UP to 18 hours of Hindi language programming a day, commissioning locally-produced shows, carefully orchestrated forays into schools across the country: Discovery Channel's process of expansion in India is all set to gather momentum. The 24-hour American service, devoted exclusively to real-life entertainment, has struck a chord deep down, especially in homes where the proliferation of Zee clones has made television-watching a rather monotonous, often deleterious, exercise.
Having made inroads into three million homes in 11 months—the channel was launched on August 15 last year—and having strengthened its corporate office by appointing top-notch marketing and business development executives, Kiran Karnik, chief operating officer of Discovery Channel India, has drawn up ambitious plans to rope in 'top quality Indian professionals'. "We are looking at a wide variety of Indian programmes. But at the moment, we are not commissioning, only acquiring," he says.
The commissioning of local shows, reveals Karnik, will begin by the end of the year. "Our programmes will be for global audiences and we will be funding only a handful of high-quality shows. We will pick film-makers and subjects with utmost care," he elaborates. The size of its financial commitment in India being what it is at present, the channel will opt only for big, established names to begin with. "Much as I would love to commission bright young filmmakers with fire in their belly, we cannot do so at this stage of the channel's development in this country," confesses Karnik. Figures are not available, but production budgets are likely to run into several crores each year.
Although he believes that a TV channel as strong on visual content as Discovery should encounter no language barriers, Karnik is stepping up the dubbing of its programmes in Hindi, to give it a broader mass base. "By the end of 1997, we hope to have a complete Hindi channel with 18 hours of programming dubbed in the language," Karnik reveals. A dual Hindi-English audio track will let the cable operator choose the language his subscribers want. It is the cable operator who is crucial in Discovery's scheme of things. "We're not an event-driven channel like ESPN, STAR Sports, BBC or CNN. So our viewership can never be very high. A channel like Discovery begins slowly, picks up gradually and there are no dropouts. Once a viewer tunes in, he becomes a regular viewer," says Karnik.
In the last two-three months, viewership has picked up dramatically thanks to the critical mass that has been created, says the channel's CEO. Several schools in Bombay have set aside a daily Discovery hour, and the trend is expected to catch on elsewhere as well. "We do not want to rush in and target school children directly. That's not our style.
We want to take the teachers along," says Karnik.
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