Alokananda ChakrabortyPublished: 13 Dec 2000, 12:00 AM

Kiran Karnik to quit Discovery

After a five-year stint, Discovery Channel honcho Kiran Karnik plans to quit the organisation in May 2001

Sabil Francis


NEW DELHI, December 13

Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Discovery Communications, Kiran Karnik, is bidding adieu to the channel. When contacted, Karnik told agencyfaqs!, "When I joined Discovery, I had given myself a time frame of three-to-five years, and now I think that the time has come to bid farewell."

Looking back at his tenure with Discovery, Karnik says the introduction of a new genre - now called "infotainment" - was his most important achievement. "What I am happiest about is this genre of programming - infotainment, some would call it, but I would prefer the term "intelligent entertainment" - which we have established in the Indian market," he said.

It is not clear whether Karnik, who had a very successful innings at the channel, will move on to another media house. Company officials also refused to confirm where the next COO would come from, though they did say that it could be an "internal or external appointment, or even from our worldwide network".

In November, the channel had made a major move towards revamping its Indian operations, announcing the appointment of three new vice-presidents. Ashok Ogra and Sanjay Khanna were promoted from within the organisation to the post of vice-president, programming, and vice-president, distribution, respectively. Ambika Srivastava, earlier an executive director with Universal McCann, the media arm of McCann-Erickson, also joined Discovery as vice-president, advertising, sales and marketing.

Under Karnik, the channel, which began operation in 1995, went to 18 million households, with its nearest competitor, National Geographic, at 10 to 12 million households. Growth was at 60 per cent to 70 per cent a year, on an average. However, the channel continues to be in the red.

Discovery TV also did not shy away from tough decisions, such as the one to become a pay channel in April 1999. The channel also went in for an aggressive expansion programme under Karnik, with the channel tying up with major regional channels, such as the Tamil channel Vijaya, to provide programming in regional languages. To this ambitious programme, the channel is expected to put in around $ 20 million over the next few years.

Discovery concentrated on building a broad viewer profile, and banking on its reputation of "unfrivolous and good quality" infotainment, targetted schools in a big way. The channel looked at "quality educational programmes," and combined its international educational-oriented programming with locally developed tools to build "Discover Hour" for different classes at convenient timings.

As part of its effort to provide more variety to the Indian audience, Discovery also launched three of their international channels as programming blocks within the main channel. These blocks include Discovery Kids, Discovery Health and Discovery Travel and Adventure, which run as stand-alone channels in other countries. Media analysts feel that this move was a precursor to the launch of full-fledged channels later. The channel was also one of the first to start a quiz programme - the Discovery Channel Quiz, in 1996, in association with the National Science Centre where 64 schools participated.

So what does the future hold? "I have no job and no offers," says Karnik ruefully, but for a man of his talents, finding one is not going to be a tough task.