Discovery’s APAC CEO Arthur Bastings is coming up to the halfway point of a major business overhaul and strategic reset for the company in Asia Pacific.
Much of it means new people, products and business lines as the company looks to develop consumer-oriented franchises that can help rebuild earnings, which have taken a hit in recent years, from 2018 onwards.
Bastings has already laid down the groundwork since taking the role one year ago, shaking up senior management while initiating wide-scale research to better understand younger audiences, evolving digital lifestyles, and what these changes mean for factual programming in particular.
Success hinges on nurturing the core branded channels business, the bulk of revenues today, while placing bets outside the pay-TV ecosystem, in areas such as online and free-to-air, for the long term.
Early initiatives and investments outline the growth strategies Bastings wants to put in place, ramping up local content production in large markets, India and China, while teaming up with online video startups (i.e. VS Media and Viddsee) that are experimenting with new forms of content and distribution in Asia.
New content franchises however, and the audiences around them, take time to build.
Over the next 12 to 18 months, Bastings wants to do more, increasingly with existing and new distribution partners, to see what kinds of content and user interfaces can boost consumption, to help direct future investment.
“Experimentation is at the heart of the foundation, the change we want to make,” Bastings says.
“If you don’t create, don’t experiment, fundamentally you’re not in the game,” he adds, speaking in an interview with Media Business Asia.
“That is at the heart of what it is we’re trying to achieve. I proactively encourage teams to take punts, try things out.”
Content And Marketing
The next priority is bulking up on-ground capabilities to drive local IP and revenue. Territory heads have been charged with coming up new investment plans to scale the business in their respective markets.
That leaves a slimmed-down corporate hub in Singapore to focus on areas such as M&A and tech development.
Bastings wants more deals like VS Media, in which Discovery has an equity stake, and Viddsee, a content and marketing partnership, but is also scouting for other opportunities in content and distribution.
“Digital is a strong focus, but it’s difficult to add scale quickly to digital in the near term,” he says.
“It’s a longer-term build. Free-to-air is a more immediate opportunity for us. It’s got strong adjacency to our space right now, but when we look at that space, we want to be rational and it depends on availability.”
Local content assets also appeal, especially those with a strong library as well as strong franchises that Discovery could develop.
New data engines, meanwhile, should be up and running around the end of the year, helping inform production and distribution.
Discovery’s product portfolio is also under review, as Bastings and his territory heads look to focus on fewer brands per market, both in the linear as well as digital space.
“Next year, we will focus on using big data and really driving the change in the marketing,” he says.
“We will be launching some nonlinear products. We want to build some use cases for maybe some apps, and see what people might like from us, and how we might position that.”
The reinvention is well underway in India, where Bastings himself spent a lot of time before installing new South Asia lead Karan Bajaj, a former FMCG marketer and novelist who officially starts next month.
In India, a market where the traditional pay-TV business promises plenty of growth, Bastings is targeting at least 500 hours of original content over the next year, a six-fold increase.
Bastings wants other markets to follow suit.
“We can’t be just an importer of programming,” he says. “We have to be a maker and an exporter. That is an ambition we absolutely want to pursue, and where the scale in the market allows us to do it.”
Spend is also doubling in China, where the focus will be on bigger productions, local formats and IP development.
Survivor Games, a 2015 Bear Grylls show made with Shanghai Media Group for a reported US$10 million, has been renewed for a second season.
“That was a big success for us,” Bastings says. “We want to do more stuff like that and see what works.”
There haven’t been many changes in terms of Discovery’s local content capabilities so far, Basting notes, but there’s a lot more to come.
Similarly, an overhaul of local marketing teams is imminent, to build up Discovery’s profile and engagement on social and digital platforms.
“We are very interested in people with relevant experience,” Bastings notes.
“We see those in ecommerce companies for example, maybe games companies, companies that have strong experience in building communities. We will shortly announce a slew of appointments across the organization in that space.”
One area that Bastings is paying less attention to, at least for now, is sports.
The company has made a number of moves in this area, including the appointment of a Southeast Asia lead, Elliot Renton, in July, and an investment in Asian OTT platform RugbyPass in February.
“If we wanted to step up our investment in the sports space we could," Bastings says.
"We are looking at that. It’s not my primary focus at the moment, because historically it’s not been our core business in Asia,” he adds.
“I really want to focus on fixing our core over the next 12-18 months. I am a big believer in foundation. There is no point fiddling with stuff, in terms of diversification, if you’re not building from strength.”