Discovery Communications has launched a new programme called Life on its flagship, Discovery Channel. The ten-part series was filmed across all continents, and took over 3,000 days to make. The images will be introduced by David Attenborough. The series promises never-before shots: A toad rolling down a mountain to escape a tarantula,
Komodo dragons bringing down an animal ten times their size and so on.
This is yet another attempt by the lifestyle broadcaster to cement its position in India. Discovery Channel, claims the company, is the 14th most popular channel in the country amongst the 500 or so on air. It is number one in the non-fiction genre, and is behind only Hindi general entertainment, movie channels and sports channels when the Indian cricket team is in action. At the moment, it has in its bouquet six channels: Discovery Channel, Discovery Travel & Living, Animal Planet, Discovery Science, Discovery Turbo and Discovery HD World. (Animal Planet now competes with National Geographic, a space earlier occupied by Discovery Channel.)
In March, the company had introduced India’s first high definition channel, Discovery HD World, with all content in high definition. While part of its programming is sourced from Discovery Channel in high definition, majority of its content is sourced from Discovery Networks’ library of programming on culture, lifestyle, history, travel, space and science. This, feels Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific Senior Vice-president & General Manager (India) Rahul Johri, will be the next big thing in India. High definition televisions have begun to sell at a brisk pace in the market. “Commonwealth Games 2010 will be telecast on high definition TV. Indian viewers will get a taste of what HD actually is. So, there would not have been a better time to have launched Discovery HD channel. Also, the declining cost of these TV sets will increase the addressable market for HD services.”
In January, Discovery Channel had started its Tamil service. (It is evaluating more language-based initiatives.) “The 24-hour parallel Tamil feed led to an eight-fold increase in viewership in Tamil Nadu. Our programming is more about commentary. And commentary in a local language makes all the difference,” says Johri.
The same month it had also rolled out two new channels, Discovery Science and Discovery Turbo, to expand its viewership. (Around the same time, it had come out with a programme on the life of Shah Rukh Khan on Discovery Travel & Living.) Has it paid off? The two new channels, for instance, have so far got only one million viewers — a small number, given the fact that there are 39 million cable & satellite homes in the country and 20 million direct-to-home connections.
Discovery Communications is not too worried. One, the initial offtake was expected to be sluggish, like the way it was for Discovery Channel. Two, the partnership in DTH is likely to be extended beyond Tata Sky, and it has got on board OneAlliance (a joint venture between Sony and Discovery) to sell the pay channels in cable & satellite homes through the 5,000-odd cable operators in the country. The numbers by July 1, it is convinced, could look very different.
Meanwhile, in the high definition space, there’s more happening ahead of the Commonwealth Games. Reliance Big TV, a DTH operator, has signed a content deal with National Geographic to offer its high definition channels in India. In fact, over the next two months, Reliance Big TV will launch five new high definition channels. The road ahead could be tough.