With the dual purpose of appealing to consumers and advertisers alike, special interest channel National Geographic Channel (NGC) has gone in for a significant image and programme schedule makeover. Starting Sunday, May 27, the channel has launched a series of initiatives, the most prominent of them being the launch of its India feed, and the shifting of its prime time band from the 10.00-12.00 pm slot to the more advertisers-friendly 9.00-11.00 pm one.
"The changes we have brought into effect serve two purposes," says Aseem Kapoor, associate vice-president, marketing NGC. "On the one hand, we are presenting a more viewer-friendly package, both in terms of giving the channel a contemporary look and in terms of scheduling. On the other, we are targeting advertisers who are looking to reach out to discerning audiences by providing them a convenient media."
The programme rescheduling that the channel has introduced is aimed at increasing 'appointment viewing'. Explaining this, Kapoor says, "Previously, a lot of our programmes were scattered in such a way that the consumer found it difficult to remember things like timings, periodicity of the programme et cetera. However, with the new scheduling, such factors are suitably addressed. The idea is to drive consumers to the best of our programming - again and again."
What Kapoor means can be better understood by taking a look at past and current schedules. For instance, previously, popular programme Wild was aired Monday-Friday in two hour-long slots - 5.30-6.30 pm, and the again from 9.00-10.00 pm. While this wouldn't have bothered NGC aficionados the least bit, for the average surfer, it's a trifle confusing. However, under the new scheduling, Wild is one single hour-long programme running Monday-Friday from 8.00-9.00 pm. Similarly, while Saturday Unlimited was previously interrupted by On The Edge and a half-hour series (from 7.30-9.00 pm), respectively, the programme now has a free run from 7.00-9.00 pm. On The Edge has been rescheduled from 10.00-11.00 pm.
The revamp puts a lot of emphasis on back-to-back viewing. Meaning, programmes of similar genre are being run one after another to increase 'stickiness'. And appointment viewing. So, while previously Violent Earth was aired on Sundays, it now precedes Friday Frontiers (on Fridays, needless to say). "Both Violent Earth and Friday Frontiers are programmes with a lot of science and technology in them," says Kapoor. "So one can assume that consumers interested in science and technology will make sure to view the channel on Fridays from 9.00-11.00 pm. The same applies in the case of adventure, exploration, anthropology, nature."
Advertisers too have been kept in mind. Citing the example of Violent Earth and Friday Frontiers, Kapoor says, "A marketer of, say, microprocessors, now knows that he can reach people who understand science and technology by advertising his brand in the 9.00-11.00 slot on Fridays. There are obvious synergies in this kind of programming - both for the consumer and the advertiser."
Shifting the channel's prime time from 10.00-12.00 pm to 9.00-11.00 pm serves the same end. "For most channels, the prime time band is the 8.00-10.00 pm slot. Our reasoning was, why wait till 10.00 pm to showcase our best? We have taken the initiative of talking to consumers at a time that they find suitable. And it also gives advertisers a good opportunity to come onto NGC," feels Kapoor.
Of course, all this would not have been possible were it not for the independent India feed. Previously, India shared the same feed as Hong Kong, Singapore and the UAE, which put a lot of constraints on shuffling schedules. Kapoor agrees that the India feed has given NGC flexibility in terms of offering a better focus to Indian viewers. Plus it gives the channel the opportunity to plan local content - a subject that Kapoor doesn't dwell on much. All he says is, "If we do more local content, it'll be in keeping with the core values of the National Geographic Society."
Broadbasing is vital for the survival of the channel, and Kapoor knows it. The channel's "all wake-up hours" Hindi feed has been on for a year now, and Kapoor feels that this has had "some impact on the NGC brand". The channel also needs to do a lot of image correction as far as the trade and the consumer are concerned. Even today, NGC is seen by many purely as a 'wildlife channel'. Says Rajul Kulshreshtha, associate vice-president, Universal McCann, "Dominantly, NGC comes across as a channel that is looking at wildlife seriously."
"As awareness of NGC goes up, media perceptions will improve," Kapoor counters. And he contends that specials such as Pearl Harbour and India Month ("which proved to the world that India wasn't about snakes and elephants"), and programmes such as Adventure One - which was supported by extensive ground-level activities in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore - are doing a lot in dispelling perceptions. "What we want to communicate through all this is our multiple-genre content," Kapoor insists. "I think the steps that the channel has been taking of late are helping NGC dilute its wildlife image and increase viewership," Kulshreshtha agrees. "I would assume Pearl Harbour, especially, has done a lot toward this end."
Kapoor does not want to be drawn into the numbers game. "We are not comparable to anyone," he says. "We are a mission-first, media-second entity. How many organizations sponsor an average of 7,000 explorations and expeditions a year? How many organizations have explorers in residence who unearth the bigger mysteries of life such as the Titanic or Pearl Harbour? This is what makes us unique… not numbers."
But, of course, numbers matter, in that quirky quantitative way. Which is perhaps why the channel does talk about growing its penetration from 4-million households in 1998, to 18 million today - a lot of which can be attributed to STAR's distribution.
Kapoor, for one, appears confident about the future. "Because of the fresh new look we wear, we are expecting a lot more consumers. And in any case, brand loyalty has not been an issue with us. I think, pretty soon, we shall reach figures that will appeal to the trade," he says. What those figures are, Kapoor doesn't reveal.
Then again, perhaps, numbers don't really matter, after all. "Today, we have lots of advertisers who see value beyond numbers - value in the NGC brand," he says.
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