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Do Indians have an appetite for history?

By , agencyfaqs! | In | December 02, 2003
The History Channel brass assures that by July 2004 the channel will be available in 24 million households in India


The STAR Network launched The History Channel, through an affiliation between AETN International and National Geographic Channel Network (India) on November 30, 2003. At the press meet, the channel brass assured that on day one of the broadcast of the channel, it would reach 15 million C&S households and by July 2004 The History Channel will be available in 24 million households (the current reach of NGC). Given the expectation of the channel management, the question is, do Indians have an appetite for history?

To understand that let's look at the expanse and performance of "special interest" programming on Indian television.

Currently, there are two channels operating in the space of infotainment - Discovery Channel and National Geographic Channel. While Discovery has a reach of 32 million C&S households, NGC is currently available in 24 million households. And both these channels have recorded a steady growth over the years. Which is a clear indication that there is an audience for this genre of programming. However, one must keep in mind that both the channels have 24-hour-Hindi feeds. And when compared to these two, The History Channel is an absolutely unique concept in the infotainment arena.

To that, add the following facts. The channel will showcase, as the name suggests, only history-based programmes, and the Hindi feed will be available from 10.00 pm till mid-night, though it plans to gradually move to a 24-hour Hindi feed by June 2004.

Against this backdrop, how do the odds stack up for the newly launched channel?

According to Ravi Kiran, managing director, Starcom, west/south, given its content, a much wider (than the current crop of NGC and Discovery) set of audiences is likely to be interested in The History Channel. "To start with there will be overlapping content; but once the channel settles down it may have a better reach than Discovery or NGC," he says.

The key issue for the channel thus is to be able to "settle down" fast. This entails logistical issues such as distribution and ample awareness. The channel brass seems to be doing a lot in that direction. It plans to invest Rs 25 crore in the first year itself to ramp up spread and awareness. The channel can also expect to benefit from being part of the STAR bouquet in terms of cross-promotion and distribution. Without wasting time, the channel has unveiled its advertising campaign, spanning print, radio and television (the campaign broke on Sunday, November 30, 2003).

All said, what would eventually determine the success of the channel is content. Since the channel's offering is rooted in history, can it hope to sustain interest over the long term? The ability to retain viewership after the initial bout of sampling is over would depend on two factors - packaging and localisation of content. As far as localisation goes, Zubin Gandevia, managing director, The History Channel, announced at the press meet that next year, the channel would have locally produced programmes, in addition to international programmes relevant to Indians. "We are going to feature Mother Teresa and late Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi in the series Biography," he said.

Santosh Desai, president, McCann Erickson India, explains why packaging is important. To begin with, he says, Indians have a penchant for people-centric programmes. "Programmes on wildlife and channels such as Animal Planet are not a big draw with the Indian viewers. As long as a tiger is being shown it is exotic, but the moment you show a flamingo most of us go off to sleep. But if the programming is story-based and people-centric, viewers will enjoy the channel," says Desai.

Adds Starcom's Kiran, "This country is rooted in the past. The country's culture and heritage is closer to the hearts of the people. What may happen 50 years hence is not as exciting as the past is for us."

As of now the channel seems right on track. "Our research and understanding indicates that Indians relate best to a face. In order to drive viewership The History Channel in India will showcase its signature series Biography at 10.00 pm every night as prime-time viewing," said Gandevia.

In addition to that, the channel will showcase programmes that range from spies and espionage, to war, crimes and technology. And to get that little bit of extra attention, the channel will have celebrities hosting some of the programmes on The History Channel. © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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