We’re bigger than the sum of all our competitors: Rahul Johri

06 Jul,2012


Text & Video by Shruti Pushkarna
Although most of its channels are not mass like those offering soaps and sitcoms, the Discovery Network is a key member of the Indian broadcast landscape. The Discovery Network Asia Pacific’s Senior Vice President & General Manager for South Asia, RahulJohri attributes the network’s success to its dedicated and loyal viewership and says it is far ahead of competition


Under Mr Johri’s leadership, Discovery India’s portfolio has grown from two to eight channels. In 2009, he led Discovery Channel to become India’s No.1 channel in non-fiction entertainment. He cemented TLC as India’s definitive lifestyle channel and energized Animal Planet with the brand recording the highest audience growth in the factual space.


He launched three new networks in 2010, Discovery Science, Discovery Turbo and a 24-hour high definition channel – Discovery HD World. Mr Johri has also pioneered the channel’s localization strategy by launching language feeds in Telugu and Bengali. Discovery Channel Tamil was also launched in 2011.


At a press meet in the Capital on July 5, Mr Johri announced the launch of a new series on TLC called Be Blunt with Adhuna Akhtar. A six-part series, Be Blunt with Adhuna Akhtar showcases the striking transformation of the girls selected from across India into dazzling divas by popular hairstylist Adhuna Akhtar and her brother Osh Bhabani.


MxMIndia caught up with Mr Johri soon after he unveiled Be Blunt to the media. In this one-on-one interaction, Mr Johri tells MxMIndia about Discovery’s leadership and the network’s latest offering and that Discovery Kids will be unveiled shortly. He also shares his views on how digitization is set to impact Discovery and other niche channels.


Excerpts from the interview:

It’s interesting that you have a show on hairstyling. Tell us a little about this show with Adhuna Akhtar?

Our focus in TLC is on different aspects of lifestyle and one of the most prominent ones of that is appearance. So keeping that in mind we thought a hairstyling show would fit in really well on the channel. And there is no other hairstyling show. When we wanted to do it, we found Adhuna Akhtar, who is one of the most popular hair dressers in the country. This show takes in six different individuals and carries out a makeover on them and in the midst of doing the makeover, Adhuna gives viewers a lot of tips on how to keep their hair better.


[youtube width=”400″ height=”225″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0LvsvFWwOTA[/youtube]

You mentioned there are six episodes of this show ready to air… what’s coming up next?

We have always done new things and surprised our viewers. Whether it’s a show on Shah Rukh Khan’s life, the jewellery show, and now it’s a hair dressing show, so we will continue to surprise people.


And then there’s the programme capturing the Indian Army’s Women Expedition to Everest…

The Army sent an expedition which scaled Mount Evereston May 25 and 26. There are seven women who were part of that expedition and a total of 17 climbers who climbed Everest. We shot the whole show; in fact, a Discovery cameraman also climbed Mount Everest along with the climbers. Right now we are editing the footage that has been brought back and we hope to bring this show within this year.


And the two-part series on Oprah’s visit to India?

Oprah was here earlier this year and she shot extensively in Mumbai, Vrindavan, Agra and Jaipur. There are two episodes of this new series that she now does which is called The Next Chapter which appears on Oprah Winfrey’s Network in US and in India you will see it both on Discovery Channel and on TLC. Discovery has had quite a few specials in the past, like the special show with Shah Rukh Khan, another one of course coming up with Oprah…


Considering a lot of money has to be invested in promotion for programming, isn’t it better to stick to longer format shows rather than these one-offs?

It is a part of the kind of shows we do. A documentary filmmaker does not make a series, there is no 52-part documentary. It will always be smaller parts. And viewers know that there will be specials and we have now eight different channels of our own. So we have enough air time to take the message to the viewers.


Discovery has got a lot of competition in this space now, especially from a channel like History which is doing fairly well. How do you view competition from upcoming channels?

We are, by far, the leaders in the genre. We are bigger than the sum of all our competitors. We’ve been in the business for 15 years and no matter how you slice and dice the numbers, we are the leaders. And we will continue to present to our viewers with quality programming. And the other important thing which is responsible for our leadership position is, on Discovery you will always find shows which are on brand. There is nothing that is not on brand. So viewers get from Discovery what they expect from Discovery. And that is really responsible for the loyalty that we have of our viewers.


A channel like TLC is fighting for viewership with English GECs like Star World and Zee Cafe…

 TLC is bigger than most of them and TLC has a very dedicated audience. If you ask people what they watch on TLC, they will give you names of shows that they follow. And TLC has managed to establish itself as the definitive lifestyle channel in this country and that really gives it the advantage.


Speaking of niche channels, how are Discovery Turbo and Discovery Science doing?

In terms of reach, they continue to grow. Discovery Turbo has very dedicated audience in the metro markets and Discovery Science has been growing all over the country. Its distribution has been growing. And if there is a country in the world where a Science channel fits in perfectly, it is India because 65 per cent of India is under 30 years of age. And 35 per cent of the country is under 14 years of age. And everybody understands the value of education. And that is why the science channel works so well here.


And how’s your regional foray going? Discovery Tamil is a success… what languages up next?

Discovery Channel Tamil is a great success. Discovery is the only international company to have a full-fledged channel and not just a dubbed feed in the language. So it has its own programming grid, it has all the on-air packaging in Tamil. And from the day we launched in Tamil, the rating has more than doubled. Today it is the No 9 channel in Tamil Nadu. We are already available in Bangla, Telugu and Hindi and we continue to evaluate languages.


It’s been a while since you announced Discovery Kids at FICCI Frames. When will it be launched?

The test signals of Discovery Kids are already on and we are currently seeding the channel in various parts of the country. We should be announcing the launch very soon.


And how will it be different from the other channels in this space?

Discovery Kids is not a 100 percent animation channel. It has the inherent Discovery values. However, we understand the value of entertainment so there is a lot of entertainment on the channel and it’s a parent-approved entertainment channel.


What will be its driver shows? For instance, POGO has Chhota Bheem and Disney has Doraemon…

We have our set, and like I said it’s just a matter of time that we’ll announce Discovery Kids and we will show you all the big shows that Discovery Kids has.


Are you looking at a reality show like Endurance which is a rage internationally?

You will get all the big shows of Discovery Kids in India!


Do you think digitization will have a positive impact on channels like Discovery?

In a digital world where the consumers are not constrained by the bandwidth capacity and have a complete choice, channels like Discovery become that much more important. As a consumer you get complete control over what you want to watch and that is where clearly defined offerings like TLC, Discovery Science, Animal Planet have a clear cut proposition and they become that much more pronounced in a digital environment.


Given that TRAI will have restrictions on pricing of channels, will niche channels (like Discovery) really benefit from it, considering the huge amount of investment on content by these channels…

Not being able to price your channel has its drawbacks… I would like to bring the military channel here which talks about all kinds of war strategies and so on. But that will have a small dedicated tribe to watch it. Till the numbers grow, the next level of specialization is difficult. It’s a challenge to get extremely specialized channels into the country.


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