Prashant Chothani, Founder and CMD of Travelxp 4K HD, the world’s leading travel channel, is a Media entrepreneur and globally respected broadcast tech evangelist who has given the world its first 4K HDR TV channel, Travelxp 4K, which was launched in North America in end-2017.
Chothani also has the distinction of having given India, in February 2011, its first and only High Definition travel channel with 100% original programming in English. The channel is localized in 11 languages and distributed globally to over 92 million homes across North America, Europe, MENA & the Asia Pacific. Over the past three months, it has been active with several international launches, including in the UK, Singapore and most recently, in Canada as its first 24/7 4K HDR channel.
A Media veteran with over 30 years of illustrious experience, Chothani has received several international awards for innovation in Broadcast technology from the best global forums. He represents the only Indian company on the global Ultra High Definition (UHD) Forum – an industry body helping set the standards to aid the adoption and spread of 4K UHD and HDR broadcasting systems across the world.
He is also recognized as a leading M&E evangelist for having played a key role in helping legalize cable TV operations in India way back in 1988, and also for creating, for the first time in India, an innovative business model for promotion of film and music brands on television channels, and more.
He is also CEO of Media Worldwide Limited, which broadcasts India’s leading music channels – Music India, Sangeet Bangla, Sangeet Marathi, Sangeet Bhojpuri and Bangla Talkies. Media Worldwide Limited is headquartered in Mumbai, India with offices in Kolkata and Delhi.
Chothani has developed a strong, talented team he mentors with strategic leadership for technology infrastructure, foreign alliances and partnerships, content creation, distribution technology and more.
Yohan P Chawla caught up with Prashant Chothani for a long chat that has offered our readers a deep dive into several aspects of the business of Media & Entertainment, Television channels, Travelxp, the way TV media is bought and sold, plus the personal journey of how Chothani took up and followed on his inherent passion for things technical, that helped him give the world its first 4K TV channel and India its first
HD channel, and more.
We have split this LEADERSPEAK into two parts. Presenting Part 1: M&E Leader and evangelist Prashant Chothani speaks to Yohan P Chawla of Tvnews4u.com.
You were a pioneer cable business owner north of Sion in Mumbai, and you helped legitimize the cable industry in India. What sparked the launch of Travelxp? Was it a considered decision to launch a travel channel, or a natural progression of the business from being a retail end-pipeline of content to an owner of the kind of content you were helping broadcasters take to their viewers’ homes?
It all happened during our family vacation in Europe in 2008. There was an unfortunate incident which triggered this thought and made us realize that India’s portrayal especially in the travel documentary space was not positive. We asked ourselves, we have so many beautiful places in India, which is more like a continent than a country, but somehow, why is it not being represented by the media with the respect and gravitas it so richly deserves? This was one of the two big pillars of the idea called Travelxp.
The second trigger, though not in order, is that most of us in the media space, target only ethnic audiences in the global markets. Why can’t we create something which appeals and caters to the mainstream audiences as well? If Discovery, NGC and other brands can put forward their extraordinary work globally and make it appealing to each country, why can’t we?
We understood that the desire to travel is a single unifying factor for every human being on our planet and no matter what their social status and background, we all love to travel. Therefore, the vision to create a global media brand for mainstream audiences along with the resolve of presenting India in a positive way gave birth to the passionate idea of Travelxp, world’s leading travel channel.
By the way, after the cable business I had ventured into content production, specialized ad sales, strategies – like, we pioneered the business of trailers used for promoting film and music on television, venturing into broadcast with Media Worldwide Limited, where we operate 5 channels.
I have to interrupt my planned flow of this conversation here to include your most recent launch of Travelxp – in Canada, which happened just a few days back when you launched Travelxp’s 4K HDR channel on TELUS Optik TVin Canada. Tell us a bit about it.
Yes, we launched it on 26 July, and Travelxp 4K will be the first 4K HDR linear television channel to launch in Canada, and we are delighted to have launched it on the reputed TELUS Optik TV platform. Canada is a large and important market with a highly evolved audience which is known to be amongst the largest spenders on international travel. Before this, we had launched in Singapore and a little earlier in the UK on the Freeview platform. With the latest launch in Canada, Travelxp is reaching a little more than 92 million TV homes worldwide.
What are your future plans for Travelxp in India and in other geographies? Which plans are likely to roll out within this financial year?
We have a Latin America launch scheduled this year, and also a few more language feeds for India and internationally. It is a packed calendar, but allow me to share the news when it is about to happen. Our next launch will be in the North American continent soon.
Around 7 to 8 years ago, in a day and age when mass genres ruled supreme, you decided to launch a channel around a niche segment like travel. How did that make business sense to you when you launched it?
When we started production in 2008, we knew we would be launching in 2011. It was since 2008 that we were producing content only in HD, which was unheard of back then. By 2011, we realized that there were not many channels on travel globally. And even today in 2018, there are very few. When we look at the lifestyle & infotainment genre channel’s content mix, Travel content does not constitute more than 10-20% of their total offering. It takes a lot of time, effort and money to produce travel content.
One more thing we figured out earlier in the life of Travelxp was that if we needed to succeed, we need to have our own productions. The reason was to provide uniform quality and uniform experience of the programs that we feature. We are one of the rarest examples globally which produces 100% of its content.
To support our vision of being relevant globally, travel was the most ideal genre. Our target was clear from the start. And therefore, our language of production is English and then we localize it for different markets by way of dubbing or subtitling as the market demands.
The gap in the travel content by other like-minded channels, and the huge effort it takes to create an experience like what Travelxp does, helped identify this as a viable business model. And to be honest, when the purpose behind your business is primarily to showcase India positively, business sense takes a back seat. The belief in the vision and the resolve that we can do it, made business sense then.
What has been the report card, as it were, of Travelxp in the 7-8 years since it was launched?
When we set the goal to become a globally relevant mainstream channel we were aware that there were no precedents to be followed. Today, Travelxp is global media brand that appeals to global audiences and is accepted by platforms around the world. We created our own path and no doubt there were several hurdles along the way, but we took this up as a challenge.
Travelxp was India’s first ever HD channel and it was Travelxp 4K which in the end of 2017 gave the world its first ever 4K HDR TV channel having launched in North America. This is indeed a great achievement for us. To do something as ‘the world’s first´ in the media entertainment tech space, is a different high.
We are a profitable business with a global footprint and continue to grow more than the industry average. This is when our investment cycle in the business, in terms of content production and technical costs is still in a ramp up phase. We venture into a new country almost every fortnight and as you know, our most recent launch was in Canada.
Yes, although Travelxp has been a niche genre, it has registered strong growth in the mainstream audiences across several countries of the world and in India too. What do you attribute this growth to?
It must go to the entire team. And, I am not saying this just for making a clichéd statement. The journey of Travelxp would not have been possible, if a large part of our team did not believe in the vision that we put forward. It was a tough task – doing something which was never done before. We had our let-down moments as well. One thing you cannot take away is the quality of the content that we produce. Nisha Chothani, my wife and co-founder of Travelxp, has spent 16 hours a day since 2008 in conceptualization and executing the world class content of Travelxp with the entire team.
We all knew that we wanted to create experiences. We mandated internally our goal for our viewers that whenever they think of travel, they should think and watch Travelxp. And vice versa, when they see Travelxp, we should be able to incite their aspirations and make them think travel. If this goal had to be achieved, it required a global approach to not only the quality of content but also the diversity of content.
Let me give you an example: When one travels to the London Heathrow airport, we witness people from many nationalities, speaking many different languages and having different physical attributes identifying with their own nation. Due to this, there is no way to identify with a single country out there. It’s like a global village. And that is what we wanted Travelxp to look like and therefore you can see that on Travelxp we have multi-cultural hosts from India, UK, Canada, Australia, US, Italy, etc.
How does Travelxp compare with other travel/lifestyle channels in India? In terms of viewership (TVRs), Time Spent, audience profiles, etc.
Travelxp content appeals to every age group belonging to every SEC and skews more towards the age group 31 to 50 years and SEC ABC. It has been in the Top 5 channels just a couple of weeks ago. Travelxp has the highest number of hours of viewership as compared to other travel & lifestyle channels, as of February 2018 BARC statistics.
Which are the brands that advertise on Travelxp?
We believe that Travelxp provides the most influential and most desired audiences for every brand; the Aspirational Audience. Travel content is 100% positive & relaxing which makes the viewer open minded to accept communication effectively. Travel directly equates aspirations & emotions. Viewers are in an aspirational mind-set, emotional about achieving these aspirations while consuming travel content and in a happy state of mind. Discussions on travel resulting out of the travel content consumed, not only continue post consumption of content but also keeps their interest over time thus delivering strengthened brand messaging.
This is exactly what brands have experienced from Travelxp and our advertisers are from across the market covering industries like; Automobile, Banking, Finance, Building Material and Industrial Equipment, F&B, IT, Petroleum, FMCG, Telecom, Online Shopping and Travel & Tourism. Some of the key brands to be mentioned are; Maruti, Hyundai, Skoda, Hero, Visa, P&G, ITC, Edelweiss, Tata, HDFC, Saint Gobain, Google, Bosch, HP, Indian Oil, Ethiad, Emirates, Amazon, Airtel, Jabong, Flipkart, Netflix, Bank Bazaar, Expedia, Cleartrip, Australia Tourism, Singapore Tourism, Abu Dhabi Tourism, Orrisa Tourism, and many more.
One has never seen any AFP on Travelxp. What is your view on carrying AFP on Travelxp?
We are extremely protective about our viewers.So, while we are not closed to AFP, we want to do it subtly. We don’t want to intrude into the viewers experience of consuming our immersive content.
Nisha Chothani believes that if a brand was to give us the freedom to do an AFP we would fit it in line with our content objectives and create a much bigger and more effective impact for the brand. We have started to speak with brands to provide impactful brand solutions and you will soon see some meaningful AFPs.
What about plans inthe OTT space? One sees that increasingly, the OTT space is focusing on special and exclusive content that drives greater sampling, viewership and adoption. Considering Travelxp has quite beautiful and non-dating content that one can enjoy watching from where ever one enters it, the channel content makes for a good OTT genre.
We are working on our digital or OTT strategyroll out. It’s work in progress for us and we should come up with some big announcements soon.
When other channels from India do international launches, they aim for the diaspora, while Travelxp always targets the mainstream audiences. That keeps your content relevant to global audiences. What are the other advantages of Travelxp targeting mainstream audiences?
Let me give you an example: The south Asian population is only 4-5% of the entire UK population. The rest of it is mainstream. It’s all about the scale and the opportunity. For us, therefore, each country is a market by itself. I hope this answers your question. It is fundamental to the vision and existence of Travelxp as I told you earlier. We wanted to be a global media brand and create mainstream opportunities in each and every market.
So far, you have mainly — or rather — only been on the Pay TV circuit globally and in India. That was till you launched in the UK, on its Freeview platform, which is an FTA Digital Terrestrial Television platform reaching some 16 million homes. How has the Freeview experience been so far?
Each market behaves differently and has its unique characteristics. Before we ventured into the UK, we found that UK is fundamentally an advertising market. We also understood that UK is one of the top countries for inbound tourism in India. As you know that one of our prime objectives is to showcase India’s tremendous tourism potential and act as the biggest influencer on the minds of people, we took a calculated decision where our commercial interest and national interest both are satisfied by going free to air with a standard definition (SD) feed.
And I am happy to say that Travelxp’s global multicultural content has been very well received there. We were told that it takes months before your ratings would even reflect something. But I am happy to share that in the first month itself, we got ratings and we are seeing a growing trend as we speak.
I feel Travelxp on Freeview will help the travel and tourism industry of India in a big way, by helpingincrease traffic to India. Would you like to venture any numbers to the kind of growth we could expect after Travelxp presents India to the British viewers?
I have no way of measuring the direct impact of increased inbound traffic to India from the UK and attributing it directly to Travelxp’s availability on Freeview in the UK, but we are confident that we will be able to influence tourist traffic from the UK to India exceeding the target set by the government. It is natural that Travelxp becomes the largest travel influencer not only in the UK but in every market that we are present.