Discovery Communications launched a premium sports channel DSPORT on March 6, 2017. Karan Bajaj, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, says that meeting the under-served needs of the consumer will be the network’s strategy, going forward, across its portfolio
By Simran Sabherwal
If 2016 saw consolidation in the Indian sports broadcasting scene, 2017 is gearing up for a new entrant in the predominantly two-horse race, with Discovery Communications launching DSport, a premium sports channel, in India. The key differentiator for the channel is over 4,000 hours of live sporting content (over 10 hours of daily live content) that covers a wide repertoire of sporting properties such as Horse Racing, Football, Golf, Motorsports, Rugby, Cycling amongst others. Discovery claims that the live content on DSport is three to four times more than that offered by any broadcaster so far. Karan Bajaj, Senior Vice President & General Manager, Discovery Networks Asia-Pacific, says, “We have a very successful launch model and have picked up properties that are undervalued and have a huge passionate base in India.” He adds that analysis and understanding of the Indian consumer showed that there are significantly large passionate sporting communities whose needs are not met and the selection of properties is targeted at this under-served segment. Interestingly, India is one of the first markets in which Discovery is expanding its sporting play. The company has brought on board RC Venkateish as a consultant with DSport, especially in areas related to content acquisition, for the channel.
With cricket being the prized possession for Indian broadcasters and astronomical bids for cricketing rights being the norm, Discovery has decided to take a cautious route. Says Bajaj, “If the business model is right and the properties are at the right valuation and we feel we can add value to it, then we buy it. We are not going after popular sports that are highly overbid but after popular sports with attractive valuations and a profitable business model.” Speaking specifically on the Indian Premier League, Bajaj says, “It depends on when it’s next on the market and the valuation. We will definitely evaluate and see if it makes sense for us.” He adds that the company is in advanced negotiations for select cricket events and that viewers could get their cricket fix too on DSport in the next couple of months.
Talking about the response from advertisers, Bajaj says that the initial response has been positive, particularly from premium male category advertisers, and adds that the channel will not have any advertising till it hits scale on distribution, thereby making it “a worthy investment for the advertiser”. This could happen sooner than later as DSport is available in 35 million households at launch and Discovery is looking to scale up to 80-90 million households.
ORGANIC & INORGANIC GROWTH
With India being looked at as one of the Top 5 priority markets in the network, significant investments will be made to expand Discovery’s footprint both organically and inorganically and widening its reach. The network has beefed up its strength and “made the right hires and increased the team size to get people with the right experience in the areas that we want to expand”. Besides sports, kids is another area that Discovery will be actively looking at, as it looks to consolidate its presence in India and globally.
REVAMP OF DISCOVERY CHANNEL
A shift in strategy will see the urban and niche-centric Discovery now targeting mass consumers and viewers in Tier II and Tier III markets. This will roll out with the revamp of Discovery Communications’ flagship channel, Discovery Channel, slated for June this year. Insights from small towns have led to investing in programming in genres such as military, investigation, crime and inspirational stories. Bajaj elaborates, “We are going to tell stories that are relevant for them. We will keep to the philosophy of Discovery Channel, i.e., to open up extraordinary worlds for consumers.”
As part of the localization drive, Discovery has commissioned 200 hours of content that will be produced in India this year (up from 5-10 hours/year earlier) with the endeavour being that by the end of 2017, the content on the channel will be evenly split between international and local productions. While the initial focus is on HSM and Tamil Nadu markets, the next step will be regionalization. A ‘ground up plan’ means that content will be made for the specific regional market and teams have been set up in local markets to ensure that the consumer insight is understood and local flavour is captured in the content as against just dubbing content. Looking ahead, Discovery would be ‘interested’ in the Bengali and Marathi markets.
THE DIGITAL GAME
On the Digital front, Discovery is not looking to go down the over-the-top (OTT) route as acquisition costs are high and retention poor. Bajaj says, “We are not going to launch an OTT platform. We will focus on content and the brand game because that’s where our strength lies. Our focus will be on creating remarkable IPs and digital native brands and we are partnering with true digital native content creators to create digital first brands. A profitable strategy would be to distribute our IPs and brands across multiple platforms, allowing us to reach a large customer base.”
While the acquisition of FoodFood was called off, Bajaj says, “We are always looking at acquisitions and also at the inorganic space very aggressively.”