India through the global lens

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Brand India ranks high on the agenda of international TV channels. And the world is finally getting the real taste of the country.

ACTOR MEERA VASUDEVAN hosting the Chennai episode of 'Indian Rendezvous' on Discovery Travel & Living.
ACTOR MEERA VASUDEVAN hosting the Chennai episode of 'Indian Rendezvous' on Discovery Travel & Living.

Swetha Kannan

With the world becoming a global village and India being an emerging power, why showcase a storybook image when we have so many exciting things to present?

Till some time ago, to any foreigner who hadn't visited India, the country was all about poverty, cows and snake charmers. Not to mention, the "mighty Himalayas." Courtesy foreign TV channels and their hackneyed portrayal of India. While such imagery may still persist in some parts of the world, it is slowly changing.

There is plenty of interest in India and this is evident in the way international TV channels are now looking at the country. There is a sudden spurt in India-related content in the programming of these channels. The world is finally getting the real flavour of modern India with its BPOs, big fat weddings, Bollywood and flashy cars. Even its history is cleaved off its clichés.

Says Aditya Tripathi, Vice-President (Lifestyle), Discovery Travel & Living: "Indians with an international outlook and those living abroad are interested in watching Indian content of international quality. They are inquisitive about India. Over the last couple of years, there has been greater interest in India. The India story is becoming powerful internationally. Indian companies are becoming well known. India is marketing itself better with global tourism campaigns. And television channels are trying to capture this resurgent modern India."

According to Rajesh Sheshadri, Vice President (Marketing), National Geographic Channel (NGC) India: "With the world becoming a global village and India being an emerging power, why showcase a storybook image when we have so many exciting things to present?"

India is a key market for these channels in terms of viewership and these channels cannot afford to ignore this emerging market. New York-headquartered History reaches more than 200 million viewers in 70 countries; it is available to 45 million C&S households in India alone. BBC World is available in more than 200 countries and reaches 281 million households; it is available in 16.5 million homes in India. While Washington-based NGC is available in over 290 million homes in 164 countries, National Geographic Asia is distributed to over 80 million homes in the Asia Pacific. Travel & Living, headquartered in Washington, is available across 22 million homes in India.

A lot of the recent programming was focussed on the culture and lifestyle of India today. While Travel & Living captured the Great Indian Wedding in all its finery, its Indian Rendezvous (hosted byIndian anchors such as Vasundhara Das, Sushma Reddy, Nagesh Kukunoor and Konkana Sen) trudged the lanes and bylanes of major Indian cities. Indian celebrities such as Preity Zinta, Shobha De and Vijay Mallya were part of `Peschardt's People' on BBC World. National Geographic too had its share of Indian shows such as Emerging India, IC 814 Hijack, Sunset Bollywood, Bombay Calling and Delhi in Flames.

While most of these shows were aired for the global audience, the History channel featured some special shows only for the local audience through a mix of ancient but fairly untold history and modern themes. Mahatma Gandhi, the Mughals and car designer Dilip Chhabria were all part of its attempt at localisation!

So, what's on air currently that's all India? Bollywood Bosses on some of the biggest directors in the Hindi film industry on History; Science Safari to promote Indian science and technology and Sunset Bollywood on NGC; and several more set to take shape later this year some of them include Take Off, on the Indian aviation industry (BBC World), and Matter of Taste on Indian food (Travel & Living). Travel & Living has about 20 hours of India-related programming under production. The Indian wedding industry, the hospitality industry and lifestyle and fashion are some of the subjects that will be explored.

Spike in viewership

With so much of India on air, how does this affect viewership in the country? Tripathi of Travel & Living says there is a definite spike (about 60-70 per cent) in the channel's Indian viewership when Indian shows (produced by Indians until a few years ago when shows were made by foreign producers) are aired. Says Joy Bhattacharjya, Senior Vice-President (Programming), The History Channel: "Whenever we have done shows with a local connect, we have seen a corresponding increase in ratings, for example, The Mughals was one of our top-rated programmes when it was aired."

Marketing focus

Some of these channels have even adopted an India-specific marketing strategy to boost their brand equity and recall. BBC World recently launched its first ever advertising campaign for India called What affects the world, affects you across online, outdoor and electronic media. "The campaign highlighted how global news is relevant to and could have an impact on the lives of Indian audiences," said Vaishali Sharma, Head of Marcomm, BBC World, India. "There were also other out-of-home initiatives such as a live re-creation of one of the campaign's creatives in Pantaloon's show window at Mumbai's Phoenix Mills Compound." BBC World will shortly release another marketing campaign for Take Off in March.

History, for its show Bollywood Bosses, has advertised in print, radio and online media along with on-ground activities in all major cities. The channel recently launched an online initiative - Save Your History, which attempts to "bring History closer to an individual." People can share old photographs of historic significance online on the Web link NGC too unveiled some initiatives to reach out to the local audience. Recently, the channel tied up with ETV to air its content on ETV's 11 channels, dubbed in seven languages. The National Geographic Junior Hunt and the Young Visionary 2007 Awards to spot smart children and youth in the country were also efforts at understanding the local population. The channel also plans to introduce awards for factual filmmaking. "Our overall objective is to grow the brand in India and hence we would associate with various platforms / opportunities to grow our brand. We have received great response on our current initiatives and yes, we will be doing a lot more such innovative activities to get the brand out there," says NGC's Sheshadri.

But even as these channels strive to capture India as it happens, they must constantly reinvent their programming and explore newer themes. Or else they could be unwittingly creating newer clichés. After all, Indian cinema is not just Bollywood, just as South India is not just about dosas and idlis.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 8, 2007)
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