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New competition in infotainment genre as Sony BBC Earth readies to launch on 6 Mar

MUMBAI: Sony BBC Earth will launch on 6 March with the promise to bring in premium factual content.

The infotainment channel will have both standard-definition (SD) and high-definition (HD) versions. It will be available in English, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

With the tagline ‘Feel Alive’, the channel has roped in actress Kareena Kapoor Khan as the brand ambassador.

The channel will look to shed light on the wonders of the universe including the work of factual filmmakers. It will cover various subjects from the smallest creature under the microscope to the limitless expanses of space. It will look at different genres like documentaries, natural history, science, adventure and travel.

As reported earlier, Sony BBC Earth recently received the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting’s (MIB) nod to launch the factual entertainment channel.

Sony Pictures Networks India (SPNI) holds 74% in the joint venture and BBC Worldwide 26%.

Rohit Gupta

SPNI president Rohit Gupta is confident that the new channel will shake up the category, which hasn’t seen new entrants for some time now. “The category is large, but there has been no activity in a while in terms of new players. What we have seen in other genres is that, when new players enter, the category expands. We are confident that we will do that with the content that we have. Our access to content is greater. The BBC is the largest curator of content.”

Gupta also said that the four language feeds would be sufficient to cover the country.

Sony BBC Earth will compete with Discovery, National Geographic and History TV18. At this point, there is a huge push towards localisation in the infotainment genre. One can expect Sony BBC Earth to also make a big push in this direction. Content licensing deals that BBC Worldwide does in the factual space are also likely to reduce with the new channel coming in.

Sony BBC EarthSony BBC Earth’s launch comes at a time when Discovery looks to reinvent itself in June. Discovery is planning to have 200 hours of local content in 2017, up from seven last year and an average of 5–10 hours a year. The focus will rest on having character-driven stories and exploring new genres within infotainment. The push towards different subgenres like crime is all the more important for Discovery given that competition in the outdoor, natural spectacle subgenre of infotainment, which Discovery has been focusing on a lot, will increase once Sony BBC Earth launches.

History TV18 has also gone in for a high level of localisation of content. In an earlier interview, A+E Networks TV18 VP and marketing head Sangeetha Aiyer had said that if the infotainment genre has to expand, it has to look at localisation.

Last year, Fox Networks Group India underwent an organisational revamp of its product group in order to focus more strongly on localisation. The new focus of the restructure is being driven through three main pillars—the channel and brand strategy, on-air communication and original productions. For National Geographic, this means building further on properties like the ‘Mega’ brand. It also means working with world-class local filmmakers along the lines of what is going on in the US.

Deal origins

It was way back in April 2015 that Sony, a few months after the distribution deal with Discovery had come to an end, announced its intention to form a JV with BBC Worldwide for the channel.

BBC Worldwide David WeilandAfter the JV was formalised in 2015, BBC Worldwide executive VP for Asia David Weiland had told TelevisionPost.com, “In India, we have one brand BBC World News. We were looking at ways to get more brands back into India. We decided that we would rather do it in partnership rather than on our own. We have the BBC Earth brand and have expertise in content making. Sony Pictures Networks India has infrastructure. It made sense to join together.”

BBC Earth stands for premium factual content. “We look at different genres—documentaries, natural history, science, adventure and travel. Our content investment, the technology and storytelling are different from quite a lot of the factual channels that exist around the world. They are more about being personality and reality driven. We want to open people’s eyes to the amazing things that are going on around the world. The budgets for our programmes are comparable to drama budgets. They are made for millions of dollars. They are filmed over three or four years in several locations around the world,” Weiland had explained.

When BBC Earth was set up, the company thought about strategies to enter different markets. “We felt that we needed a partner in India, so we talked to a number of people. SPNI was there right at the start,” Weiland had stated.

He had also said that research showed that along with news, BBC Earth was the other BBC brand that most resonated with audiences. “We could have launched a comedy or a sports channel. But when we came up with brands, we checked what consumers wanted around the world. Premium factual is a universal thing.”

In terms of tent-pole content, BBC Earth recently announced that Sir David Attenborough is back to host the second edition of ‘Blue Planet’. The first season, made way back in 2001, was a multi-million-dollar hit for the BBC.

What is also interesting to note is that BBC Earth abroad is not just a channel. There are other touch points. For instance, in 2013, BBC Earth and Sega opened a theme park called ‘Orbi’. The park contains 12 attractions and a 23.4-degree theatre.