Submitted by admin on Mon, 05/15/2017 - 16:41

Discovery Communications aims to move from niche to mass with recent foray into sports and launch of a GEC, Discovery Jeet, says Karan Bajaj, SVP & GM, South Asia, Discovery Networks Asia Pacific


By Simran Sabherwal

It’s been quite an ‘action-packed’ time at Discovery Communications in India since Karan Bajaj took over as the SVP & GM, South Asia, Discovery Networks Asia Pacific in October, 2016. One of the first announcements made after Bajaj took over was the restructuring of Discovery India into two verticals - Females & Family entertainment product (encompasses TLC, Discovery Kids and ID and the HD and language feeds) and Real World entertainment product (Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery Science and Turbo and the HD and language feeds). The network entered a new genre in India – sports - with its channel DSport in February 2017, and is now set to move from niche to mass with the launch of a general entertainment channel (GEC) Discovery Jeet, targeted at the male audience. In addition, compared to its peers, it’s still work in progress for the network’s digital plans, which are expected to be unveiled soon. Regionalization is also slated to be a big move in the future.



Slated for a big bang late 2017 launch, Discovery Jeet, says Bajaj, will “serve under-served audiences with a targeted, clear and sharp proposition” in line with Discovery’s core proposition. He says, “The male youth in India is an under-served population in mass entertainment as GECs are female-oriented. Our research shows that this segment has a sense of possibility and the potential is very high.” With a philosophy of ‘Main Kuch Bhi Kar Sakta Hu,’ the channel’s intent is to innovate in the GEC space. Though targeted at a 15+ Male TG - across metros, Tier I, Tier II and Tier III towns - Bajaj says the content makes for family viewing. He says, “Discovery as a brand is purpose-driven and we are creating a purpose-driven yet entertaining channel. It is for the first time that we are truly serving a mass audience. Every story that we have chosen is a story that works in a single TV household and is family viewing.” He continues, “We are mounting larger-than-life stories that are fact-based in an entertaining way and inspiring in the Discovery-esque way… We are very clear that we have a legacy of being documentary-makers and we don’t want to be documentary-makers at all. This has to go head to head with the most entertaining story on Television today.”


Jeet will be available in the Tamil, Bengali and Telugu feeds and the target is for it to be distributed in 120 million households at launch. Talking about advertiser interest, Bajaj remarks that the channel is a good fit for brands, particularly for brands that have a strong definition of what their purpose is. 


One must also remember that a ‘male GEC’ was seen earlier in India, albeit in the English space, with international content. BIG RTL Thrill - a JV between Reliance Broadcast Network Limited (RBNL) and the European company RTL – was positioned as a male channel but failed to grab eyeballs. In this context, it will be interesting to see how Jeet with local content entices the interest of the small town Indian male in a tough GEC market.IT’S GOOD TO HAVE A CREATIVE VISION, EVEN IF YOU ARE THE BUSINESS HEAD: KARAN BAJAJ


Best-selling novelist and striving yogi is how Karan Bajaj, SVP & GM, South Asia, Discovery Networks Asia Pacific describes himself. An accomplished marketer, Bajaj’s background is compelling, to say the least. If leading brand strategy and stints at companies such as Aden and Anais, Kraft, Boston Consulting Group and Procter & Gamble make the perfect profile for a corporate honcho, what is enthralling is his avatar as a novelist, who took a year off to practise Vipassana and six weeks to learn Hatha Yoga in a secluded forest ashram near Madurai. He says Hatha Yoga was one of the toughest things he’s ever done, even more difficult than Vipassana. It may seem like a dichotomy, but Bajaj says there are synergies between his current role and his passions. In this conversation with Simran Sabherwal, he talks about his role at Discovery, learning from successes and failures and what he is betting on to be the game-changers.


Q] How has the journey been since you joined Discovery?

Action-packed, I would say. Discovery Jeet is going to be the first scalable launch, so a lot of work has to go into that. I was very new to media, but surprising parts of my background helped a lot. Having a consumer and a brand background was extraordinarily useful. We realized you needed a different brand to serve the mass consumer. Having a story-telling background helps as it’s good to have a creative vision, even if you are the business head, although the right people are doing the creative work.


Q] What’s been ticked off from your to-do list so far?

A lot has to be done. I don’t know if I have ticked off anything yet, apart from creating the plans for things. When I came on board, the only thing on the to-do list was to scale up the network and to go from a small niche to a scalable place and everything we are doing is in that service. The jury is out, we will get to know soon and Jeet is really our first big attempt.


Q] What are the challenges you have faced?

This is a very crowded media space. Again, the consumer product background helps, because it allows you to create very sharp brand propositions.


Q] What could be the three game-changers for Discovery?

To expand the factual infotainment category by attracting a different mass consumer with a very different style of story-telling, with Jeet, that would be the first priority. Looking again at the consumer products model, if you are leader of the category, don’t think about share and competition, think how you can grow the category for everybody. So, being leaders we should grow the category. Second, to bring about content disruption in the kids’ space by creating must-have IPs (intellectual properties). The third priority is regionalization.


Q] You are in a challenging job. How does being a yoga expert and novelist help your current role?

Being a novelist helps a lot. I stared my first novel in 2008 and when you spend time writing, you start understanding the nuances of a story and get better at writing after doing a lot of it. I spent a lot of time fine-tuning what makes a story tick, the characters, their conflicts and tensions. Why does a story touch your heart? Why it doesn’t touch your heart? My first two novels Keep Off The Grass and Johnny Gone Down were very successful; the third, The Seeker, was not. When you go through the cycle of successes and failures, you learn a lot - like what touches the heart, what makes a reader immerse into a story. That part of my background can be tremendously useful in this case.


Q] Are these facets of your life at odds with the corporate world?

Not too much in a network like this at all. In a network like this, I feel very committed to the purpose of the network. I truly, honestly feel that Discovery Jeet is good for Television and not just for me and our network. I don’t know what will happen from a business perspective, but a part of me is passionate about this and believes it’s the right thing to do on Television. We need inspirational stories that are entertaining. When you sense that this is the right thing to do, a lot of the barriers start to fall away. If I was in a different corporate environment that was only focused on the profit, I don’t know how it would have worked out.  But in this case, I am very committed to making the business plan work for Jeet. Everybody should watch this because this is the right way to spend your one hour... not only will you be entertained but you will also become a better person by watching it. This time, in this kind of a framework... there is not much conflict.


Q] Is another novel on the way?

I am getting a lot of inspiration, not writing right now... just spinning a lot of things in my mind.


The interesting fact to note is that in terms of revenues, a Hindi GEC is the biggest genre and also possibly the toughest genre. According to the Pitch Madison Advertising Reports (PMAR) 2017, in 2016 Hindi GECs accounted for 27% of the total advertising revenue, that’s approximately Rs 5,100-5,500 crore. Add to this the sports genre which accounts for 8% of the industry’s total ad spends, i.e., approximately Rs 1,700-Rs 2,000 crore. Compare this to the English niche genre, whose numbers, according to PMAR 2017, were 2% of the total ad pie, i.e, a mere Rs 300-400 crore in 2016. Also, the expansion of BARC to rural areas has meant that the BARC measurement and sampling is now mass-based and this has impacted niche genres. Enough reason for Discovery to enter the GEC and sports space and go mass!

Another factor to be kept in mind is when you look at any major network, GECs are the driving force and a bargaining tool when it comes to distribution. While Bajaj does acknowledge that a GEC does provide scale, he says that Discovery’s distinctive positioning is an advantage. He adds, “We have never suffered because of our size. It’s not like a GEC is going to give us scale that allows us to negotiate better deals, because we already have a distinctive portfolio.”



Discovery has commissioned 200 hours of local content for this year, of which 90% is for Jeet and the remaining 10-20 hours will be local content for Discovery channel. Says Bajaj, “Our local content hours are very high. We are launching with 200 hours and will go up to 500-600 hours next year.” While Discovery Jeet will be the local channel with local fact-inspired stories, targeted at a mass audience, Discovery Channel’s content will be targeted to the higher income metro and Tier I audience.

Bajaj explains that in smaller towns, the insight is that stories about the military and heroes from small towns appeal to the mass youth. The content for Jeet, therefore, will cater to this quest for upward mobility. On the other hand, on the urban metro side, the consumer is one who is in the ‘I’ to ‘We’ movement and has a perspective on social issues and impact on the world at large and this is the direction that Discovery Channel will take. He elaborates, “Jeet will be the powerhouse of locally inspiring stories. Discovery will have an interesting library of globally exciting properties.”



Addressing the audience’s “under-served needs” led to the launch of Discovery Communications’ offering in the sports genre, Dsport, in February this year. At launch, the channel reached 30-40 million households and has since then built up reach to 60-70 million households. DSports showcased a wide array of under-served sports, such as horse-racing, football, golf, motorsports, rugby, cycling, etc. In a cricket obsessed nation, the choice of most of the sports and sporting properties came as a surprise. However, Bajaj says the response has been “encouraging and the initial ratings very positive”. He adds that as per the initial data, the time spent on soccer and horse-racing has been good.


Looking at the rest of the network’s portfolio, according to Bajaj, they can be placed in two categories – the first being Discovery Channel, TLC and Animal Planet, and the second comprising Science, Discovery Turbo and ID.

While Discovery channel had the first-mover advantage and occupied leadership position in its genre, it has been up against some tough competition in the recent past. Though Discovery channel has maintained its position among the top three in the infotainment genre, TLC has had challenges in the lifestyle genre that has come to be dominated by Living Foodz. In fact, plans are afoot to revamp both Discovery channel and TLC. Says Bajaj, “Discovery and Animal Planet are leaders in their space and if I look at the pipeline of what’s coming ahead, I will be very surprised if we are knocked off from that pedestal.” He also acknowledges that there is a lot of work to be done on TLC. “For TLC, the vision is the same. We have a ton of work to do in that direction. We have to reclaim our spot as being the ‘go to’ female lifestyle destination. It’s a good channel but it needs a stronger point of view,” he adds.

As Discovery Turbo and Science serve differentiated needs, they are therefore less distributed. However, Bajaj is satisfied with the P&L of both channels and adds that there is no attempt to localize the channels and their international content is distributed to a consumer who wants that content. However, ID will cease to exist and this feed will be used for the upcoming channel, Jeet. Says Bajaj, “ID is an unsustainable prop and not scalable because foreign crime is un-relatable to a mass proposition.”

Discovery Kids is another channel that Bajaj is focusing on. In a category where over 90% of the market is cornered by three big players – Viacom18, Turner and Disney, Discovery Kids currently has a marginal presence. With Sony also recently entering this space with Sony Yay, it will be interesting to see how Discovery Kids breaks through this clutter and makes its presence felt in this highly competitive and fragmented genre. Bajaj believes that content will be the key differentiator for Discovery. He says, “For kids, there is no business model differentiation, instead we are going at differentiated content.” On the timeline for it, he says that it will take a longer lead time on account of the time taken to build a bank of content.


Talking about regional, Bajaj says the Tamil feed has done very well and the Tamil market will be the first priority in the step towards localization wherein content will be made for a specific regional market.



Discovery has also beefed up its leadership recently, following the exit of some old-timers including Rajiv Bakshi, VP Marketing, Discovery who was put in charge of the newly formed Females & Family entertainment product and Karamjit Dua, Head of New Business and Mergers and Acquisitions. Commenting on the new hires, Bajaj says, “I didn’t come with any media experience but had a lot of consumer and brand experience. I complemented my own skillset with people who had media experience. We were very thoughtful in exactly what skillset we needed and hired according to that.”


Among the new faces at Discovery are Sameer Rao, VP Real World Entertainment, Zulfia Waris, VP Female & Family Entertainment, Vikram Tanna, VP Advertising Sales and Head Regional Clusters, Dhruvank Vaidya, Head Business Development and RC Venkateish, Consultant, Dsport.

On the restructuring of Discovery India into two verticals - Females & Family  and Real World - Bajaj says that this has allowed Discovery the freedom to focus on two distinct things and scale up in both verticals versus one team doing everything.



So what’s next at Discovery? Regionalization will certainly be a big focus area, and Bajaj says, “Once we have strong anchor products, regionalization as well as M&A in the regional space becomes interesting as anchor products allow you to scale up. It will be more than feeds, and we will create a ground-up local infrastructure.”

What we can expect soon is Discovery’s move into the Digital space.  With consumption increasingly shifting from linear to digital, Discovery is looking at digital partnerships. Says Bajaj, “When we go to an advertiser or consumer, we need to go as a linear as well as digital brand. We can no longer operate as a linear player and are therefore making some thoughtful pushes in that direction.” With Discovery not looking at owning an OTT (over-the-top) platform anytime soon, it will be interesting to see who Discovery partners with. On his part, Bajaj says, “We are in the middle of partnership discussions with a bunch of players. We are clear that we don’t want to launch our own platform for the next couple of years, until we scale up our IPs. We are looking for a very strategic partnership and we have got excellent expressions of interest from many. We are just trying to figure out the terms of the arrangement.” Whether this partnership is with a media entity (though three of the four big broadcasters are already in this space, in one form or another) or a DTH player or a telco, or whether Discovery partners a device manufacturer or associates with a content aggregator is still a matter of conjecture. Meanwhile, we only have to wait and watch.




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