First Movers | Striking a connect

First Movers | Striking a connect
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First Published: Mon, Feb 09 2009. 10 54 PM IST

On the right track: Viewers have voiced their preference for an alternative to movies and sitcoms, says Rahul Johri, senior vice-president and general manager, Discovery Networks (India) Asia-Pacific.
On the right track: Viewers have voiced their preference for an alternative to movies and sitcoms, says Rahul Johri, senior vice-president and general manager, Discovery Networks (India) Asia-Pacific.
Updated: Mon, Feb 09 2009. 10 54 PM IST
Discovery Channel, the infotainment channel of Discovery Communications, Inc., Cartoon Network, the children’s channel of Turner International India Pvt. Ltd, part of Time Warner Inc., and MTV, the music channel of MTV Networks India Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of MTV Networks International, a Viacom Inc. company, are distinct from each other in their content, yet they have a history and future that bind them together in more ways than one.
The channels were first movers in their respective genres and when they set up shop in India, the television landscape had around 50 channels, compared with 372 now. To some extent, the industry’s growth can be credited to these channels—they took chances in India, prompting other global networks to follow their example.
Listen to audio abstract of Campaign inside
In 2008, Discovery Channel’s market share was 49%, with National Geographic Channel Network (India) Pvt. Ltd’s National Geographic channel a distant next at 26%, while Walt Disney Co.’s Hungama TV and Cartoon Network were neck and neck at 25% and 24%, respectively.
In the music genre, MTV stands third with a market share of 16%. 9XM, INX Media Pvt. Ltd’s music channel, leads with 41% market share, while Bennett, Coleman and Co. Ltd’s entertainment channel Zoom is at second place with 17%, according to the all-India 2008 data by TAM Media Research Pvt. Ltd, a television audience measurement agency. MTV, however, has a 35% share of the 15-24 age group in the SEC A and B (the highest socio-economic classes among urban Indian households) Hindi-speaking market, leading in the youth segment with which it now identifies.
These channels are not ready to sit back and give the competition a free run. To expand their viewer and advertiser base, they are going beyond the infotainment, children’s and music channel genres they have been individually known for and venturing into the entertainment genre—“a natural move in this market because entertainment is the only genre in this country that consistently delivers eyeballs and generates advertising revenues,” says Anand Shah, media research analyst at Angel Broking Ltd, a Mumbai-based brokerage firm.
Campaign takes a look at each of the three channels, analysing their journey in India, the challenges they face and their business strategies in a crowded and fiercely competitive market.
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Riding the trend of ‘knowledge is cool’
Discovery Channel
Discovery Communications India
On the right track: Viewers have voiced their preference for an alternative to movies and sitcoms, says Rahul Johri, senior vice-president and general manager, Discovery Networks (India) Asia-Pacific. Harikrishna Katragadda / Mint
For most Indians, watching a tiger make a kill on television was a novelty until US-based Discovery Communications brought its nature and wildlife programming to India in 1995. Within the first year, Discovery Channel reached three million homes, carving out a niche for itself as the first infotainment channel in India.
“We filled up this huge gap that was there in India’s TV market for viewers to watch something different. We fit into what we called unique content genre,” says Rahul Johri, senior vice-president and general manager, Discovery Networks (India) Asia-Pacific.
However, by 1998 it had to share space with the National Geographic channel. “We knew that we will face tough competition with the Indian market heating up—this pushed us to be innovative and set new standards from the start,” says Johri.
The launch of Animal Planet in 1999 marked a subtle repositioning for Discovery. “We wanted to move away from the infotainment label we had entered the country with. At this stage, we had Animal Planet focusing strictly on wildlife, so Discovery’s programming gave way to history and investigative reports,” says Johri. This was evident in the channel’s advertising campaign tag line—it changed from Explore Your World to Satisfy Your Curiosity .
In 2001, a distribution partnership with Set India Pvt. Ltd, now Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd, enabled Discovery Channel and Animal Planet to ride on the vast distribution network of their partner. “It was a tactical move that has helped us grow the number of subscribers. Today, we have one of the strongest distributing channels,” says Johri. Discovery reaches 36 million households.
In November 2004, the Discovery group launched Travel and Living, a travel and lifestyle channel, in India. This marked a transition to the reality-entertainment space, or what the company terms “non-fiction entertainment”. The most recent campaign tag line, Real World, Real Entertainment, indicates the focus is on being an entertainment channel rather than an educational one.
But not everyone is convinced. “Everybody wants more money but if brands are willing to dilute their equity for that, it might not be worth it in the long run,” says Hiren Pandit, managing partner of GroupM ESP—the entertainment, sports and partnerships division of media buyer GroupM India Pvt. Ltd. “Discovery may have broad-based its programming and included one or two shows that can be termed entertainment but this shift to entertainment is something that is more perception-driven to increase advertising, but very few advertisers will buy that.”
Discovery has an answer to that. “Sixty per cent of India is under 30 years of age and their viewing habits are different, so we have to change with them,” says Johri. And viewership has shifted significantly from infotainment channels. According to TAM Media Research, the share of the infotainment genre in the overall channel pie fell from 1.2% in 2004 to 0.8% in 2008.
The company has already announced the launch of Discovery Channel in high-definition TV in India. New programmes such as Into the Unknown with Josh Bernstein, Time Warp and HowStuffWorks are expected to help the channel draw in more viewers this year.
“We sincerely believe that viewers have voiced their preference for an alternative to movies and sitcoms,” says Johri. The channel says its ranking as the No. 1 channel, ahead of all English movies, news and entertainment channels, by TAM in 2008 indicates that it is on the right track.
“Knowledge is cool today. Curiosity is at an all-time high,” says Johri. “Our strategy is to take complete advantage of this emerging and strong trend,” he says, unfazed by the current slowdown in the economy. “India is a very important country for Discovery; we have shifted much of our production here already and India has become an integral part of all our documentaries and series. This focus will only increase in the coming years.”
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Not just a niche kids channel any more
Cartoon Network
Turner International India Pvt Ltd, Time Warner Inc
In repositioning mode: Cartoon Network is tweaking programmes to interest age groups that extend beyond kids—and is getting better advertising returns, says Monica Tata, VP and deputy GM, entertainment networks, South Asia, Turner International India. Ashesh Shah / Mint
When Cartoon Network first came to India in 1995, it was launched with movie channel TNT, with programmes for children to be aired for 12 hours during the day. But in no time, the demand for cartoons outpaced that for movies and by the end of 1996, Cartoon Network had become a 24-hour channel.
“Before Cartoon Network was launched in India, there were no kids’ entertainment (channels) except for a 1- or 2-hour band of programming on national TV which depended more on (the) suitability of fixed-point charts (schedule availability) rather than when kids were at home,” says Shubha George, managing director of media specialist agency Mediaedge:cia, GroupM India Pvt. Ltd. “So, Cartoon Network did two things to India— made TV viewers of kids and kick-started the whole kids marketing industry.”
Other players soon sensed the opportunity in this space. In 1999, MTV Networks brought international children’s channel Nickelodeon to India; this was followed by Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.’s Animax, Walt Disney’s Disney Channel, Jetix and Hungama TV, SunTV Network’s Chutti TV, British Broadcasting Corp.’s or BBC’s CBeebies, and even its own sister channel, Pogo.
“It was easy being a leader in a monopolistic market but once we sensed competition, our strategy to stay ahead kicked in and we started adapting our content to suit the market,” says Monica Tata, vice-president and deputy general manager, entertainment networks, South Asia, for Turner International India.
Cartoon Network’s winning strategy has clearly been localization efforts that helped the channel connect with viewers. For instance, as soon as Nickelodeon was launched, Cartoon Network tried to get an edge by dubbing all its content in Hindi; this is now available even in Tamil and Telugu.
From 2001, the channel started airing Indian animation films such as Pandavas, Krishna and Bal Hanuman, which helped keep rivals at bay and set a trend in the kids channel category as more channels began doing the same. “We have got into theatrical production and work on films targeted at children, both live action and animation, is on in full swing,” says Tata.
To increase its reach, Turner International formed a distribution alliance with Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd called Zee Turner Ltd.
In 2004, Cartoon Network began investing in merchandising and licensing efforts. This division is now called Cartoon Network Enterprises. “We have a lot of consumer products such as retail, apparel, gift and novelties, furnishings and promotional licensing. We have even tied up with leading retail outlets such as Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle for distribution. It helps drive revenues,” says Tata. While annual sales data were not disclosed, Tata says consumer products account for 10% of revenues.
The current volatility in the market has pushed Cartoon Network to reposition itself as an entertainment channel rather than a niche children’s channel. Calling it a “trade perception” that it is trying to change, Tata admits the move was tactical more than anything else. “You see, we have the Nestle’s and Cadbury’s of the world but not the others. And our viewership data shows that 35% of our viewers are adults, so we have started tweaking our programmes to interest age groups that extend beyond kids. This has resulted in better advertising returns—today 35% of our advertisers come from non-traditional advertisers such as banks and automobiles.”
The channel plans to ride out the turbulence in the industry with a mix of Indian animation, globally popular shows such as Spectacular Spiderman and customized Holi stunts among others. “In terms of events, Cartoon Network will be hosting its signature event that boasts the classic combination of kids’ two clear favourites—cartoons and cricket—with Toon Cricket lined up for February 2009 in Hyderabad (15 February) and Mumbai (22 February),” says Tata.
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Betting on new shows, becoming interactive
MTV Networks India Pvt Ltd
Subsidiary of MTV Networks International, Viacom Inc
Desi cool: MTV is an iconic brand, says Ashish Patil, general manager and senior vice-president, creative and content, MTV Networks India. Ashesh Shah / Mint
An entire generation has been labelled after MTV or Music Television, a channel that stands for everything young and has become synonymous with the word “cool”. In India, the MTV effect has been twofold—when the channel was launched in the 1990s, it exposed Indians to Western culture, be it pop music or cola cans, but more importantly, it held a mirror to India’s cultural heritage. “After MTV came in, an ‘I love New York’ T-shirt was replaced by a ‘Desi Cool’ one,” says Ashish Patil, general manager and senior vice-president, creative and content, MTV Networks India.
MTV is by no means an overnight success story. The channel has faced, and continues to face, enormous challenges, be it competition in the music space or keeping pace with the fast-changing economic landscape.
MTV first appeared in India in 1991 as a 2-hour special during the week on public broadcaster Doordarshan before it was launched as a separate 24-hour channel in 1996. However, the music was not making an impact and within a year, MTV went through a complete transformation, making its content local. “Unlike Singapore and Thailand, MTV did not pick up immediately in India because they did not air the song-and-dance sequences and other Bollywood content which was readily available on other channels. There was no connect with India, so they had to go in for a complete programming shift,” says Farokh Balsara, national sector leader, media and entertainment, Ernst and Young India, an audit and consulting firm. And it worked. By 2007, 80-90% of the content was localized and the slogan MTV Enjoy was used to promote the new positioning. Within a year, viewership jumped by 700%.
By this time, however, MTV was up against music channels such as ETC, B4U Music and Channel V. “ETC was purely trailers, B4U was a threat because they had a massive library and Channel V, too, was providing localized content, so it was the nature of our programmes that differentiated us—we had some popular TV properties out by then such as MTV Bakra, MTV Loveline and Style Check and suddenly we just became a fun place to tune into,” says Patil. MTV’s focus was on providing viewers with “desi” (Indianized) humour which was embedded into programmes, and video jockeys, or VJs, introduced the concept of Hinglish, a mix of Hindi and English words.
In 1999, MTV got into merchandising and launched a co-branded credit card with Citibank NA. “So revenues took off and there was a large difference between us and the No. 2 music channel at this stage,” says Patil. Brand visibility also increased with the launch of international music video channel VH1.
In 2003, it started investing in properties such as music and style awards. Reality-based programmes such as MTV Hero Honda Roadies and Youth Icon were launched; for the first time, these introduced “appointment viewing”—bringing in viewers to watch MTV at a specific time rather than it being a tune-in and tune-out channel. “It was a turning point for MTV in India because there was a clear shift in content strategy from here on,” says Patil. A study conducted in 2004 showed that 95% of the shows on cable and satellite television were fiction and MTV’s target viewers were consumers of these fiction shows. “No young fiction shows existed like a Friends, so we decided to go to the expert Ekta Kapoor and soon launched Kitni Mast Hai Zindagi.”
The tide turned in 2005. “Suddenly, there were hundreds of channels on TV, and music was not just available on music channels, but on general entertainment channels where song and dance shows were available,” says Patil. It was around this time that radio took off in a big way in India; and music was being downloaded on the Internet and mobile phones. By 2006, Facebook and YouTube were winning mind space among youth. “Suddenly, our product was becoming very narrow in the consumers’ mind and so in 2007, we decided to reposition yet again,” says Patil. The tag line My MTV was applied and the channel went for interactive programming, introducing as many as 13 new shows in one go. “So something new was clearly evident for any viewer who came upon MTV,” says Patil.
In 2007, the channel launched Viacom Brand Solutions, which enabled its advertisers to partner with it for discounted ad rates, programme sponsorships and merchandising. Viacom’s new joint venture with media conglomerate Network18 Group allowed MTV to leverage on the vast distribution network as well as on the group’s television production company Studio18.
MTV now plans to extend its presence into new spaces such as campus, careers, adventure sports, celebrities and travel. “Our audience is not just cricket viewers, they are into F1 and English Premier League as well. So we are going to bring a lot of alternative sports on MTV,” says Patil. There are some six-eight new properties lined up for release this year. After MTV’s success with the show Splitsvilla, it plans to further capitalize on the “love and romance” angle, as this space is relatively vacant, adds Patil. “There are some new properties in the making that will be launched only in the mobile and Internet space.”
Over the last two years, INX Media’s 9XM has dethroned MTV from the No. 1 spot—but MTV identifies itself as a youth channel now, not a music channel. “We don’t compete with these channels. We are an iconic brand. Ask anyone to choose between an MTV T-shirt or a 9XM or any other channel’s T-shirt and they will still choose MTV,” maintains Patil.
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First Published: Mon, Feb 09 2009. 10 54 PM IST