India’s TV18, part of the Network18 Group, formed a joint venture with A+E Networks known as A+E Networks | TV18. The JV operates the channel HISTORY TV18, which launched in India in October 2011. TV ASIA Plus spoke to Sangeetha Aiyer, VP & Head Marketing, A+E Networks | TV18, and Ritu Kapur, Head Programming, A+E Networks | TV18.
Ritu Kapur Sangeetha Aiyer
Q: How has HISTORY performed thus far?
A: Come October, we would’ve completed two years since launch. It’s been a really good journey for the channel in this space in the country. When we forged the JV with A+E Networks and were launching HISTORY TV18 in India, we were very clear that the first thing we wanted to achieve was to basically grow the genre. Since the launch of HISTORY, the factual entertainment genre has actually grown by over 30% – which means that with the launch of HISTORY, the new sampling has garnered traction to the genre.
Our cumulative reach since launch is over 70 million viewers. On an average weekly basis, we reach anywhere between 20 to 30 million viewers. With analogue now moving to digital, our connectivity is approximately 55 million households. In that sense, we’re really, in what we call, the tier 1 pay of the factual genre, competing very clearly with the other two legendary players – Discovery and Nat Geo.
That’s as far as our reach with the TV sector goes for the genre. HISTORY has also done exceedingly well on various social media platforms. In fact, it leads the genre in the country. With that traction of social media, we have more than 1.3/ 1.4 million Facebook fans. We connect with fans on various shows, on content, on success stories, everyday happenings. We have about 42,000 Twitter followers and the interactivity we see on Twitter for HISTORY is very high.
HISTORY has carved a special place for itself within the factual genre, which is dominated by a certain kind of programming, majorly led by wildlife and survival. HISTORY has managed to introduce a different programming mix with greater emphasis on fact-based content, fact-based entertainment and new formats that appeal to a wider audience. HISTORY TV18 has had the highest time-spent for viewers in this genre since launch.
We came into the market repositioning factual as a genre because we came with a big film star, Salman Khan, introducing the entire action-thrill idea on factual. Salman was the face of HISTORY TV18 during the all-important launch phase. Immediately, that has helped us reach a wider audience. It completely repositioned HISTORY within the factual genre for us – which is very important as HISTORY had been in the market earlier, and a pure history play had not worked. We were able to completely communicate a brand promise which we then lived up to.
Bollywood actor Salman Khan
The other thing that worked for us very well again is character-driven shows. Characters drive a lot of the action for us, like the characters from Pawn Stars. The character has been very big for us because the very thought of ordinary people doing extraordinary things has really set the channel apart from the other channels in the same space. Discovery has survival (content) and Nat Geo has positioned itself with documentaries.
There are other things we brought into the space, like food. We were able to position food in a different way than it already existed within the country on TLC and FOX Traveller. We take a completely different factual approach to even smaller genres like food. Another thing is localisation – which is big for the factual genre here.
We came in with even more languages, to reach out to a wider audience. We’ve also taken localisation to another level with a lot of our local tentpoles. Our big tentpole programming on the channel consists of local initiatives. We’re already on our third tentpole search. The first one was The Greatest Indian. The second was when the country was celebrating hundred years of cinema – and we did a big, star-driven exercise, Bollywood@100, which was hosted by celebrated filmmaker and TV host Karan Johar. The tentpoles are the big buzz creators for the channel even though it’s a channel that’s largely on international content. The big talking points have been from India and have a huge connection to India, and yet, it’s a factual approach to that content.
The Greatest Indian
Q: Which genres have done well for India?
A: The big genre that has worked for us is of course artifactual, with Pawn Stars leading. Also, we are following the international trend and introducing scripted content. We’ve already had two runs of The Kennedys.
Scripted is a space we’re experimenting with. It is early days for us. We have to see how it does, what kinds of responses we’re getting – do audiences who come in for pure factual enjoy international scripted shows? Of course, the quality of dubbing etc will have to be that much more fine-tuned for scripted. We are aware of that and we are working towards that. When I say artifactual, I mean multiple characters, ordinary people engaged in some unusual activity, in a reality format. That’s the broader genre that’s working for us, I would say – character-driven reality of which artifactual has been really successful.
We’re launching Duck Dynasty which is a really successful show in America. On pay-TV, it’s the No. 2 show. Season 3 saw a reach of nine million viewers on day one of the show. We’re bringing that on HISTORY TV18 because it’s a very unusual show.
Another sub-genre that works for us is something that is bizarre and superhuman. It may not be from the A+E catalogue but as a sub-genre, shows like Superhumans and Daredevils bring in adventure and adrenaline as well. These shows, as a sub-genre, also work for us.
The other genre that has started doing really well for us is aliens, with a bit of magic. This whole space of aliens, illusion and magic, the unknown basically, is doing really well for us.
Q: Outside of India, food is a genre that’s not really connected to the HISTORY brand. How is that working out for you?
A: For about a year, we had a really fabulous response to our food content. We had a show from the A+E catalogue, which was a huge success, which we followed up with an India series which we produced.
But since then, we have been struggling because we’re looking for content in the food space that isn’t a cooking sketch, or like a Nigella Lawson. We’re reaching out to a largely male audience. We’re largely male-skewed. So, we’re looking for an approach to food which is not necessarily cooking, flavours and exotic recipes.
The challenge we’re dealing with is finding content in the larger food space which fits into our brand as HISTORY. We’ve had a good success with food but as for right now, we’re looking for content that works for us to keep that space alive.
Q: Could you give me a sense of your core audience for HISTORY in India?
A: We target and reach out to 15+ years with the core being 15 to 40 years. We also reach out to a socio-economic group which we call SEC A and B, and markets with a population of one million plus. This is the core audience.
HISTORY in comparison tends to be a younger channel. We skew 15-30, and we also reach out to urban audiences a lot more. We tend to reach out to SEC A a lot more than B, in that sense. But for us, the core audience is really 15+ going on to 30-35 years, SEC A, B with one million plus markets.
We have a gender skew of 60% coming from males. Factual does talk to male audiences a lot more. We get about 35 – 40% from females but the gender does skew mainly in terms of positioning and the kinds of content, etc.
Q: I guess that’s quite consistent with the HISTORY channels around the world.
A: Absolutely and the genre around the world too. Just that our audiences are younger.
Q: Which makes the introduction of food a little tricky since you’ve mentioned that a lot of the popular food titles are the “Nigella Lawson” type which tend to be more female skewed.