The most celebrated launch of last year, the second Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) from the STAR bouquet - STAR One - completes a year on November 1, 2005. Giving channels like Zee TV and SaharaOne a close fight already, the channel is showing healthy growth. Ever since its launch, STAR One has changed in most aspects except for the core offering that it brought in the first place – of being an alternative to elder sister STAR Plus.
The target the channel is speaking to, the kind of advertisers it was chasing, the manner of operations and the relation with STAR Plus and even the nature of the shows to some extent, have all changed. Reiterating STAR’s intent of being the absolute number one and two players in the Hindi GEC, Sameer Nair, COO, STAR India explained more on the rationale behind these changes, STAR’s take on STAR One year’s performance, the achievement of certain objectives and the goals for the road ahead.
The constant evolution
At the time of its launch, channel officials expressed that the target audience STAR One would chase could be defined as the SEC AB 15–35. Moving forward, just before the launch of ‘The Great Indian Laughter Challenge’ (TGILC), this changed to SEC AB 10–44 and now it is SEC ABC 4+.
Also, the general perception last year was that STAR One would be a youth channel. Nair, however corrected this saying, “It was never a youth channel – a young, upwardly mobile channel but not a youth channel.”
Explaining more on the target audience, he said, “The sense we had at the time was that STAR Plus had been dominating the scene for five years, holding a large chunk of captive audience. There would be another audience created in this much time, which would be at some level young and richer, looking for alternatives, as they evolved. The idea was that STAR TV must attempt to provide its own alternative, which is why we came up with STAR One.”
Nair explained that the first move for the channel, towards which most of STAR’s efforts were initially directed, was to establish a distinct and independent identity for the new channel, “We were coming in a hugely cluttered space, where STAR Plus has an all-pervasive presence. It was critical that STAR One be seen as a separate channel.”
The steps STAR took to achieve this were largely on two counts - independent operations of STAR One, resulting in no cross promotion or coordination between STAR Plus and STAR One, and in programming. All the shows on STAR One were out-of-home, just as most of the shows on STAR Plus were in-home.
Looking at the programming function first, Nair said, “You can argue on good or bad, but the content is inarguably distinct. Some shows from this worked – ‘Remix’ attracted a loyal following in younger audiences. ‘Sarabhai’ cut through people, ‘The Great Indian Comedy Show’, which is a very hard show to do gained its own loyal viewers. ‘Bluff Master’ did very well for us in the game show category. But the key thing from all of this is that the channel was collating a new audience.”
Nair stressed that all kinds of experiments were seen on the channel to establish the brand. “It was quite difficult to fight the urge of putting a tried and tested formula on the channel, when initially the numbers weren’t coming. But we stayed the course, trying new kinds of programming and in the first eight months, the brand was established, which was engraved deeper with TGILC.”
Content that the brand was established, the channel decided to broad base itself in programming and the first example was TGILC and then ‘Nach Baliye’, which was launched on October 11, 2005. In addition to this, Nair divulged that the channel was in the process of launching four new shows back-to-back. “There is new audience coming and the trick would be to give them something new to get involved in and stay committed to. We can’t expect them to get on with the on-going shows!”
Given STAR One’s intention of working in seasons, most of the shows are already in production. The channel was, as Nair puts it, ‘waiting for the right opportunity to strike’ and now, the new lot of action is set to begin. “The new shows continue in the same vein of being out-of home but with broader appeal. It is all getting nicely timed out though, which is a stroke of good fortune – else it would have been a bit of a stress!” expressed Nair.
Another interesting development in the last two months has been the removal of the STAR One-STAR Plus divide. The teams of both channels are working together right down to even scheduling details. “Earlier, they were not attending the same meetings, let alone cross promotions but now as the brand is established, both channels are coordinating on everything,” remarked Nair, “They attend the same meetings. When there is a big launch on one channel, the other keeps quiet. For instance, now STAR Plus is letting ‘Nach Baliye’ go through, before it makes some noise of its own.”
Indeed the sister act!
The Channel’s performance
Even though STAR One officials believed that the channel was not eating into any other GEC’s shares, the fact that STAR One was collating new audience was seen once TGILC hit the screen. Despite its whopping numbers, the show didn’t pull down the audience for any other mass channel. For STAR, TGILC meant STAR One’s arrival as a standalone channel. “It vindicated our point that there are audiences that have dropped out of TV and can be captured by the right programming,” said Nair.
Whether it is new viewers, as Nair suggests or flirting audiences in the genre itself, it has made STAR One look good, keeping the channel on a constant upward track. In GECs presently, the channel is competing for the third slot with Zee TV and SaharaOne – even beating the two channels in some weeks. At an average, for both primetime and all day numbers, the channel is just below Zee TV and what makes STAR One look good is the upward looking graph.
However, is the gap between the number STAR One show and the number two, which presently is anywhere at a 1 STAR Plus on the channel, a cause of concern? Nair replied, “This is something you have to look in context. From our scheme of things – it is about being on schedule. Like whether a train is on time on certain station, despite problems like breakdown, slowdown, flooded tracks or anything else. If you look at the present shares on the whole, we are on schedule. You mustn’t forget that we are competing with 8-12 years-old established brands like Sony, Zee, SaharaSTAR One, Sab TV and so on.”
“We are at a striking difference of Zee and very close to Sony. TGILC in itself beats Sony and Zee,” said Nair. Adding further on the new viewers, he said, “The new viewers are new people coming in the fold in equal parts – a kid five years back is a teen today – a teenager, is a young working person and the young working people have grown to be more affluent. Also these are people who have dropped out of STAR Plus and might not be anywhere else. In all, we may not be getting large numbers right now, but we are getting the right audience.”
Changes in ad sales function and advertisers
One big change on the channel is in the ad sales area. STAR One was clearly brought in as a channel that would house only premium brands. More importantly, it was seen as a platform that would boost product integration. When the channel came in, it was priced on the high side for a new channel, with rates comparing to that of Sony TV.
At present, the channel has all brands ranging from Safi to MDH Masalas. Explaining the scene on this, Nair said, “STAR One was an opportunity that could have had been a lighthouse for concepts like product integration in television advertising. But as much as every one wants these innovations, I don’t know if the community has evolved enough to see the absolute value in this. Product integration isn’t for free. But you can’t just wait and do nothing if a premium brand doesn’t appreciate a premium environment. In that sense, I think it’s an opportunity lost for both advertisers and us. So we broad based in this too.”
The channel had dropped its ad rates soon after the launch but hiked it up in July 2005 again and is in the process of a complete review now. Another point Nair brought in here was “From an ad sales point of view, we are trying to work out a combo between STAR Plus, STAR One, STAR Gold and STAR Utsav.”
For STAR One, the performance of ‘Nach Baliye’, which is the last big launch in its first year, is of significance. On the back of the show, the channel is bringing in various new properties. Even if two more shows click the way TGILC has, it is indeed high-flying time for this one-year old.