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Can it create History in India?
Prerna Raturi | May 24, 2006
The History Channel in India has shifted gear from being an infotainment to a more broader-focused entertainment channel. Will the strategy work?
This is a strategic dilemma that many companies face: should they focus on a niche or a broader market segment?
There is no clear answer and quite often, it takes time for companies to realise whether a decision in either direction was right. For The History Channel in India, a change in strategic direction has just begun.
THC started operations in India in November 2003 with a niche focus but is now set to make a mid-course change in direction to tap a wider audience.
The new source of inspiration for THC that learning can be fun is the backbone of its strategic shift from an infotainment to an entertainment channel. Why now? Typically, THC managing director Nikhil Mirchandani defends the move saying it couldn't have happened sooner.
Says he, "Our first aim was to make a mark for ourselves as a channel that is devoted to history. As we like to say it, 'history' is our middle name."
But what is it that the new content will set right? Even while defending THC's current content mix, Mirchandani confesses that the channel was facing an entry barrier.
In a world of 300 channels and still counting, having a small loyal viewer base isn't enough. "I won't call THC programmes boring. But the fact that they are so well-researched and in-depth means that they run a risk of being tardy," says an industry expert. Breaking away from the clutter and still attracting viewers is a challenge that stared THC in the face.
"TV viewing is all about entertainment. Niche channel is all fine but look around you. How many channels today are looking merely at serious, thorough content?" questions Kajal Malik, regional director, Optimum Media Solutions.
Importantly, this shift in strategy is more pronounced in India. But globally, it is trying to fit in topical issues with history. Thus, there are programmes such as Breaking Vegas - that showed six MIT graduates breaking codes at Vegas casinos - becoming popular.
THC globally, which reaches as many as 200 million viewers across 70 countries and is dubbed in 20 languages, is crucially about exclusive programmes pertaining to history. The channel airs biographies of famous people, documentaries on world wars, historical myths and realities, kings and saints.
In the past two years in India, the channel carved a niche for itself and gathered a loyal, although small, viewer base. (Mirchandani claims it has about 1 per cent of the total viewer base) "The theme has been established. The stage has been set. Now it's time to introduce the drama and broadbase the appeal of the channel," says Mirchandani.
During one of its feedback with the viewers before the new face of the channel was shown, the viewers were pleasantly surprised when they were told that such and such programmes will be aired on THC.
"Before that we asked them for their suggestions and we realised that they had a linear view - they gave suggestions within the present grid," says Mirchandani.
"Content was never a problem for the channel. What they needed to do was pull in people to view the channel and once they see the content, they should be hooked to it," says Hiren Pandit, general manager, Mindshare. No rocket science, but a critical point.
Thus, the channel now has a mix of fact and fiction. For instance, after a biography on Marilyn Monroe, there will be the movie Marilyn and Me, an autobiographical account of Robert Slatzer, who claimed to have been married to Monroe in her Norma Jean days.
At the same time, the channel will decide a theme for a particular month and run programmes - documentaries, movies, mini-series and so on - related to it.
The other natural step to garnering more viewership is by dubbing the programmes in Hindi. "After all, history is all about drama. It is about human emotions and ambitions. Movies on the same will be like a turbo-charged Kyunki saas bhi...," says Mirchandani.
He also claims that the channel is being extra careful with the dubbing so that the translation from English to Hindi does not appear forced.
So how can the channel make history more interesting? "That is exactly the question we asked ourselves!" says Mirchandani. The change in tagline, from "Where history comes alive" to "Live the story" is a clue. The channel will now have a mix of fact and fiction. Towards this, from May 1, it is airing mini-series, movies, concerts and so on - as long as they pertain to history.
The biggest advantage for THC now is that it is more of a theme-based than a format-based channel. "If we get hold of the video of Pink Floyd performing at the Berlin Wall, we will grab it!" says Mirchandani, emphasising how varied the programmes can be. The channel has been buying content from any source that is credible - Universal, BBC, Times Warner and so on.
But the company realises that just content change isn't enough. It wants to go beyond that. Increasing eyeballs means increasing traffic, more traffic means more advertisers willing to buy airtime, which means more revenues. The channel has now come up with a revised rate card for advertisers.
"The advertisers are happy with the move since there is no bargaining, they go back without the question: should I have quoted lower?" says Mirchandani.With all this, THC expects to double its revenue by financial year 2007 and close at about Rs 5 million next year. Will the new strategy rake in the moolah for THC?