Getting Smart with Infotainment on NGC

26 Nov,2014


[story and headline updated]

A good amount of the battle was won for National Geographic Channel given that it has been a household name in the country thanks to the superior print, pictorial and content values of the magazine. But television is a different medium and so are challenges it poses. With a healthy mix of infotainment (which as Keertan Adyanthaya, Managing Director, NGC & Fox International Channels explains is more information and less entertainment),  the group has been forging ahead in recent years. Shivani Jain speaks with Mr Adyanthaya on the flagship channel and the others which are part the NGC and Fox portfolio in India currently.


National Geographic Channel has been in India for over 16 years, having launched in July 1998. How has the journey been?

The journey has been very interesting. We have tried and showcased a host of different things in India, essentially a lot of local production for the first time. Earlier, all content used to be produced in the United States. Our first local programme was called Mission Everest, made seven years ago. Then we took a break for two years because it took time those days to convince everybody else in the system that we can do shows out of India. Our next production was Mission Udaan, which was partnered with the Indian Airforce, to feature in detail behind-the-scene preparation on how air force defends the country. Mission Udaan was very well-received, so we followed it up with Mission Navy, Mission Army with similar detailing and stories.

Along the way, we discovered that we are getting pretty good at creating National Geographic shows out of India. We had also won over the trust of the International society. They felt comfortable with us doing shows out of India because they are very, very sticky about the amount of research and fact finding that we do, before we go out and create our shows.

So, now recently we did a show called Inside IPL which is a six-part series about the IPL and what goes into making one of the world’s biggest sporting spectacle. We also did a show called Emergency Room, a programme which captures critical, life threatening moments and real life medical dramas. We shot at Medanta  Medicity. Under Megastructures we made documentaries on Bandra Worli Sea Link Architecture, Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital and Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport.

A year back we started a new genre of programmes called Smatertainment. We launched shows like Brain Games, Science of Stupid and None of the above. And they become flash hits. They captured the imagination of a lot of audiences in the country.  Earlier with shows like Megafactor, Megastructures, Aircrash Investigation, Taboo, Banged Up, our audiences were more adults, in 18-35 age group. But with Smatertainment our audience base has grown phenomenally. Now you have kids, adults and lot of the older audience watching as well. The programmes are very riveting and addictive.


Your new positioning with the likes of Arshad Warsi, Manish Paul and John Abraham is interesting. Can you take us through it?

One of the things we are very confident about is our shows itself.  We believe that if people watch our shows, they’ll get riveted by it. But, in order to get them there, we have to attract them there. Because the old association with National Geographic programmes is that it is too scientific, a bit too heavy to watch. But some of these newer shows we are talking in simple, layman’s language. So it is still scientific, we are still learning about science, but in a very palatable kind of way, more accessible. In order to make it more palatable, make it more accessible, we are making local Indian achievers, celebrities present the shows.


While you have the likes of the live streaming of Rosetta Spacecraft’s Lander Launch, Cosmos, on the other hand you have Science of Stupid you also have the dumbing down of science. Is there a contradiction of sorts or is there a method to this?

It is actually not dumbing down. If you watch Science of Stupid, we explain science in a very interesting way. Earlier, we were seen as a professor. We were fine with the Professor tag, but we wanted to be Professor Indiana Jones, not Professor Boring. So that is the difference. Even when you see the Cosmos, he explains things in a very interesting practical fashion. He brings scientific examples down to the level anybody in a room can sit down and watch it and really like. I think that’s where the change is happening. We are trying to explain things in far more interesting way. Some people would call this dumbing down. But I would say that’s the difference between wanting to talk to more people and make more people interested in science. We are looking for a wider audience, more diverse audience.


There is a perception that there is not much difference between the core content of Discovery and NatGeo. Your comments.

I feel if you call us both infotainment channels then there is a world of difference. On NGC, the stress is more on information, little less on entertainment. Whereas on  Discovery, I think the stress is more on entertainment, and a little less on information.  You’ll see it even in the kind of flagship shows that we both have. Their flagship shows are in the Survival Space, Man vs Wild, Man Woman Wild, Dual Survival. We have three key strands. One is Smartertainment, there is nobody else in the infotainment segment who has this as the genre. The other strand deals with architecture, technology and machinery with programmes such as Megastructures and Megafactories. And the third is true life stories with shows such as Banged Up Abroad, Aircraft Investigation, etc. I think these are our spaces. I think Natural History, Wild Life is the only common factor now between both of us. We both originated as natural history kind of channels, but now we have taken two divergent paths.


How has it been with Fox Life after the switch from Fox Traveller?

Fox Life has been a break-out hit. It has gone into a different stratosphere altogether. Competition put together doesn’t total up to Fox Life’s share. It’s even bigger than English entertainment channels like AXN, Zee Café, Comedy Central, VH1…everybody. When we were Traveller, we were focusing just on travel. But now we have branched out into style, fashion, music, food. We cover almost everything. We now have a mix of international shows as well local shows. It’s done very, very well.


And with a fair bit of Indian content too?

We create four different strands of  Indian shows. One is Twist of Taste, the other is Life mein ek Bar, then we do Style in the City, it is designers taking inspiration from small town India, and the fourth is Sound Trek, its independent musicians people revisiting a particular song from a particular region going in and discovering and singing it in their own style.


And what about NatGeo, Wild, Adventure?

Adventure has become NatGeo People. NatGeo Wild is also getting a good traction in the market. On People, Music we are really working on the distribution because we don’t really take carriage fee. So we have to work doubly hard in order to get the distributor. So it’s an interesting bunch of channels that we have. Our focus in terms of marketing, programming is on the top three which is NGC, Fox Life, NatGeo Wild. People, Music, Baby TV we are really pushing in the market and trying to get the distributor wherever we can.


Baby TV doing well?

Yes. For whoever has a baby at home, it’s very, very popular. Very sticky also. Kids just can’t get off it.


While digitization in the first phase benefitted channels such as yours, how has the second phase been for you?

I think tiering has to be done. It’s very necessary. DTH has done tiering for at least five years. But the cable platforms behave like we are talking about some alien thing. Our subscribers will not accept packages, they say. How come half the subscribers in India have accepted it, and the other half will not accept it. Packaging is normal. It exists around the world. It exists even in India. Some 50 million household are operating according to packages. They are all operating on pre-paid. But unfortunately, in all the big cities, the digital operators they still want to operate according to the 1990s where they want to give you just one pack. But our digital operators want to operate according to their own model which only they understand. They are refusing to evolve with time.


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