Normally, whenever you enter a Discovery press conference, you are welcomed by giant LED screens with imagery of nature at its wildest or a tussle between prey and a predator shot in extreme conditions. This, however, was a one-of-a-kind Discovery Communications press conference, held in Mumbai. The stage had a few ecstatic twenty-somethings dancing to a Hindi song to welcome the gathering, then, stepping on to the stage was not a Bear Grylls or Ziya Tong but familiar television reality show host Paritosh Tripathi. He was handed the responsibility of hosting the event for the remaining part of the afternoon. And finally, it was time for the big reveal as the backdrop lit up to unveil the name of the infotainment giant's all-new General Entertainment Channel (GEC) - Discovery JEET.
The network does not have a GEC presence anywhere else in the world and with this announcement it somehow disrupts its long-running strategy. The channel will hit television screens on February 12, 2018, and will have a Hindi, Tamil and Telugu feed. The Tamil and Telugu market will feature dubbed versions of the original shows that the channel has in its programming lineup.
Karan Bajaj, senior vice-president and general manager - South Asia, Discovery Communications India, stepped up on stage saying, "JEET is a channel for the ones jinhe kuch ban na hai (for the ambitious ones); the channel is built on the thesis of 'Hai Mumkin' (yes it's possible)."
In India, the GEC genre enjoys around 60 per cent (regional) of the total television viewership and about 50 per cent of the total TV ad spends. It is quite evident that in the Indian ecosystem, a broadcaster needs GEC and sports in its arsenal to establish itself as a formidable force. Discovery entered the sports broadcasting space with DSport last year and this year they announced their GEC entry. "As a business strategy, we want to expand Discovery in India; we want to go from the top 15 million, where we have the strongest affinity, to the next 120 million. The easiest way to do it would have been to acquire a channel in the mass space. But that would be adding noise to the already noisy space, so we decided to launch a channel which will have a differentiated offering for viewers," Bajaj explains.
Differentiated indeed! Promos were played in succession on the big screen and there was no sign of typical GEC material; no Saas-Bahu drama, no mythological characters, no reality shows... instead, the show-reel started with footage of a young boy struggling in Haryana who grew up to be Baba Ramdev and followed up with scenes which took us to the battle of Saragarhi (1897) and continued. Yes, the channel has the biopic of Patanjali Ayurveda product founder and one of the most talked about personalities in India, Baba Ramdev, in its lineup. "We will not do something that does not meaningfully uplift someone's life. It took us a year to prepare and plan what we have in front of us today. Every show sends across the message clearly, 'Mumkin Hai'. It needs to plant a seed of inspiration and that's what we aim to achieve," says Bajaj.
The Saragarhi story is produced by Contiloe Pictures and the founder, Abhimanyu Singh, tells us that they started working on it a year ago. This is a 65-episode show and has been shot in multiple locations across the country. Contiloe Pictures has a rich history of creating successful historical shows like Bharat Ka Veer Putra: Maharana Pratap and Chakravartin Ashoka Samrat.
In India, production houses shoot daily and about 260 TV episodes a year; what took Contiloe a year to shoot 65 episodes? Is it because they deployed a reduced workforce? "No. At times we had more people working on one unit than what we normally do for other shows. We shot for about nine months and then took around three months for post-production. What took that much time? Well, when you go into such deep detail, you need time," Singh answers.
In India, TV channels commission production houses to create shows and then pay on a per-episode basis; here, we have a production company making 65 episodes instead of the average 260 and deploying the same or larger workforce. "Yes, and that's why the budget is more than regular GEC show..." Singh clarifies. But how is Discovery paying so much more?
"We are not necessarily spending more," replies Bajaj. He quickly adds, "Let me make it clear, I do not make decisions looking at what the competition is doing. How is it we are not spending more and devoting a year to a show? Well, look at our shows; we do not have any expensive celebrities who will cost you plenty, our content is our celebrity. So, we are spending differently, but not necessarily more."
Discovery's entry into the GEC space may be unique, but there's more to it. OTT platform, Netflix, which is renowned for its rigorous vetting process, has signed a licensing deal with the broadcaster to have all its content on the streaming platform. "There was a lot of OTT interest in JEET's content and there were a lot of players interested too, but we chose Netflix because they are known to be a platform with a differentiated offering and our content philosophies are also similar. Our purpose to be on Netflix is to target the diaspora audience and with Netflix, we reach out to 190 countries," adds Bajaj. The licensing deal is for a particular duration, which Bajaj opted to keep confidential at this stage.
Discovery is targeting tier II and tier III markets and has chalked out an aggressive marketing plan to lure its TG to the channel. The creative mandate is handed over to Taproot (creative agency from Dentsu's stable), "We will buy cricket spots along with other high-frequency inventories to promote the product. It is very important for us to let everyone know what we are doing, so we will have screenings at the grassroots level and a strong digital presence."
JEET's start looks quite different from others, but will the Indian masses like the difference... that remains to be seen. It will be interesting to see how well the infotainment giant manages to monetise its GEC offering.
The list of shows:
• Swami Ramdev: Ek Sangharsh - This is a scripted biopic series tracing Swami Ramdev's journey and is produced by Ajay Devgn FFlims and Watergate Production.
• 21 Sarfarosh: Saragarhi 1897 - The historical show is produced by Contiloe Pictures.
• Mere Papa Hero Hiralal - Viniyard Films will helm the story of a Lucknow-based auto-rickshaw driver and his unconditional love for his adopted daughter.
• Khan No 1 - Inspired by true events, the Rohan Sippy produced show will bring to life the tales of a smart cop and his tryst with cons.
• Comedy High School - This non-fiction show featuring Ram Kapoor, is a light-hearted take on society, culture, education, and current affairs through a classroom-based set up.
• Gabru: Hip-Hop Ke Shehzaade - This fiction show, set in the world of Indian hip-hop music, is produced by Still & Still Moving Pictures and features Amol Parashar.
• Anjaan: Special Crimes Unit - This is a paranormal investigative crime thriller show produced by Lotus Talkies.
•Man Vs Wild with Sunny Leone - The iconic series will be telecast in Hindi where the actor will not only host but also undertake many difficult stunts while adding a dash of humour.
• Lucha: Dangal Ke Sultan - This is a wrestling-based entertainment show based on the Lucha Libre style of Mexican wrestling with masked fighters who entertain the audience with their stunts and actions.