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If our marketers don’t understand social metrics they don’t belong here, says Discovery boss as network reboots Asia strategy

Arthur Bastings in conversation with Janine Stein at Content Asia

Arthur Bastings in conversation with Janine Stein at Content Asia

The regional boss of the world’s largest factual TV player said today that if his marketing team don’t understand social metrics they have no place at the company, which is undergoing a major strategic rethink in Asia under his leadership.

Arthur Bastings, who replaced former regional head Arjan Hoekstra in the top job a year ago, said that Discovery has focused on data-driven marketing as well as rethinking content production in key markets such as China in a bid to re-energise the company’s ambitions.

Talking in the context of India, Bastings told an audience at Content Asia that Discovery had been “relatively classic” in its approach to digital marketing, and that has changed under his watch.

“Previously, we’ve been looking at social media through the prism of campaigns, campaigning and talking at people as opposed to being a conversational marketer. That transformation in our marketing approach has been occupying me in the last quarter,” he said.

“Really, if someone can’t talk to me about what are the relevant metrics in Twitter, Facebook or Periscope etc, then frankly I don’t want them in the organisation. Because we have to have a fluency on those platforms.”

Social media skills were essential for the company to “transition out of the TV only world,” he said.

In China, Bastings said the company had been under-active until recently.

“We see Greater China as an opportunity we have seen unexplored for a long time. Now, if you can’t make a market of billion consumers work, frankly what can you make work?” he said.

“It’s not so much that the market is uninteresting, we may have had the wrong lenses while looking at it.”

Discovery has stepped up its collaboration with existing China partner Shanghai Media Group, bringing a Bear Grylls-fronted celebrity survival show to the country, and invested more in short- and mid-form content, acquiring a stake in Ivy Wong’s online influencer network VS Media last month.

Discover is also looking to build on its linear play in China, Bastings said.

On Southeast Asia, Bastings said it was a “market in transition.” In terms of its promise in the pay-TV space, he said the Southeast Asian market was “in disarray”.

“People don’t want to talk about that, but that’s the reality,” he said. “Consumption levels have plateauxed, both within the platforms and in terms of market penetration.”

The opportunity in Southeast Asia lies more in mobile, Bastings said, adding that this would play out to the tune of short-form rather than long-form content, which would require “fundamental reinvention.”

Bastings confirmed that Discovery would be reducing its channel portfolio, a comment that comes a few months after the company revealed multi-million dollar cost cutting programme.

“The question is what do you replace it [linear channels] with?” he said, adding that the real challenge for the business is consumer engagement.

On Discovery’s non-linear play, Bastings said the company was “quite far along” in discussions to develop the brand’s OTT offerings. However, he said some Discovery brands were not ready to launch “credible non-linear channels yet,” while some existing platforms were not performing.

The company had big ambitions to move into the non-linear arena, but “it’s still very early days,” Bastings said.

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