If one had to gauge the kind of headway that digital as a medium is casting on the television space, the day-long 2011 Digital Media Conference hosted by The Walt Disney Company in Singapore recently provided ample proof of the trend. From 4G to Connected TV and more, the seminar was a gateway for broadcasters and industry folk to delve into how new technologies are making inroads into the living rooms of consumers.
Alongside the hectic schedule, IMPACT’s Johnson Napier got Rob Gilby, Senior Vice President & MD, Media Distribution, The Walt Disney Company (Asia Pacific,) to share his perspective on the strides being made by television industry in the digital space and more importantly, Disney’s plans for the space, particularly social media. Rob was joined by Raju Venkataraman, VP & GM, DMD (India), who provided an India perspective on the gains being made by the network. Excerpts…
Q] Could you elaborate on the strides that Disney Media Distribution has made in the recent past?
Rob: We really start with a very simple principle: for us it is all about connecting consumers with content. And whether that is the digital landscape or the traditional distribution of our channel portfolio like the Disney channel or Playhouse Disney – which has since become Disney Junior in several territories – or whether it is selling our programming portfolio like Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy or selling our Disney Movies portfolio…distributing all of that portfolio and channels, it is really about working with our partners to connect them with the consumers.
Q] How do you see the Asia-Pacific region evolve as a hotspot where DMD’s growth plans are concerned?
Rob: If you look at Asia Pacific, it is made of five key clusters: Australia-New Zealand, South East Asia, India, Greater China and Korea. The fantastic thing about the Asia Pacific region is that it really exhibits a lot of inherent market growth. So historically we make great strides in terms of the distribution figment of our shows on the broadcast networks and the Pay TV growth across Asia Pacific has been fantastic, but also specifically if we look ahead at our business - the Pay TV growth in territories such as South East Asia, in some territories the penetration currently is quite modest but is exhibiting high growth rates. So we are very optimistic about our potential there. We are also very optimistic about the growth of digital platforms in markets such as Korea, which obviously is crossing all the digital platforms, whether it is mobile, IPTV or online. Of course India continues to show a massive growth in Pay TV - if you see the kind of emergence that DTH as a platform has made. Also, increasingly, we see great potential from the mobile business – 750 million mobile subscribers and the rapid emergence of 3G, you put these together and with the voracious appetite for news and entertainment that we have in India is so rich and dynamic that we see a great potential in the television space in India.
Q] Having worked across a host of markets in the past, how would you analyse the various TV distribution models that each of these distinct markets have to offer?
Rob: If you look at the television industry per se, it is in a stage of continuous evolution at the moment. In each of the territories the emergence of digital technologies gives us new ways of connecting content to consumers. So in some territories, one will see that the physical geographies may make it hard to connect via a fixed line like a cable or IPTV but we see satellite technologies or wireless technologies presenting itself with an opportunity. So clearly there is a demand for great content from consumers, universally, across all territories – a demand for storytelling in great characters. You must realise that content is not a commodity, content is an experience that consumers go through. So as we go through each territory, we look at what is the platform which tries to connect the consumer to content. That’s where the new technology is offering an opportunity to almost leapfrog and connect where it may not have been possible before.
Q] As a major content provider, what’s the emphasis that DMD lays on innovation?
Rob: Innovation and creativity is the heart of Disney’s heritage and strategy right through the top. Walt Disney was a pioneer in the use of technologies and innovation. One of the three key premises that drive Walt Disney’s strategy is innovation and creativity with the others being embracing new technologies and investing in international markets. So if you look at a market like India, we apply all of those three facets here. Like for example, the deal that we did with Apalya to leverage the emerging mobile market to bring our content and use it as a second screen to reach key consumers. We see India as a high growth potential market. If you look at the investment in creativity in innovation, whether it is in some of the new movie titles that we are investing in India or the television serials that we are investing in, we had to make sure that it is relevant to audiences in India by having great characters and compelling storyline that audiences can relate to. And that’s a bold move to actually make a commitment that we believe in making a format that will appeal to the audiences.
Q] The kids’ television market is very demanding in the sense that the audience keeps evolving constantly. How do you keep up with the evolving pace?
Rob: I think the important thing is that we are incredibly focused. So it’s important that we research and understand our audience. We spend a lot of time understanding the behaviour of kids – like we understand the pre-school space, we understand 3-5, 3-7 year-olds, what are their behaviours, we have been great on understanding tweens – 8-12 year-olds, and Disney XD is the one that targets the boy demographics be it 6-11 or 6-14.
So while we start with research and understanding of our audience the second important thing is having a set of values. The kind of values we impose across all our channels help us inform what kind of shows work. So in terms of creating content for that audience we do have consistency with understanding the audience.
Q] How have your two key channels - Disney and Disney XD been performing in India?
Raju: We’re glad to say that both the channels have been heading north; showing a good growth trajectory. Whether it’s in terms of ratings, share and GRPs – we have been doing well. Each of our channels reaches out to about 71 million viewers today.
Q] A host of new players have been eyeing the kids’ television market in India. Is that a worry for the existing players who will be challenged further to put up an impressive growth?
Raju: We’re not worried at all. Competition is not new to us. In the UK, where Rob used to be based earlier, has 30 kids’ channels. And yet the channels used to perform wonderfully. The channels have been doing well in the markets of US, Australia and New Zealand. Now in India, the Disney network of channels is the number 1 network. So while there is talk of fragmentation and all, the audiences will get drawn to great content and that’s what our focus will be on.
Q] With digitisation being the future of entertainment, what are DMD’s plans in the digital space?
Rob: One of the things that we have observed is that as new technologies emerge consumers embrace those technologies. That is where the consumers are and we need to be where the consumers are. We have a lot of existing relationships with distributors of our content and we are very mindful and respectful of those relationships as they create a lot of value for us and the consumers. But as we look ahead at our digital strategies, status quo is not an option. We have to be in these spaces; have to be experimental and innovate being in these spaces.
Our goal is to help connect consumers to our content and so if there are multiple platforms like mobile, laptops, TV, etc we need to look at ways of making it easier and more seamless for their experience across these platforms. That said, we are already active on most of these platforms.
Q] What about social media? How are you approaching that space?
Rob: Social media is presenting a very interesting trend – when you look at these new platforms you will see that there are two new key trends. One, people are having greater flexibility and are thus accessing content when they want and are doing it on a screen of their choice. The second trend that we are really interested in is how audiences really engage with the content. For example, how are they using social media like twitter and facebook to better connect with a show. Disney has more than a 100 million users on facebook – one of the largest brands on the site, and more than 60 per cent of the users are outside the US. These are the kind of audiences who are sharing their feedback with us and making us better understand their choice of content, etc.
Q] While the world is getting accustomed to terms like 4G and connected TV, India has just about arrived on the 3G platform and is still low on its knowledge of emerging technologies. How would you analyse this imbalance?
Rob: For technologies like connected TV sets, while it provides better TV viewing experience it also provides access to the internet. One has to work out how each of the partners in the process creates value from that connection. The interesting thing about technology roll out is that there is the opportunity sometimes where it takes a little longer to leapfrog technologies. So it is a very interesting time for 3G to be rolling out. While in most countries 3G was launched 6-7 years ago, in India it has just launched but the gap between 3G and 4G is going to be hardly 16-18 months. So India is virtually leapfrogging. Technologies like 3G and 4G provide opportunities to look at ways of reaching consumers. That is why we refer to mobile in India as the second screen. It may provide a more accessible screen for consumers to start exploring some of their entertainment experiences. Our research has shown that such devices only accelerate TV viewing.
Q] What’s in store from DMD where expansion and growth is concerned?
Raju: Where growth is concerned, we are always looking at new opportunities. We’ve already launched our content from Disney XD and Disney on the mobile platform. There are still other content engines that we have like ABC and our movies unit and as 3G evolves, there is certainly scope for these to do well.
Currently, we have Playhouse as a block on Disney channel, and sometime later this year it will transform into Disney Junior block. So Disney Junior brand will come to India as a block on Disney channel. So we will keep on exploring opportunities as they come along.