fit into some of our existing TV channels, those are things we will play with. But I haven't lost that strategy of TV being a mass play.
What’s with the integrated ad sales strategy? How far has that worked out?
It was a very good idea. When Veer launched, we bundled YouTube inventory along with TV channel. For an advertiser, when he/ she buys programmatically on YouTube, they buy for male audience without knowing where will the ad be played. When you buy Veer by Discovery, you get 97% of highly targeted male viewers who are passionate and engaged in this kind of content. That’s how we sold it and it has worked well for us. We will do the same for other communities that we launch. The bigger thing is when we migrate to our own platform; it will be entirely our pitch. You can buy digital inventory for cheaper, but here is a guaranteed passionate auto audience, or food audience.
DSport was received very well during the Nidahas Trophy telecast. Even the Pakistan league worked above average. However, the other non-cricketing sports on the channel are not really attracting many eyeballs. It is heavy on more of American sports. Even the wrestling content (Pro Wrestling and Lucha Underground) that you have is old. What are the plans for DSport? Would you ultimately bring cricket?
It goes back to a very structural question. If everything is being measured by the objective of volume of viewership, then everything can be questioned. If everyone is targeting say 500 million audience, then the nature of TV becomes very singular as everyone will then do the same kind of things. At Discovery, we are very good at plurality. Even on digital, if you go by that logic, you can’t differentiate. I am trying to do something else here. Even with Jeet, we wanted to create a plurality or alternative within GEC.
DSport follows this same model that I am going to give you plural content. It is a profitable well-managed channel. It offers a diversity of sports that you will never get on other channels. All of the sports that we have has a good passionate audience space – golf has 60 million, cycling has 60 million, horse racing has 8 million and so on. I don’t think I am in the game of constantly fighting the volume battle.
Has DSport reached breakeven?
I am happy with its performance and it’s financially on track. We are running a strong network with double digit growth in revenue and ratings, both.