Discovery looks at alternative television

By , agencyfaqs! | In | March 28, 2002
By revamping its programming, is the channel diluting its brand equity?

Discovery India managing director Deepak Shourie calls it "alternative programming" - the foray of the channel into newer areas. Certainly the programming, with nine new time bands, is as diverse as can be - Sunrise, Woman's Hour, Amazing Animals, Discovery Kids, Action Zone, Family Time, Friday Showcase, The Perfect Ten and Late Night Discovery, catering to all audience segments.

Since he took over as managing director from Kiran Karnik, under whom Discovery was seen as a "serious" channel, Shourie has tried to reposition Discovery as a mainstream channel. First, he kicked off the strategy of having packages built around segments to widen audience reach, and increase viewership. The strategy, which was aimed at dispelling the perception of Discovery as a nature and wild life channel, paid rich dividends. After last year's realignment of programmes, prime time viewership went up by 21 per cent, children viewership increased by 20 per cent and women viewership by 43 per cent, according to figures released by the channel.

However, is not the new strategy akin to diluting the brand equity of the channel? Shourie is quick to draw a difference between Discovery and other mainstream channels. "The key difference of Discovery is that it is unpredictable. Take soaps, or sports, or news, for example - there is not much that is not predictable. On the other hand, there is a whole world waiting to be explored, and that is what Discovery is doing," he says.

However, in widening its genre, Discovery does face challenges. The English audience in India is quite small, and they already have a wide variety of programming to chose from. AXN, for example has been aggressive in bringing new programming genre to Indian audiences. "Basically the new programming strategy has made people aware of Discovery - where to find it, and when to find it. However, it remains to be seen if this can bring in new audiences," points out Ashutosh Srivastava, managing director, MindShare India.

The challenges that Discovery faces in widening its genre, and in effect becoming a mainstream channel, are tough. For example, in appealing to the youth with Action Zone (Monday to Friday, 4.00 pm to 5.00 pm), Discovery is pitting itself against AXN's appeal to this group. AXN's Eco Challenge and No Boundaries, for example, appeal to almost the same audience segment. The question is whether young audiences, hard pressed as they are, will switch to Discovery.

Again, in the 8.00 pm to 10.00 pm Tuesday slot (which has crime as its theme), Discovery's offerings, New Detectives and FBI Files, will be in direct competition with similar shows on AXN - like Crime Scene Investigation, a show so successful that AXN is premiering a Part II this April. In the Action Zone slot (Tuesday, 8.00 pm to 10.00 pm), AXN offers some of its more popular sports and adventure programmes - namely, When Fun Turns To Fear and Ripley's Believe It Or Not!

However, while the first phase of Discovery's realignment owes its success to bringing in already interested viewers at the right time, the second phase will depend a lot more on wooing new viewers. Since Shourie took over, and aligned the channel's programming, viewership has definitely gone up. For example, in the age group 4 years to 14 years, by changing timings, the channel saw a 20 per cent increase in viewership.

But now, what will determine success is programming that is decidedly better than competition. "Discovery will have to offer incredible programming to convince viewers to view it, or to switch over to it," says an industry analyst. One area of concern could be the introduction of nine time bands, and such a different variety of programming, all at once. In a very different milieu, and in a very different scenario - mainstream Hindi programming - one channel tried that - Zee. The ploy failed.

What Discovery is banking on is its differentiation. "There are so many perspectives. For example, Beach Hour on Discovery TV at 11.00 pm will not be like Baywatch. There is more than one way in which a tale can be told," says a senior programming official at the channel.

The question is, will India's small English TV viewing audience be willing to watch all of them? © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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