Alokananda Chakraborty

National Geographic inches ahead of Discovery

For the first time, the National Geographic Channel has inched ahead of Discovery in India, according to the latest TAM figures

The National Geographic Channel (NGC), for the first time, has inched ahead of Discovery in India on an all-India basis on a cumulative eight-week period, according to the latest TAM figures. It registered a channel share of 0.7 (for the average of first eight weeks of 2001) compared to Discovery's 0.6 among viewers aged four years and above in cable-and-satellite households.

It is worth noting that NGC beat Discovery on channel share on six of the eight individual weeks, and tied on other two weeks. Within metros, NGC is ahead of Discovery in three of the five (on the eight-week average) - Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore. It ties with Discovery in Calcutta. In Discovery's home ground, Delhi, however, NGC is way behind (0.5 to Discovery's 1.5). Figures released by NGC claim that among viewers aged 15 years plus in the upmarket SEC A households, Discovery's channel share has been trailing NGC's since late 2000 (Nielsen data across nine cities). Since December 2000, NGC has been trying to narrow the gap in SEC ABC households (15 years plus).

The rise in NGC's shares is a result of the efforts being made by the channel, in partnership with Star India in the last one year, to raise consumer and advertiser interest. It has been helped by a slew of factors, including a lean activity season at rival Discovery where chief Kiran Karnik announced his resignation, followed by a spate of movements from the ad-sales department. In the meantime, NGC, which had joined hands with News Corp in mid 1999 to step up its Indian presence, was working on:

@ increasing its reach in India (the push)

@ establishing the Indian connect with India-specific programming, Hindi blocks, and ground-level activities (the pull); and

@ doing away with the ‘wildlife channel' perception for a more holistic ‘infotainment' appeal.

The 34-year-old NGC (internationally) has succeeded on two of the three counts. In its year of launch (1998), it had managed to beam into 4 million homes. After Star became NGC's distributor and ad-sales arm in India as Fox, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp, invested in NCG internationally, NGC's reach rose from 8 million households in 1999 to 12 million last year. Today, it claims to be present in 18 million households.

Sponsorships have grown by 550 per cent in the last six months alone, according to Raj Nayak, executive vice-president, sales and marketing, Star India. "From four to five sponsors, NGC has 27 sponsors today," he adds. Some of the exclusive ones: Asian Paints, Eureka Forbes, Aiwa, Home Trade, Airtel, Electrolux, Tropicana, among others. NGC's aggression is visible in its ad-sales activity. "I have been seeing NGC sales guys in the office practically every week since the last few months," says Pio Linhares, media supervisor, HTA.

Discovery, on the other hand, has been very active on ground-level activities in schools and colleges. For instance, Discovery was 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. NGC launched its first big initiative a month back in Bangalore (school-level activities were running on a low key). Called Adventure One, the three-day carnival brought advertisers (primary being Samsung, Kinetic Challenger, Frooti, Arena Multimedia, Home Trade, Worldspace and Rockport) in direct contact with consumers who came for adventure activities like para-sailing, bungee-jumping, hot-air ballooning and stunt-riding, among others. Claimedly, it received a response of 45,000 people in Bangalore and 30,000 in Mumbai. Adventure One moves to Delhi on March 23. "We plan to take it beyond metros soon after," promises Nayak.

But NGC's first serious attempt at addressing India began in April 2000 when it started a one-hour weekend block in Hindi on Star Plus. By June 1, it had begun four-hour Hindi blocks daily, which went up to seven hours a day by mid June 2000 following the "overwhelming response from Indian viewers," according to NGC Asia MD Ward Platt. On 15 November 2000, NGC began a separate Hindi feed. "Today, most cable operators in the North put on the Hindi audio," says Nayak.

While pushing NGC through the operator route, India-specific programming was stressed upon around November 2000 with the launch of India Diaries to pull viewers, and thus, advertisers. Hype was built with a roadshow and a one-month activity around the six India-centric documentaries. It was made easier by the fact that the NGC southern beam, which covered the entire Asia earlier, was split in June 2000. Cross-promotions of NGC programmes on various Star channels certainly helped.

While NGC still has a long way to go on increasing its reach and establishing a stronger connect, what bothers most media planners is NGC's perception of a wildlife channel. NGC has been trying to address this issue for some time now. Way back in October 2000, a senior NGC executive, in an interview to agencyfaqs, had remarked: "The channel wants to show that it is not just about wildlife programming but also has great programmes on adventure, exploration, science, travel and natural history," But it doesn't show in the market. "You can't compare the two," says HTA's Linhares. "Discovery is in the infotainment genre while National Geographic is all about wildlife."

Nayak promises to be working on it. "By the end of this year we will establish ourselves as a clear leader in this genre (infotainment)," he asserts. The good thing is, he says, that everyone wants to be seen with NGC. "Cable operators tell us, ‘ek crorepati wala or ek jaanwar wala channel de do'."

© 2001 agencyfaqs!