There are more than half a dozen infotainment or special interest channels in India but the three channels that have made a mark over the years are Discovery, National Geographic and Animal Planet. Together, they claim more than 95 per cent of the genre's viewership, of which Discovery claims the lion's share, followed by NGC and Animal Planet.
By the third week of its launch (Week 41, 2011), the channel share for History TV18 went up from zero to 7.5 per cent. By the fourth week, the channel claimed a share of 24 per cent - the difference between the No. 2 player NGC and History TV18 was only 0.8 per cent (as per TAM C&S 15+).
However, it was not NGC that was majorly affected but the No. 1 channel Discovery, the channel share of which went down from 58 per cent to 39 per cent.
During Weeks 6 and 7 of 2012/03, History TV18 surpassed National Geographic to claim the No. 2 position in the genre, with a share of more than 24 per cent. Although the gap between the two players did fluctuate during Weeks 8, 9 and 10, in Week 11, the fight was neck-to-neck once again.
To validate the above: History TV18's relative shares for Weeks 8, 9 and 10 stood at 23.3 per cent, 24.3 per cent and 21.9 per cent, respectively.
Whereas for NGC, the relative shares for Week 8 and 9 were 25.4 per cent each, and for Week 10 it stood at 25.7 per cent.
In Week 11, NGC's share stood at 23.5 per cent, while for History TV18, the score was 23.4 per cent.
Discovery, albeit holding on to its No. 1 position in the genre, witnessed a fair fall to 36 per cent in Week 7, before clawing back to 40.3 per cent in Week 11.
So what has contributed to the success that History TV18 has achieved in such a short span?
Among the several things that the channel tried, the Khan-effect seems to have worked wonders.
Many found it quite unusual when Bollywood star Salman Khan was roped in as the brand ambassador for an infotainment channel like History TV18. His on-screen persona escaped the brand-fit of the channel.
However, it is pertinent to note here that Khan did offer the channel the initial sampling, which it desperately needed. His job was to get the viewer's attention and break the clutter, and quite evidently the intention was fulfilled.
Vinita Bangard, managing director, Krossover Entertainment, a celebrity management firm, notes that Khan has not only added visibility to the channel but has also pushed up the overall popularity of the genre. "Since he is delivering content to the consumer as a consumer, the content easily gets more palatable," she says.
Apart from the star brand endorser, the channel also managed to attract eyeballs with differentiated and fresh content.
History TV18 took a relook at the very definition of the word 'History', in an attempt to move away from the traditional concept of history being about dates. It launched with universal themes that use the premise of history but, at the same time, entertain, engage and thrill. And therefore, shows such as Ice Road Truckers, Swamp People, Top Shot, Sliced and IRT Deadliest Roads-Himalayas were launched to represent the core genres during the initial phase.
Vidhu Sagar, senior vice-president, Carat Media India, says, "Typically, the infotainment genre suffers from the 'wildlife' syndrome. At a time when viewer's fatigue was maximum, History offered freshness with a differentiated content."
According to Sagar, until the advent of History TV18, the only channel to have showcased diversified content in the market was the leader of the flock, Discovery.
Kunal Jamuar, executive director, MPG says that apart from focused content which helped the channel witness a successful launch, airing that content in HD format also added to the channel's viewership quotient.
"Also, regionalisation of the content in six languages during the launch phase helped further increase the channel's visibility amongst audiences pan-India," he adds.
What is important for the channel is that it has not only managed to find a place in the consideration set of the advertisers but has also managed to increase the 10-second rate for itself.
As Sagar of Carat media says, "As the channel started gaining numbers, most of the advertisers who included only Discovery in their annual plan, also began to include History."
According to industry estimates, the channel currently claims a prime time ad rate of Rs 3,000-4,000 per 10 seconds, while for Discovery, the airtime rates range between Rs 4,500 and Rs 6,000. For NGC, the airtime rates are anywhere between Rs 2,000 and Rs 3,000.
The channel has also seen an increase in ad volumes. "If in December 2011, the channel's total ad volume was 31,000 seconds, by February, the figure went up to 1,73,000 seconds. For Discovery, the airtime volume per month ranges between 3,50,000 to 3,80,000 seconds," says Vikas Khanchandani, director, Aidem Ventures.
Content sustainability for History TV18 could become a challenge, note many. According to Avinash Pillai, national buying director, Mediacom, the channel is in a Catch 22 situation.
"To sustain, the channel will have to demand higher rates, and if it demands higher rates, it will be evaluated on content and reach. Creating fresh content will increase the input cost," he says.
"Also, audiences today are fragmented. Consequently, unless the excitement levels of the channel are high, it would be a challenge to sustain the audiences," says a senior media observer.
Even Sagar of Carat fears that soon, History TV18 may get into the same loop as other special interest channels and increase the frequency of content repeats. "If there is no new content introduced in the near future, the numbers may drop," he says.
However, Divya Radhakrishnan, managing director, Helios Media has a different point to make. According to her, generally for a niche genre, the rating trends are not much pulsed.
"Once a critical number is achieved, it tends to hold on to it for a longer period, unlike a GEC (general entertainment channel) which needs periodic boosting to even sustain numbers. Hence, other than regular tent poles, there isn't much that is needed from the channel. In any case, it is not possible to get into too many initiatives from the revenue base that niche channels generally write," she avers.