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The 10 years of Discovery Channel

October 10, 2005 07:01 IST

In his corner office overlooking the green cover abutting the ridge in Delhi, Deepak Shourie is upbeat. The Discovery network is 10 years old in India and, to hear him bubble with enthusiasm, it's potent with possibilities about its current and future programming and viewership potential.

At a time when news and entertainment channels are viewing their TRPs and those of their competitors with not a little despair, Shourie is vigorous about reach ("70-80 per cent of all TV/cable homes"), English channel viewership ("higher even than news or entertainment") and a host of other things that presumably plague channel heads.

So, even if parents are chiding children for not watching enough Discovery (or National Geographic) programmes, Shourie is quietly disdainful of such categorisation. "It's a knowledge-enhancing channel," he says of the flagship brand, "but it isn't meant only for kids."

Therefore, almost the first thing he did when he replaced Kiran Karnik as managing director, was reduce the quantity of nature and wildlife programmes, replacing them with shows on culture, history, science and technology and, yes, crime.

"I also followed a time band strategy, so viewers knew what to expect during certain broad time frames", he says -- such as women's programmes during the afternoon and crime shows during late night slots.

Now, he's moving from simply acquiring programmes from the Discovery library, or even buying local content, to actually producing content from and on India. Even though this will be outsourced, Shourie is hung up on content that can travel beyond India, and will be of a nature (and perhaps quality since "no cost is being spared") that "the country will talk about".

Two programmes are already on the floors, the first a six-part series on key Indian cities that will each be an intimate tour by "an insider"; and the second a series on food anchored by foodie-editor Vir Sanghvi.

Of the two other channels that make up the Discovery bouquet, Discovery Travel & Living, introduced last year (India was the first country to launch it) seems to have met with considerable success. "India is changing very rapidly with cars, airlines, malls, and a lot of Indians will very soon get to what they're aspiring for," he says.

Local programming has moved in faster here to feed a vicarious viewership, and already the channel has enjoyed a partnership with 121 brand advertisers (Discovery has 400). Animal Planet, the third channel, even though "laidback", he says, "will surprise everybody with its great potential".

"It's high energy time," Shourie says of the decade-long run, "and the channels will be even more relevant to viewers in South Asia in the years ahead." Research, he points out, has shown a viewership trend that's moved "from watching to understanding," he says of his efforts to make the networks friendlier, more accessible, to a wider audience.

Who, presumably, now all know how the birds and the bees do it.

Viewing nights

To celebrate 10 years in India, Discovery has a 10-day festival bouquet of programmes, from October 10-19, daily at 8 p.m.

  • October 10: Cleopatra's Palace: Dramatic underwater footage of the Egyptian queen's royal quarters.
  • October 11: The Future is Wild: A journey into millions of years into a future world sans humans.
  • October 12: Inside the Space Station: An indepth look at the International Space Station using original NASA footage.
  • October 13: The Patiala Necklace: The disappearance and recovery of the unparalleled Cartier necklace with its 2,930 diamonds.
  • October 14: Extreme Engineering: Tokyo's Sky City: The probabilities of building the world's tallest structure.
  • October 15: Blue Planet: Deep Trouble: Man's impact on ocean ecology.
  • October 16: Who Killed Julius Caesar? The forensic needle of suspicion on the world's most famous assassination.
  • October 17: Xtreme Martial Arts: A new look at self-defence martial arts.
  • October 18: James Cameron's Expedition: Bismarck: An underwater journey to the North Atlantic floor where the unsinkable German battleship rests.
  • October 19: Raising of the Mammoth: The remarkable saga of unearthing a 20,380-year-old woolly mammoth in Siberia.
Kishore Singh