Feature

A New Voyage

Discovery India is exploring a new frontier with the launch of its GEC channel. Can it create a niche in an overcrowded genre? 

It was some time in September 1897. A contingent of 21 soldiers from the 36th Sikh Regiment of the British Indian Army led by Havildar Ishar Singh, thwarted an attack by over 10,000 Afghan tribesmen in what was declared as a milestone in the Indian military history. More than a century later, this historical event will be revived on the small screen as a drama series titled, 21 Sarfarosh: Saragarhi 1897. And that’s not all, there’s even an 85-episode series on Patanjali Ayurved’s founder, Baba Ramdev. Fact-inspired stories such as these are being brought to life by Discovery. Not surprising then that its Karan Bajaj, who heads the India business is feeling the rush. 

“After staring at a word document for a year, you wait in anticipation with a bit of insecurity when your novel gets published,” says Bajaj, who also happens to be a novelist. The writer’s analogy reflects Discovery’s plunge into the general entertainment channel (GEC) space in a market that it entered more than two decades ago. This is also the first time that the American network has forayed into the GEC space globally. After more than a year of preparation, Jeet went live on February 12. This will be the 12th pay channel in Discovery’s portfolio, which comprises infotainment and factual entertainment brands such as Discovery, Animal Planet, Travel and Living, Discovery Kids, Discovery Science, and Investigation Discovery. 

Change in the script
Discovery, which was set up in 1982 in the United States, entered India in 1995. A dedicated infotainment channel was new for most Indians back then and that helped it created a niche for itself. Four years later, it followed the paid route. Over the next decade, a slew of other channels were added. In 2002, it formed a JV distribution company with Sony’s Sony Entertainment Television (SET) India. SET was the dominant partner (with a 74% stake) and helped Discovery expand into the countrywide cable network. Though Discovery has been synonymous with factual infotainment, as a category it bags less than 5% of eyeballs and even lesser ad revenue. That’s evident

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