Friday, August 27, 2010

INTERVIEW. Exec Paul Welling on Discovery Networks International's rapid expansion in South Africa: ''It's an important region for us.''

The rapid channel expansion of Discovery Networks International in Africa - and especially South Africa - is evidence of the importance Discovery is placing on the region. Several more Discovery channels are now available to pay TV subscribers since the beginning of the year in South Africa - both on MultiChoice's DStv and On Digital Media's (ODM) TopTV platform.

''It's a committment to the region,'' Paul Welling, the vice president head of channels, emerging markets for Discovery Networks' Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region told me, when he sat down for an interview about Discovery's growing channel portfolio and presence in South Africa and beyond. ''It's an important region for us and we have a lot more to offer than just one brand,'' he says.

I asked Paul Welling about the move of Discovery Channel to DStv 121 earlier in the year and te introduction of the new Discovery World (DStv 250). He also talks about Discovery HD Showcase (DStv 172) and what this channel is (and isn't!), why the EMEA region is growing in importance, Discovery's new channels on TopTV, and Discovery Networks International's future opportunities.

For my full interview with Paul Welling, click on READ MORE below.

Paul, what has been the reaction and feedback since Discovery Channel moved to channel 121 on DStv?
All good really. For me moving the Discovery Channel from the documentaries to the entertainment section on DStv was the realization that we've always positioned it as an entertainment brand, we've always said its entertainment with factual content delivered through the back door almost.
Moving it fully into entertainment has consolidated that position. It says we are a true entertainment brand with knowledge component. I think the growth of the channel is continuing. Our portfolio of four channels on DStv is expanding. It gives us a real opportunity to say we have an entertainment viewer (Discovery Channel - DStv 121), we have the documentary viewer (Animal Planet - DStv 264 - and Discovery World - DStv 250) and we have the high definition (HD) viewer (Discovery HD Showcase - DStv 172) as well, so its good portfolio management as well.

So how is the Discovery Channel (DStv 121) and Discovery World (DStv 250) different but also complimenting each other?
Discovery World is a straight factual, documentary brand. Having both channels in the market gives us the opportunity to say we have ''the thinking man'' who likes his facts delivered straight up, whereas Discovery Channel is more geared towards entertainment. We have a wide inventory of content we are now rolling out and will continue to do which are broad appeal shows like Cake Boss that fits very well on an entertainment channel like Discovery Channel.

What's been some of the challenges of moving Discovery Channel to a new channel number, bringing Discovery World, and rolling out Discovery HD Showcase here since the beginning of the year?
With Discovery HD Showcase people immediately think it's a simulcast, which in some of our markets it is. For us here as Discovery in South Africa, Discovery HD Showcase is a broad factual and entertainment channel that's not a simulcast channel. The way we construct the schedule of Discovery HD Showcase is that we go through the big inventory Discovery has and we really pick the best from a great many channels to show in high definition. Discovery HD Showcase is not a simulcast. It's not a case of ''We have Deadliest Catch, but watch Deadliest Catch in HD because you have a bigger and better TV''. It's a new selection of content in high definition specially chosen for Discovery HD Showcase.
Regarding Discovery World we're positioning it as ''a different style of Discovery''. A lot of the feedback we've had from the market is that a lot of people like the entertainment angle of the channel. A lot of people also said they like the factual side, the documentary side and the educational element to it. So we're positioning Discovery World as that brand.

Obviously adding more channels to DStv and starting channels on TopTV says to me that the EMEA region is becoming more important to Discovery Networks International. Is that true and if so why?
Yes, it is. I've been at Discovery for quite a long time actually. The reason I'm staying with Discovery is because I love the brand. I love what it stands for. I think when you think about Discovery it's a big word. It means a lot. I think Discovery as it has grown and has become more successful, it has launched in more countries and spun off more brands.
Discovery can have a place in everyone's life. The more variations, the more flavours Discovery can have the better. We've gotten opportunities to launch more brands into the market in South Africa, to have more exposure to Discovery. It's a commitment to the region. Its an important region for us and we have a lot more to offer than just one brand.

In total there is now seven Discovery channels available in South Africa. Are you looking at further organic expansion, more Discovery channels on either DStv or TopTV?
Discovery is always growing. There's always opportunities and we try to do new stuff. Discovery HD Showcase is an example of that. As technology expands and platforms are able to do more, we do more. In America they're launching 3D TV channels. That's clearly way down the line for us in the EMEA region, but we're always looking at new opportunities.

Discovery Channel (DStv 121)
Discovery World (DStv 250)
Animal Planet (DStv 264)
Discovery HD Showcase (DStv 172)
Discovery Science (TopTV 302)
Investigation Discovery (TopTV 303)
Discovery Travel & Living (TopTV 453)