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Discovery JEET an effort to expand the TV infotainment category: Karan Bajaj

LiveMint logoLiveMint 25-06-2017 Harveen Ahluwalia

American broadcaster Discovery Communications is on an expansion spree. The company which currently operates 11 factual entertainment channels in India recently launched a sports channel DSPORT and is now entering the general entertainment segment with a new channel titled JEET. The channel will take on rivals Star Plus, Colors and Zee TV with scripted dramas and series in a bid to cash in on the Rs10,000 crore general entertainment advertising market.

Discovery’s current portfolio includes Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Discovery HD World, Discovery Science, Discovery Turbo and Discovery Kids, among others.

In an interview, Karan Bajaj, senior vice-president and general manager at Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific (a division of Discovery Communications) talks about the changing entertainment scenario in the country, Discovery’s digital products and what the company learnt from fiction shows like Naagin. Edited excerpts:

You have launched two channels in the past six months and both in the non-infotainment category. What prompted this change?

We are just following the consumer. Over the next five years, we believe that two very distinct and vibrant TV ecosystems will co-exist. One, the linear TV, which is becoming very mass-oriented and skewed towards tier II and tier III towns. Second, the digital platforms. We are seeing metro urban consumers constantly migrating to digital platforms. The need is to create distinct strategies for these two spaces—not focus on one.

What strategies are you working on?

If we look at Discovery’s portfolio today, the programming is heavily skewed towards urban English-speaking viewers and that we are pivoting towards digital. That particular consumer is on digital now and digital infotainment consumption is high. Infotainment consumption on TV is 1-2% of overall viewership, while digital infotainment consumption is 8-10%. On the television side, we are looking at what infotainment means for masses. Keeping that in mind, Discovery JEET is an effort to expand the category by giving it a mass entertainment focus.

We are launching with a show called Ramdev-The Untold Story (a 65-episode scripted series on yoga guru Baba Ramdev), and another titled Saragarhi, a story of 21 Sikhs who had battled 10,000 Afghans. We will launch the channel by year end or early next year. It’s a risky proposition in a way, for nobody has done it before but it has an upside with the sort of disruptive programming we are introducing in the GEC space.

What will be your target group?

On JEET, programming will be slightly skewed towards males above the age of 15 years, but it will be family inclusive. For mass entertainment proposition to work in India, the programming can’t be exclusionary to families.

Apart from that, we are positioning TLC as a channel focused on girl power. We are doing a reality hunt (TV show) for India’s first female comedian. TLC is of the view that we have a very vibrant female comedian population which doesn’t get the visibility or the limelight that the male counterpart does.

How has your sports channel performed?

DSPORT just got its first ratings a couple of weeks back. It has done really well for what it was meant to be. The ratings are very encouraging, despite the distribution being less than 50% which amounts to just 50-60 million households. We are still building the distribution. There are a lot of underserved yet popular sports like golf, soccer and tennis in India and we are going after those sports and building a community there. Going forward, we are still contemplating if we want to bet on any sport, delve deep into it and build leagues around it or enter the (already established) cricket space.

How has infotainment as a category changed over the years in India?

For a long time, we and the category had defined infotainment as English information and that was a niche approach. That is what is changing now. It’s becoming mass-oriented and full of entertainment.

Bollywood is a very good example of mass infotainment with entertainment. If we look at four big movies from last year—Dangal, Rustom, Airlift and M.S. Dhoni-The Untold Story, all these were scripted dramas based on facts. A consumer-led divergence is happening.

What are your digital plans?

We are exclusively partnering with a range of digital multi-channel content studios. This would allow us access to top content creators in infotainment categories like automobiles, technology and e-commerce. On the platform side, we have decided that we don’t want to launch our own OTT (over-the-top) video streaming platform because of the commoditization that is happening in the industry. Very shortly, we will be announcing a tie-up with one of the existing OTT players. We want to become a clear leader in the digital factual space.

What do you watch on TV?

Most recently, I have watched every episode of Naagin (a superhit Hindi fiction show on Colors). In order to launch a mass entertainment channel, it was homework for all of us to get familiar with that space.

That’s the education aspect. Otherwise, I am a complete OTT consumer. I have subscriptions to all the platforms. Right now, I am watching 13 Reasons Why (a Netflix original series).

And what did you learn from TV shows like ‘Naagin’?

The tension never ends. There are at least six high points in an episode versus, say, a House of Cards (another Netflix original series) which would have just one high point.

The nature of storytelling is different. So, we are building JEET to have six dramatic points in every episode.

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