‘Star India’s market share in regional GEC & movie segment has grown by 5%’

Terming the past year as a fantastic one, Kevin Vaz, Head of Entertainment, Star & Disney India, tells us why Star India remains focused on regional markets to forge deeper connections with audiences

e4m by Simran Sabherwal
Published: Sep 15, 2021 8:42 AM  | 9 min read
Kevin Vaz

Describing regional markets as the ‘strong new bulwark of growth in the M&E industry’ Kevin Vaz, Head of Entertainment, Star & Disney India states that the strength of the Star India’s regional brands has allowed them to forge deep emotional connections with audiences across demographics and emerge as preferred destinations in regional entertainment. In the markets where Star is a challenger brand, he points out that Star Suvarna has posted 50% growth over FY19 levels in Karnataka and Star Vijay is poised to acquire a far stronger presence in Tamil Nadu. Here are edited excerpts from the interview with Vaz.

As per the latest BARC data, Star India’s regional GEC channels enjoy a leadership position in Andhra Pradesh/Telangana,  Kerala, Maharashtra and Bengal. What is driving your success in these markets?

Our regional portfolio offers wholesome quality entertainment for the entire family – whether it is fiction or non-fiction shows, movies, or impact properties in regional languages. The unmatched strength of our regional brands, combined with their unique style of storytelling, allows us to forge deep emotional connections with audiences across demographics. Creating powerful and iconic characters that resonate with the viewers and offering content that is rooted with fundamental insights that Indian families associate with, have helped the channels emerge as the preferred destinations in regional entertainment.

Over the past few years, there has been both an increase in the overall appetite for content and specifically, viewers' interest in local language content. To cater to this demand, we are continuously growing our original content hours, building robust local teams and making significant investments in high-octane shows like Bigg Boss and Super Singer amongst others. 

You are a challenger brand in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. What are your plans for these markets?

Karnataka and Tamil Nadu continue to remain an important part of our regional offering.  We continue to invest in creating original content that viewers enjoy. In Tamil Nadu, Star Vijay is a beloved brand and is performing exceedingly well in the key weekday prime daypart. Star Vijay consistently has four of the top five fiction shows in Tamil Nadu, which is an incredible feat given the GEC landscape in the market. Star Vijay is poised to grow even stronger with the imminent launch of Bigg Boss in October. 

In Karnataka, Star Suvarna has posted 50% growth over FY19 levels. Given our innovative approach and differentiated content strategy, we are confident of charting a successful course in this market.

Besides the GECs across markets, how do you assess the performance of the movie and music channels in the regional portfolio?

We have a very strong non-GEC presence in regional markets, with nearly every one of our movie channels being a market leader, right from Maa Movies to Jalsha Movies to Asianet Movies. 

With our music channels, we target the new generation of music lovers and we are extremely thrilled with the response received. Star Maa Music is the preferred channel in its category of Telugu Music. Star Vijay Music, launched during the pandemic, has rapidly become a channel of choice among youth in Tamil Nadu; it is poised to grow even further with Bigg Boss coming in this October.

Can you share the growth in viewership that you have witnessed over the last year across markets?  Where has the growth come from?

This year has been fantastic for us and we have witnessed incredible growth over the past year across our regional offerings. In terms of market share, we have grown to around 33% within the regional general entertainment and movies segment from close to 28% which is an incredible feat in a single year. Much of this growth comes from our incredible trajectory in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Star Vijay witnessed a big inflection point in Aug-Sep 2020 and is amongst the preferred channels in Tamil Nadu in weekday primetime. The top four shows in the market are on Star Vijay which was unthinkable even a year ago. This growth was driven not only by relatable dramas such as Pandian Stores, Bhagyalakshmi and Barathi Kannamma, but also by cult non-fiction shows such as Cooku With Comali and Start Music. One of the biggest growth drivers on Star Vijay over the past year has been that multiple homegrown non-fiction shows have started to perform nearly on par with Bigg Boss Tamil, which positions us very well in Tamil Nadu for the future.

Star Pravah has redefined Marathi entertainment and is dominating the Marathi GEC chart in Maharashtra and Goa. If you look at all the shows in Maharashtra today, the top 10 of them are in the Marathi language and nine of the top 10 belong to Star Pravah.  Star Maa in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana and Asianet in Kerala continue to be the undisputed leaders. 

Can you share some insights which redefined your content strategy? Cross-pollination of content has been a strategy in Star India. How has this worked in the regional context?

Differentiated, insight-driven content is core to our strategy. For instance, Sreemoyee on Star Jalsha was conceptualised based on an insight we gathered around homemakers feeling left behind and taken for granted by their families. It was considered a risky show with the lead protagonist being middle-aged, but it has resonated very well with families. Karuthamuthu on Asianet and its Telugu avatar Kartika Deepam are crafted around core beliefs about women and their agency – and it is one of our most iconic shows across markets. Even with Pandian Stores, the story was born out of the lived experience of people in joint families, and it’s been a breakout show in multiple markets. Cross-pollination has been very successful mainly because our shows are rooted in fundamental insights. And when we explore cross-pollination for a particular show, we ensure the nuances of a particular community and region are weaved in well to make it relevant to our viewers. Even our home-grown non-fiction formats have seen success across markets, from Start Music and Mr & Mrs Chinnathirai to Super Singer.

Our continued focus is to create truly family-inclusive content across our regional portfolio. On scripted content, our success has been on the back of iconic female characters, aspirational male characters, and offering a variety of genres such as romance, family drama and mythology. On non-fiction, our innovative formats and elevated look and feel ensure we continue to appeal to a very broad set of audiences including younger viewers and upscale homes as well. 

In an uber-competitive space, how do ensure leadership and continued brand loyalty?

Star India is one of the oldest players in the regional space. Whether it’s the network’s investment in Vijay in 2001 or the launch of Jalsha and Pravah in 2008 or the acquisition of Asianet and Maa, we have been steadfast in our regional ambitions for over 15 years. 

We are obsessed with our consumers, both in terms of fundamental insight mining and continuous show-level feedback. We ensure that we genuinely incorporate all feedback to improve our shows and provide the audience with the best content and viewing experience. Humility is a virtue that we imbibe to tread on the path of continuous learning and improvement. Our robust marketing teams have a consumer-first approach and leverage creativity and innovation in all aspects of communication. Our acutely consumer-centric vision has made us a household name and helps us garner the loyalty of our fans across the length and breadth of the country. 

What has been the advertisers’ response to the original content and increased viewership? How has this been reflected in overall revenues, including subscription?

The success of our content strategy is reflected in our channels being the preferred destinations for entertainment and advertisers, both nationally and locally are delighted about it. We forge a great connection with our audiences across demographics, which is an important aspect for any advertiser. Star India network’s regional channels are available in nine out of 10 pay TV homes in the country.  

Do you see more headroom for growth in ad rates in the regional context? How is the split between the national and retail players? 

Regional entertainment has captured the imaginations of both viewers and advertisers alike. We are witnessing an increase in interest from both national and local advertisers. There is indeed headroom for growth, given the increase in market share of regional content in markets such as Maharashtra. 

In 2020, Star had revamped its content strategy for the Maharashtra market, how has this worked out and what were the learnings implemented? 

The revamp of our content strategy for Maharashtra helped Star Pravah not only emerge as the preferred Marathi GEC in Maharashtra but also continue its strong streak over the past year. Maharashtra is a unique market from a content perspective and our changed strategy was to embrace the entirety of the state. We have always had shows focused on certain parts of Maharashtra, but last year we looked at an entire canvas of shows that would work for every region within the state. We deep-dived into understanding the nuances of a particular community, the dialect, and culture as each plays a significant role in forging deep connections between the viewers and the characters and stories. 

Are you looking to expand the regional portfolio beyond these six markets? 

Regional markets have firmly established their importance as the strong new bulwark of growth in the M&E industry and the creative content economy of our country. We have seen vigorous growth across six regional language markets we are present in and are aware there is a huge potential for wonderful stories well told in local languages that audiences prefer. Currently, we are focused on our existing offering and are studying the opportunities in line with our current priorities.

What can we expect in the next six months from Star in the regional space? What are the challenges that you are preparing for?

We are focused on our current regional language markets to consistently better our popular content offerings. We see great opportunities in the coming months and are excited about the line-up of great content across our channels. We launched Bigg Boss Telugu Season 5 last week, and are now looking forward to more tent poles across all our channels, as this is the start of the festive season. We are positive, and see the next six months as an opportunity to grow even further.  

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