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TLC: A decade of lifestyle programming
MUMBAI: It was 10 years ago in 2004 that Discovery decided to create a new category in Indian television—lifestyle. Already present in the country for nine years, the broadcaster that so far had focused on infotainment saw an opportunity to carve a new space. It saw potential in the consumption of lifestyle among the elite of the country.
Today lifestyle content on television is ubiquitous. Discovery has been responsible for opening up genres like cookery. There are many travel and food shows not just on lifestyle but also on English entertainment channels. But in 2004 the lifestyle category did not exist. Lifestyle at that time was being pushed by some channels through shows like ‘Bikini Destinations’, which wasn’t lifestyle at all.
As Discovery South Asia, Southeast Asia executive VP, GM Rahul Johri says, the general perception of lifestyle in 2004 was limited to fashion. “India in 2004 was witnessing the emergence of the new upwardly mobile consumer who was aware and had a desire to experience the best in life. Rising disposable incomes and increasing spends on lifestyle brands were the visible indicators of the developing trend and underscored the need for a lifestyle channel. It was the right time for Discovery to launch its lifestyle portfolio with the launch of TLC (erstwhile Discovery Travel and Living) in India.”
What is worth noting is that India was the first market in the Discovery family to have added the lifestyle genre with the launch of TLC.
“TLC introduced the world of lifestyle to Indian audience with its varied, distinct and high-quality programming. Being the only international lifestyle channel available in India, it created new segments of lifestyle ranging from wine, cheese, travel, cuisine to high life. The network was an overnight success as it was loved for its refreshing and differentiated content by urban upscale male and female audience, affiliate, and advertisers.”
At that time in 2004 Discovery India was headed by Deepak Shourie. Aditya Tripathi was made to look after the lifestyle initiative. The vision of launching Discovery Travel and Living was to expand and broaden people’s horizons.
“We did a lot of research to find out about Indian society, what people want, what their aspirations are, what they read. We did a whole lot of background work. The launch timing of the channel was perfect. It was a time when people were open to new things. We offered them that. We showed them new places to travel whether it was London or Paris, different kinds of cuisine to sample and explore and even different hotels to stay in. We showed people that they could do different kinds of holidays—driving, vineyards, etc. We educated people about wine,” said Tripathi.
Johri noted the challenge of being a first mover. “Firstly, we had to create the lifestyle genre reflecting the changing and aspirational face of India. Secondly, we had to build brand familiarisation by effectively communicating the proposition and developing a community for first-time viewers of a new category of television entertainment. Once the channel was made available and sampled by viewers, TLC became the default channel for lifestyle entertainment in India.”
The game plan
The game plan at that time, Tripathi explains, was twofold—global and India. “The global plan was that Discovery was the leader in real world entertainment. At that time there were global brands in different categories. In sports, there was ESPN. In movies, there was HBO. In news, there were BBC and CNN. At Discovery we saw an opportunity to create a global brand in lifestyle. At that time there were local lifestyle brands in different countries but there was no global lifestyle brand. We decided to own the lifestyle niche. So we started Discovery Travel and Living here. In other markets like the UK, we entered lifestyle.”
As far as the India plan was concerned, he said that 10 years back India was on the cusp of change. “People were getting more interested in leisure time activities. They also started becoming more interested in brands whether it was clothing or cars. The concept of eating in restaurants and experimenting with food was catching on. A big change was going on in urban India in terms of how people spent their money and lived. We felt that it was the perfect time to launch a channel that doesn’t teach people how to spend their money and what to do with their lifestyle but gives great ideas and inspiration.”
“In the first year we got our core audience to make it a destination channel. The audience beyond that grew over time. In the first few months we were able to establish ourselves in the minds of viewers. Early on in the channel’s existence, we were able to convert snackers into regular viewers. We did not have instructional programming. We tried to inspire people to live their lives in different ways and try out new things,” said Tripathi.
In the early days, programming was refreshed every few months but there was no need to change the character of the channel. “We always believed that we had a strong value proposition. While some kinds of shows worked better than others, the essence of the channel did not change. “Hosts like Gordon Ramsay proved to be very popular,” added Tripathi.
There was clarity that the channel was catering to the upper end of society. But the content was at the same time attainable. That for Tripathi is a key reason why the channel resonated so well. “We did not show fantasy-level lifestyle content. We showed things that viewers could aspire to reach and attain. We showed lifestyles that our TG could reach or at the very least aspire to a few years down the line. There were two groups of viewers—those who could attain the lifestyle we were showing which is SEC A, A+ and the voyeuristic viewer which is SEC B, C.”
Two years after the channel launch, a decision was made to do local lifestyle content. At the same time the channel was mindful of the fact that the bar was set high due to international content. “It wasn’t just about Indians getting to see the best from around the world. We wanted to create content here that could travel. So we did a food show with Vir Sanghvi. We did ‘The Great Indian Wedding’. We also did a behind-the-scenes show on the Taj Hotel in Mumbai.
“We cover topics in a different manner from how other genres like news covered them. For instance with ‘The Great Indian Wedding’ we brought out the pomp, celebrity and grandeur of what was going on. The second aspect to localisation was that we also made sure that if a global show was being shot on travel and food then a couple of episodes would feature India. When, for instance, a global show spoke about the great hotels of the world, it also featured Indian hotels. The levels of interest go up when you have India programming,” said Tripathi.
For Johri ‘The Great Indian Wedding’ was a trend-setter, changing viewers’ perception and expectation from India content. For him that show’s importance lay in opening up a new category of lifestyle entertainment. “The programme moved away from the personal revelry to follow an emerging trend through this particular wedding. It was not a wedding video of any couple or a family but a showcase of wedding trends that have changed within India.”
Over the years TLC has come a long way since those early days when it came to producing content in the country that could travel abroad as well. “We have till date produced over 100 hours of fresh India content. We have presented the best and finest Indian personalities ranging from Manish Arora, Shah Rukh Khan, Lisa Ray to Adhuna Akhtar, Aalim Hakim on TLC.”
Like any new channel, there were many challenges. Elaborating on them, Tripathi said: “The lifestyle category was not heard of. We had three challenges reacted to the stakeholders in this business. One challenge was convincing distributors that this was a channel that was worth showing. You have to remember that digital distribution was not there at the time. You had to convince advertisers that this is something worth being invested in. After all, advertisers plan budgets for different genres in advance. Viewers also had to be convinced as they have viewing habits. They have eight to ten channels that they choose from. We had to break into that.”
What worked, according to Tripathi, was making it a viewer-led channel. “We made sure that there was enough talk about the channel that created a pull. Rather than pushing the channel, we saw to it that the consumer asked for it. This made life easier. We succeeded in getting this done.”
He added that one issue was that TAM wasn’t able to capture the elite audience. Therefore, the channel relied more on positive feedback than on pure viewership numbers. “If you relied on pure numbers, then you were dead”.
Growing exposure to lifestyle
What also helped the channel grow was the fact that Indians’ exposure to lifestyle started growing after the channel launched. “I remember getting emails from people saying that they had planned a holiday after watching a show on Discovery Travel and Living. People wrote that they visited a restaurant after it was featured on our channel. People were planning trips around television content. This was a testament to the fact that we got both our launch timing right and programming right,” said Tripathi.
For Tripathi, the confidence was justified. He noted that the channel did not take long to catch on. “In fact, we broke even within three years. It took us little time to do this as word of mouth on the channel was very strong. People realised that there was much more to life than just the tried and tested. We ensured that people who started enjoying watching the channel were the peer group of people who advertise. We generated interest from the advertising and marketing communities very early on.”
For Johri the key to success lay in being ahead of the curve in identifying emerging trends and developing programming for a supreme viewing experience. “When we launched DTL, lifestyle programming was certain to be the next big trend on Indian television. There was increasing awareness and desire to know more about the world around, different lifestyle, cuisine, trends, etc. As television is both a reflection and influencer of society, TLC can take some credit for opening up new genres that didn’t exist such as cuisine, the knowledge and appreciation for wine and cheese could only be watched and enjoyed on the network.”
Rebranding as TLC
It was inevitable that competition at some stage would enter the market. NDTV formed a partnership with Kingfisher to launch NDTV Good Times in 2007. It was positioned as being India’s first homegrown lifestyle channel. In 2011 Discovery’s archrival National Geographic Networks India followed its lead and also entered lifestyle. Fox History and Entertainment became Fox Traveller. The channel in its infotainment avatar had gradually dabbled with some lifestyle content before deciding to take the plunge.
Discovery on its part felt the need to refresh its lifestyle offering after a few years. In 2010 Discovery Travel and Living was rebranded as TLC.
The re-brand of Discovery Travel and Living to TLC was a global exercise. It was done to reflect the common brand proposition and imagery around the world. A couple of years prior to the rebranding exercise, there were managerial changes in the company. In 2008 Johri took over from Deepak Shourie to head Discovery India. Tripathi, meanwhile, left the organisation that same year. So Johri had to step things up to counter competition from the likes of NDTV Good Times. There was a lot more focus put on growing sub-genres within lifestyle like grooming and moving away from just food and travel-based content.
“The network started with few genres and progressed to present newer genres with its distinct and inimitable style such as makeover, reality, tattoo to relationships. Having said that, we have stuck to our core of being an in-home getaway for aspirational viewers who want to experience the best the world has to offer. TLC has deepened its availability across the country and stands out for unique offering in the lifestyle space,” said Johri.
Johri further noted that the viewership and reach of TLC has broadened. “When we launched TLC, the viewership came primarily from the six metros. As the channel gained popularity, the viewership started to come from 1+ million towns. When we added Hindi language, the channel further broadened its penetration and increased its viewership.”
On the ad sales front too the efforts have borne fruition. TLC, Johri claimed, has the highest number of advertisers among all the English channels. “There is a wide range of categories that advertise on TLC from FMCG, consumer durables to personal care products.”
Last year a high-definition feed of the channel was launched. The plan going forward is to continue to bring in more genres of lifestyle entertainment and to broaden TLC’s appeal, present more acclaimed personalities, amplify India content and invest in marketing and distribution of the channel.
“TLC is the premium lifestyle channel and will continue to enhance its offering with a wide variety of lifestyle content. The Indian television landscape is ever changing and we have stayed ahead of the curve by recognising the evolving trends and addressing them by creating new television genres and distinct audience segments. We are committed to further invest in content, distribution and promotion to deliver the finest viewing experience and offer the maximum value to the advertisers,” concludes Johri.