Last month, the Discovery channel launched one of its most ambitious programmes. Called ‘Life’, the series was shot over 3,000 days across continents and captures various plant and animal species locked in their unique fight for survival.
The series had a viewership of 150 million in the first month itself. There is more. Over the next three months, Discovery will introduce a special series with Stephen Hawkings — ‘How Universe Works’ – and Atlas 4D – a three-part series portraying the Great Rift Valley, Hawaiia and the Mediterraneans.
All these initiatives are expected to cement the channel’s overwhelming leadership position (95 per cent market share) in the non-fiction TV segment. Its closest competitor National Geographic from the Newscorp stable is a third of its size. In fact, Discovery is the 13th largest television channel in the country, surpassing the viewership numbers of many Hindi as well as English news channels, music channels and English movie and entertainment channels.
Rahul Johri, senior vice-president Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific (DNAP), says “We are already 2.7 times the size of our nearest competitor. Even if we acquire the entire market in the non-fiction segment, it would only be a marginal gain for us. We are, therefore, taking on other genres of television programming to increase our viewership numbers.”
Television audience, Johri explains, mostly do not have specific categories of content in mind. They flip through channels and settle for the most compelling content that Discover offers.
Data from TAM, a television viewership monitoring agency, show that Discovery Channel has grown by over 15 per cent in the first six months of the year, while Hindi news channels have reported a decline. Even on prime time, Discovery is ahead of Aaj Tak by 21 per cent and Star News by 53 per cent. The viewership of Discovery Channel is also 33 per cent higher than the combined viewership of Star Movies and HBO.
Rajiv Bakshi, vice-president, marketing of DNAP, says, the average time spent on Discovery is higher at 24 minutes compared to 18 minutes for Star Movies every week.
Discovery’s numbers, however, loses some shine when compared to Hindi entertainment/movie and sports channels. Johri says the answer once again lies in making provision for exclusive content. “Discovery as a brand has taken off well because of our content. We have a library of 100,000 hours of programming. We are investing around $ 800 million in producing content this year.”
Advertisers seem to agree, going by the fact that all major brands, including L’Oreal, Coca-Cola, Cadbury’s, Tata Teleservices, Vodafone Essar, Johnson and Johnson and Samsung, advertise on Discovery.
The best thing that happened to Discover, Johri says, was last year’s downturn.
“ Return on investment became much more important. That saw a jump in the inventory that we were selling.” Today, Discovery’s ad rates are comparable to news channels, Johri says.
Discovery Channel and Travel and Living, he says, are sold out in all spots from seven in the morning till 12 in the night. Though news channels register higher minutage , Johri says, Discovery’s success has been in having load factors of100 per cent.
As regards the premium charged for ad spots by news channels, Johri says Discovery is doing relentless selling to change that perception. “Our cost per household is very competitive. Our channels deliver quality audience and advertisers are taking that into account. We offer exclusive content and that eventually would drive us through.”