Star Attraction

Written by Pritha Mitra Dasgupta | Updated: Jun 1 2010, 06:11am hrs
Star India CEO Uday Shankar is a happy man. Star Plus, the flagship Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) of the broadcast network, Star India Private Limited that he leads, is back to its winning ways. After more than nine years of unchallenged reign on the Hindi general entertainment space, the largest genre on Indian television both in terms of viewership as well as advertising share, the channel was nudged out by a new comer Colors in 2008.

Colors, the Hindi general entertainment channel from the Viacom18 stable, ruled the space for 22 weeks, repulsing every effort from Star Plus to regain its lost territory. So much so that some industry pundits announced that Star Plus will never be able to get back to its numero uno position. This, however, changed in the week ended February 27 when the channel lapped up 300 GRPs (gross rating point) and 22% of total viewership share in the Hindi GEC space. After 22 weeks, the flagship channel of the Star India bouquet reclaimed the top slot.

Skeptics still downplayed the development saying it may be a proverbial flash in the pan. Star Plus repeated the fete next week and it didnt stop at that. The channel has been beating rivals Colors and Zee TV, for 10 weeks consistently. According to the latest

TAM report, for the week ended May 22, STAR Plus still reigned as the number one Hindi general entertainment channel with 315 GRPs. Colors followed with 264 GRPs. Zee TV was on the number three slot with 245 GRPs.

Star Plus success means a lot for the Star India network as well as for its CEO Shankar. The channel reaches 78 million viewers, accounts for 37% of the viewership the entire broadcast network of the Star Group generates and also contributes nearly 30% to its global parents Asian broadcasting business. For Shankar, the development is of particular significance because he took over the business at a time when it was under attack from several quarters. It was in March 2007 when the Star Indias global parent News Corp, headed by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, decided to let go of the top men, including Peter Mukerjea the erstwhile Star Group CEO and Star Entertainment CEO Sameer Nair, who had steered Star Network India. While Mukerjea joined the company in 1996, Nair joined in 1994 and these two men Star India a household name.

Besides the shuffle in the management, the channel was under attack by rivals and the new-comer Colors was leaving no stone unturned to woo Indian viewers. The channel was also facing problems with its long-standing winning partner, Balaji Telefilms.

It also had a 25.99% stake in the television content production company. Balaji, like Star Plus, ruled the Hindi general entertainment television content space for almost a decade. Its shows such as Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thee and Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, also the top prime time shows on Star Plus, topped the TRP (television rating points) charts for 6 years but with success came the arrogance and also, complacency. The shows began losing popularity towards the end of 2006, around the same time when Colors was getting ready to hit the market.

The result was a catastrophe with Star Plus losing viewers attention, the relationship between the broadcaster and Balaji getting constrained and all this began to reflect in the weekly performance of the channel.

Shankars mandate, when he took over the business, was to get the house in order. With Star Plus back on track, one may consider half his job done though there are quite a few other businesses as well that the Star Group is seemingly doing well but more on that later. First we look at how Star Plus reclaimed its leadership status.

Its a business where the viewers place a huge premium on freshness and novelty. When you have been around and so successful for 10 years, you can always be challenged by a newcomer and that is what happened to Star Plus, says Shankar.

However, the innovation and experiment genes in the Star network are very dominant and the current status is a reassertion of that.he adds.

Star India executive vice president marketing Anupam Vasudev adds, We were hesitant to move away from our initially successful content and suffered losses. However, we learnt from our mistakes and are willing to get out of the comfort zone and take some risks and reinventing and refreshing our programme content with new production houses, expand management pool and bring different kinds of problem solvers in the room.

He further explains, Stars leadership is far deeper than weekly GRPs (gross rating points). Leadership is a combination of the ability to set the agenda, innovate and get a premium over every other competitor. Regardless of the weekly ratings fluctuations, we have done well.

The channel has launched a series of new shows in the last 6 months. Most of the new shows the channel has launched are fiction. Some of the new shows are doing well and the old shows are holding on. It launched Pratigya in December 2009 in the 10.30 pm time band and has become the leader in this slot with the latest ratings at 4.8. Behenein was launched in February in the 8.30 pm slot and Sasural Genda Phool was launched in March. Also more recently, the channel introduced early prime time by launching a new show Saath Nibhana Saathiya. It was launched in May at the 7 pm time band. Currently the top shows of Star Plus include Pratigya, Bidaai, Yeh Rishta, Sabki Laadli Bebo, Sasural Genda Phool, Sajan Ghar and Behenein.

Vasudev also says that Star Plus has always been known for its superlative story-telling that depicts the changes that are taking place in the society today, with a healthy dose of realism, optimism, social concerns, edginess, and humour. The reason for success and the strategy has been to introduce new shows at regular intervals. Star Plus has introduced new shows based on in-depth audience insights, which have touched a chord and brought in viewers to the channel, while creating higher interest in the existing stories.

According to a senior media planner who didnt wish to be named, said, We have always looked at the long term perspective with Star Plus because this is one channel which has always delivered the ratings consistently. With Star Plus numbers are never flash in the pan. So when we do planning for the channel it is a lot similar to how we do media planning for magazines or newspapers for which we consider total readership of a particular time period. Similarly most of the advertising deals we sign with Star Plus are annual unlike with other GECs which ranges from 3-6 months.

He also pointed out that despite Star Plus slip in the GEC roster advertisers have always selected the channel for media innovation. For example, the Vodafone launched its roadblocks on Star channels and more recently Intel tied up with the network for the launch of a new marketing initiative All New 2010 Intel Core Processor Family. The company selected only Star Network to launch this product. A teaser campaign was released on April 28 across 5 Star channels including Star Plus, Star Gold, Star One, Star News and Star Utsav. And the main campaign was released finally on May 3 where the company revealed the product.

Prakash Bagri, director, marketing, Intel South Asia said Star Network is popularly known as Parivaar (family). We saw an intrinsic fit of the recent launch. This media innovation is a first for any technology brand in India and we are very excited to see how the association will help drive brand appeal for our products.

In the meantime, Star India has become the centre piece following the major restructuring of the Asian Broadcasting business announced by News Corp last year. Star India became a bigger entity, and is now managing seven ventures in India. This includes DTH operator Tata Sky (joint venture with Tata Group), multi-system operator Hathway (JV with Rajan Raheja Group), channel bouquet Star Den (JV with Sameer Manchandas DEN), Star News broadcaster MCCS (JV with Kolkata-based ABP Group), Star Jupiter (JV with Rajeev Chandrasekhars Jupiter Capital that runs Asianet), Star Vijay, Fox Star Studios India and Star CJ Homeshopping (a JV with Koreas CJ Group and Punes Sakaal Group). In India, Fox International Channels including National Geographic and Fox History, will also become part of Star India.