A whole new world to discover: Rahul Johri

19 Sep,2011

The footprint of his responsibility is huge and very challenging. Mr Rahul Johri, Senior Vice President and General Manager, South Asia at Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, leads his network’s South Asia operations and is responsible for driving the company’s growth in the region which includes India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Bhutan and Nepal.


He is responsible for revenue generation, portfolio expansion, affiliate partnerships, networks’ viewership, content creation and talent management. In 2010, he led Discovery Channel to become India’s No.1 channel in non-fiction entertainment. He cemented TLC as India’s favourite lifestyle channel and energized Animal Planet within the advertising community.


Mr Johri has over 18 years of media industry experience across various verticals including news channels, magazines and print dailies. He has been actively involved in the launch of many of India’s leading media brands including Aaj Tak, Outlook and HT City. Prior to joining Discovery, he was the General Manager – Sales of IMG India.


In this interaction with Tuhina Anand, Mr Johri talks about the channel and its impact and further plans.


It looks like the way to go ahead is regional; how has Discovery in regional languages and feeds helped in garnering greater viewership share?

Dubbing in Indian languages has been one of our important growth strategies in India. Dubbed content attracts strong viewership from across age groups, genders and geographies and is accepted very well by the viewers. Thus introduction of regional language feeds is our attempt to localize the content for viewers across India, reaching the specific markets in their own language.


Discovery Channel which is currently available in four languages – English, Hindi, Telugu and Bangla – has shown upward trend in viewership post introduction of 24-hour parallel language feeds. It has helped the channel grow and connect with a larger audience.


In 1998, Discovery Channel launched its 24-hour parallel Hindi feed, which boosted the channel’s nationwide viewership. Continuing with its promise to delight its viewers across India, the channel launched the Telugu feed from January 01, 2011 and Bangla from 15th April 2011. Post the Telugu launch, Discovery Channel’s viewership in Andhra Pradesh jumped by 180 percent (source: TAM, Market – Andhra Pradesh, Wk 1-40 2010 vs 1-28 2011, 0700-2359 Hrs, Viewership comparison, TVR000s), and witnessed rise of 20 percent post the launch of the Bangla feed. (Source: TAM, West Bengal, Wk 1-15, 2011 vs Wk16-28 2011, TVR%)


From August 15, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific has launched its first regional channel – Discovery Channel Tamil for the viewers of Tamil Nadu. Our constant research and feedback from the viewers encouraged us to launch a dedicated 24-hour channel for Tamil viewers in their native language.


Our 24-hour wildlife channel Animal Planet which presents engaging stories from the depths of oceans to the interiors of jungles in the comfort of your homes, is also available in English and Hindi.


What other regional languages do you have on your radar and by when would they fructify?

We constantly keep evaluating new languages.


How have the channels such as Discovery Science and Discovery Turbo fared for the network?

Discovery Science and Discovery Turbo are unique content channels dedicated to science and automobiles respectively. These channels were launched last year to cater to the demands of quality content by the aspirational Indian viewers. The channels are available across analogue and on all leading DTH platforms – Dish TV, Tata Sky, Airtel Digital TV and Videocon D2H, the channels are currently reaching over 17 million subscribers each.


India is a young country and there is immense curiosity amongst the viewers for information. Knowledge is cool. The viewers want to be informed and entertained about the various advancements and technologies from around the world. As expected both Discovery Science and Discovery Turbo have received encouraging response from the viewers across the country.


The most visible proof of the growth and success of these unique content channels is the increasing interest and spends by advertisers and affiliates on our networks.


From your own experience, how much does re-branding help a channel, a case in point being TLC?

TLC, formerly known as Discovery Travel & Living, has remained India’s leading lifestyle channel. It was the first channel to introduce lifestyle programming on diverse manifestations in travel, food, fashion, music way back in 2004.


Today’s consumer has evolved. The aspirational, well-travelled and informed Indian viewer demands unique and compelling content. This evolution is accelerated by increasing integration with globalised lifestyle and consumption patterns leading to the overhaul of the Indian consumer.


Keeping pace with this metamorphosis, television channels have to innovate and remain relevant. Re-branding helps refresh the brand proposition, offering and strengthen consumer connect. TLC was rebranded in 2010 to make it bigger, better and bolder, featuring new faces, new genres and new places.


Travel as a genre has become a competitive space, with some channels like Fox History & Entertainment re-branding to include the travel genre in their name. Does it impact TLC in anyway?

TLC offers unmatched brand proposition and remains India’s ultimate lifestyle destination with a distinct identity. The channel offers a unique blend of international lifestyle programmes and India productions which sets it apart from the other channels in Indian television space.


Having innovation at its core, TLC pioneered in travel programming under a variety of themes such as exotic locales, cultural destinations, luxurious hotels, world’s best beaches, culinary journeys and this year introduced a dedicated time band for travel, at 9pm. Some of the popular travel series on the channel presented by renowned travel experts are  Samantha Brown’s Great Weekends, Beach Watch, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, Get Out, Xtreme Tourist, Sea Nation and Fun Asia.


Redefining the food genre on Indian television, TLC introduced the most sought after chefs and food experts who bring in variety of cuisines from different parts of the world. The channel explores the finer nuances of culinary skills through its enticing food series presented by celebrated chefs like Kylie Kwong, Nigella Lawson, baking expert Rachel Allen and bizarre foods with Andrew Zimmern.


TLC offers its viewers an experience of the fascinating world – ranging from ice diving in the high Arctic to watching the sun come up over the pyramids, from stripping in Las Vegas to diving with sharks, from driving a Ferrari to swimming the English Channel and from spending a night in a haunted castle to exploring the volcanoes in Indonesia. No experience is left unturned.


For further growth, you need to go beyond tier 1 cities, do you think in tier 11 and 111 cities are ready to go beyond fiction, news and sports? What does your research say?

Discovery’s mission is to satisfy the curiosity of millions of Indian viewers through high-quality, entertaining programmes. The power of the Discovery brand stems from our ability to provide unparalleled content and create meaningful connections with audiences. Introduction of local language feeds gives us just the opportunity to reach millions of viewers across India.


Our flagship channel Discovery Channel last year became India’s 9th largest channel amongst all 600+ channels, in cumulative reach. Discovery Channel is currently amongst the top ten distributed channels, available in over 2 lakh villages and reaching over 160 million subscribers through the country.


Also, the various programmes on Discovery’s various channels are mostly documentary-dramas, which further makes dubbing more relevant without losing the basic essence of the series.


Animal Planet is also available in English and Hindi. This year Discovery Networks has launched Discovery Channel Tamil dedicated to the viewers of Tamil Nadu. This dubbed content is much appreciated by the viewers beyond metros.


In terms of big properties, what should we expect from the channel by the end of this year?

We continue to refresh our programming on a quarterly basis across our seven networks, bringing new programmes, refreshing formats, enthralling hosts and newer seasons of the existing series.


Some of the new programmes across our channels are:

Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero (to air from September12-17, 9 pm) which is nearly a decade after the September 11th World Trade Center attacks, Discovery Channel and acclaimed producer Steven Spielberg bring special series chronicling the historic reconstruction of Ground Zero. Documenting this gigantic project in a six-part series, Rising: Rebuilding Ground Zero, Discovery Channel takes a comprehensive look at Ground Zero’s rise from the ashes, as seen through the eyes of those who are making it happen.


Discovery Channel – Norway Massacre (to air on September 21, 9 pm): July 2, 2011, a day now indelibly ingrained in Norway’s history, is the date Anders Behring Breivik killed eight people in a bomb set off outside government headquarters in Oslo and embarked on a 90-minute shooting spree, resulting in the death of 69 young people on Utoya Island. Discovery Channel chronicles the events of that horrid day – and the impact it has on this nation and its people – in Norway Massacre.


On TLC we will have Chuck’s Day Off, where the owner and head chef of one of Canada’s hottest restaurants spends his only day off by… cooking!


Discovery Science- Innovation Nation: What will the future look like? Will people fly to work? Will one live a disease-free life? Will one never age? Brilliant thinkers, cutting edge research, backyard inventors are on the way to breakthrough science that will change lives forever. Innovation Nation features budding inventors, innovators and designers who have been laboring away in sheds to dig out things that we would have only thought of. Travelling across the globe from cutting-edge research to ingenious inventors, it offers intimate access to the people who make high science a reality. Real world demonstrations, lab experiments, and in-depth interviews are complemented by stunning visuals, all of which bring the planet’s bravest new ideas to life.


One last question: it’s been 15 years since Discovery’s debut in India; in these years what has been your biggest challenge?

Discovery refreshes the content of all its seven channels in India every three months. This decision to offer new content every three months is a big challenge but we have been successful in converting into an opportunity. Variety is our unique strength. No one can replicate it.


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