I was asked by a friend last week what I thought of the new-look Star Plus. I gave a polite response like “it’s interesting and cheerful” without getting into the specifics. I could see that he wasn’t happy with the reply, but as I told him later, three days was too early to decide on whether a relaunch worked.
So, then perhaps the eight-odd days that have seen the ‘Rishta wahi, soch nayi’ are also not enough to pass a verdict. Perhaps. But my concern is not really the programming, but the “soch”. There is nothing dramatic and new about it on screen. In fact, save the colours and the logo, it’s the same old thing. Channel Wahi, Look Nayi. Old wine in a bright, new bottle.
It was Viacom18’s Colors that first brought in a breath of fresh air into entertainment television in 2008 (just as Star Plus had brought in some in 2000, and Zee in the mid-1990s). The ‘nayi soch’ for Colors meant breaking away from ‘saas-bahu’ sagas and getting more ‘real’ stories with ‘Balika Vadhu’. Plus reality shows like ‘Fear Factor’ and ‘Bigg Boss’.
The package worked, and with some timely help from Bollywood blockbusters, the channel became the No. 1. While Star Plus and Colors slugged it out, it was Zee TV that was the real hero. Monies smartly spent and with programming that generated the GRPs.
But in all this, I think the really out-of-the-box idea came from Star Plus: putting ‘Aap Ki Kachcheri’ with Kiran Bedi at primetime was something you would expect from a news channel or Doordarshan. It did wonders for Star Plus, as did ‘Sach ka Saamna’, though the moral police thought it was too bold for family viewing.
The thinking was different, and it was interesting to see entertainment television do that. But if the ‘Rishta Wahi, Soch Nayi’ credo was supposed to be the statement of being of the new Star Plus, I would think it happened a lot before it changed colours last fortnight.
There’s another channel, which also sported an ambitious new look a little: Bloomberg UTV. Along with parent UTV, whose identity went in for a snazz-up, it pumped in loads of ‘josh’ into distribution to push itself closer to the leader in reach. However, access alone can do precious little. It is content that needs to click.
Bloomberg UTV’s high decibel promises of simplified news are good for ads, but tough to execute overnight. For me, from whatever I’ve seen of the new look-and-feel, my line of ‘Channel Wahi, Look Nayi’ holds true for Bloomberg-UTV too. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learnt from Times Now, which took the route of differentiated content to win what seemed an impossible battle: NDTV 24x7 and CNN-IBN were far, far ahead in terms of credibility and content power. Even now, it is not that the two have been forgotten: their work on the Bhopal gas case outcome, for instance, has been stupendous.
The challenge for any new (or not so new) business channel in India is how do you beat Udayan Mukherjee on the crucial stockmarket hours. It’s not easy to replicate an Arnab Goswami in business news. You’ll find it difficult being aggressive with Ratan Tata: “But gimme an answer, Mr Tata. The nation needs an answer. Why did the Nano burn?” Ditto with the Ambanis, or even lesser industry captains. However, unless there’s a clear (and better) content differentiator, beating CNBC-TV18 will be tough. Distribution dynamics and cosmetic changes aren’t enough to get you to do that.
Since the battle is all about better ratings for your programming, there’s need to create new rules to achieve salience and success. It’s got to be ‘nayi soch’ alright, but that needs to happen in execution. In not just advertising copy.
(The views expressed here are personal. Post your comments below or reach the writer via mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @pmahesh.)