Known for telling stories through pictures and in-depth analysis of events affecting our day-to-day lives, National Geographic has been a popular global player in visually compelling, non-fiction entertainment. And now, after partnering with 21st Century Fox, National Geographic Partners is all set to take the genre to the next level. In an interview with BrandWagon’s Meghna Sharma, National Geographic Partners’ Declan Moore talks about the company’s strength in storytelling and plans for India. Edited excerpts:

Please highlight developments since the recent reinvention and the expanded partnership with 21st Century Fox.

National Geographic Partners is a joint venture between National Geographic Society and 21st Century Fox. We have integrated all the commercial activities of the Society that allows us to scale-up the storytelling, which we do, and integrate it with the infrastructure that exists at Fox Networks Group. This brings in greater efficiency than what existed before. And we are embarking into the new phase by repositioning our brand. We hope to be the world leaders in premium adventure-science content.

Since the creation of the Partners, we are integrating the storytelling in each of the touchpoints. So when we have Mars, a big series on TV, we have Mars in the magazine as a significant feature accompanying TV. Every other month, almost 8-10 times a year, we want to have a fully integrated storytelling experience. And our social themes/digital themes will embrace what’s happening in the hero platforms.

We have got an engine in place that we are scaling up. While we are investing in premium adventure-science experiential storytelling, we are also looking at how the brand gets itself expressed to consumers. And if we earlier asked ourselves, “Do we have a consistent expression for consumers?” the answer was no; so we have now embarked on a big rebranding initiative.

The whole brand narrative has been changed. Apart from investment in content, there is investment on the brand and the message.

Content is very important to National Geographic. What is your take on native advertising and branded content?

There is a certain amount of native content that has to be done in the right way. We haven’t really been able to systematise it here. We have a great deal on television; we don’t have it on digital and that’s what we are looking at.

There is no reason why we shouldn’t have added information apart from the news and features that we offer.

For National Geographic, how important is India as a market?

We are now at a phase where we are thinking, when you create equity for a brand through your media, then what are the adjacent opportunities to monetise that investment? And that’s one of the reasons behind our coming to India.

India is an important market to us as it has scale and is growing. Apart from what we are doing on television and publishing, we haven’t really leveraged the other opportunities for the brand here — be it licensing, location-based event/entertainment or book publishing. There are tremendous upsides as we replicate what we have in other markets (the US, the UK and within APAC, Australia) in the Indian market space.

We want to be at a position where we are seen as a native brand in India as we are seen in the US. The stories that we do, work globally. There is already enough bad news in the world; it’s good to provide sanctuary and hope.

Localisation of content is on the agenda too. And with internet bandwidth growing, and people demanding content on the medium, investment on the medium will grow as well. We want to be wherever there are opportunities to grow.

But are people willing to pay to read/watch the content?

It varies. The marketplace is rapidly evolving and every place has a different business model. We all know what a template for a television business is; we know what one for print is. And for digital, there are various templates and brands use what solution suits them. Some people do all-free content; some do a certain amount for free, some payable. We haven’t landed on one particular solution yet. We have different solutions that are hybrid in nature. The right model will evolve for us; the important thing is testing and learning.

In some cases, when content is not funded by the reader, then it is by advertisers. And that’s when the question arises about how we ought to not be interruptive because that’s what people would like, but perhaps introduce a new currency in the marketplace that better reflects the value of the content.

There are a lot of things going on in the space to arrive at the right model. We have dealt with advertorials in print in the olden days, and we dealing with it in the television space. We will find an appropriate model in the mobile space too.

What is NGP’s marketing and advertising strategy in India?

Well, what we have been doing elsewhere, that is, investing in storytelling, we will continue to do here. New paths to reach the consumer emerge all the time as there are additional ways to get our content on TV and publication. We have a great team here, and we want to be able to sit down with clients and have conversations about what programmes we can create together. When the product is ready, plans will be rolled out with the right partner.

In India, who do you see as your competitor? What are the challenges faced here compared to the rest of APAC?

In many ways, I think we are unique. I cannot think of any other entity which has a purpose and gives 27 percent of its profit back to science and education. Yes, there is a business to be developed, but there is a lot to be given back.

There is competition; we aren’t naive to believe that we don’t compete in the media space, but I don’t think anyone is as purpose-driven as we are. And that’s the key difference.

However, a number of people don’t understand and know the brand here, but we are now looking at ways to collaborate with people to expand it. There are different pricing models here but there is also a lot of growth scale. Technology too is leapfrogging. We also have our partners — Star, Tata Sky — who are able to help us get our stories to as many viewers as possible. – Financial Express