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STAR Plus stays, Zee zooms up; yet another twist in the Indian Hindi GEC story

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STAR Plus stays, Zee zooms up; yet another twist in the Indian Hindi GEC story

The changing dynamics of the Hindi general entertainment channels (GEC) has never failed to surprise the observers of the genre. Despite the drop in Hindi GEC’s share year-on-year, it continues to be the king. What makes this story interesting is the leader STAR Plus’ ability to hold on to a lion’s share and Zee TV being the singular case that has shown growth in an otherwise dropping genre – not to mention beating even the leader in slots like 6-8 pm, and of late, 9-10 pm.

TAM Media Research shows that in the last six months, for the target C&S 4+ in the Hindi speaking markets, the hold of Hindi GEC on the television scene has slipped, even if marginally. What was otherwise a set game with STAR Plus right on top, followed by Sony, followed by Zee TV, Sahara One and SAB, changed towards the end of 2005, when STAR One was giving some of its best numbers, and for a considerable period occupied the third slot on Hindi GECs.

Come 2006 and this changed further. Looking at primetime numbers, newcomer STAR One dipped to move between the fourth and at times, fifth positions, contending for the slot with Sahara One. The leader induced experiments, a mix in the kind of programming it had to offer and brought back focus on day parts like the afternoon slots again to hold on to its viewers.

The list of problems that STAR Plus has faced isn’t small – ‘KBC 2’ falling prey to an unplanned wrap, new shows not throwing the 7 and 8 TRPs that STAR Plus is otherwise known for, and existing shows recording dips. Despite this, however, the leader still corners an enviable share averaging at 60 per cent in primetime in 2006, so far. The last few weeks has seen it slide, but STAR Plus is still consuming over 56 per cent market share.

The slide story is the same for almost all channels, more so in primetime, but not for Zee TV. The ending of 2005 had already begun the increase in Zee’s numbers, but the channel was still on the fourth slot then, gradually rising to number three by the beginning of 2006. Following this, on the all day parameter, Zee TV has been the number two player for most of 2006 so far. In primetime, however, the task was a little more challenging.

In January 2006, Zee was closing in the gap with Sony in primetime and in February 2006, it took over. On an all-day level, the channel was a clear number two player, but in the primetime, it still lagged behind. Nonetheless, the last seven weeks (until week 22) have established Zee TV as the clear number two player on all counts with a significant gap from Sony, placed at number three.

So, what is up with Zee TV? A rather enviable list of experiments, successes, market share and ad-rates. With the channel commanding better numbers than even the leader in slots like 6-8 pm and of late, 9-10 pm, the case in Zee’s favour is getting even stronger.

Channel’s Comment

Speaking on the recent dip that STAR Plus has seen, Ajay Vidyasagar, EVP, Marketing, STAR India, said, “We have been in these kinds of phases before. In the present situation, what I think is really happening is that couple of our shows are on a wind down and have seen a dip in numbers. However, what one mustn’t forget is that we have just launched a new product, ‘Viraasat’, which is one the biggest launches of the year and this should consolidate our position in the 9.00 pm to 10.00 pm block again.”

Replying to why the block (housing ‘Miilee’ and ‘Kkavyanjali’) recorded a dip at all, he said, “It depends on the story line. Yes, you can have high drama and get a big number, but the larger programming strategy may not lead to that. What, I believe, ‘Miilee’ has shown is a measured ending. We don’t want hyper-drama happening on every day part.”

Also, none of the new shows – ‘Pyaar ke Do Naam…’, ‘Prithviraaj Chauhan’ and to some extent even ‘Jodee Kamaal Ki’ – have thrown the high that STAR Plus otherwise manages. “Jodee… has been doing well and has given us some very good numbers. Pyaar… is a leader in its slot and Prithviraaj… is doing very well too. More importantly, in the case of Prithviraaj…, the real action picks in the forthcoming weeks. All these shows are clearly operating on the base where they are picking week-on-week,” Vidyasagar explained.

For Zee TV, the patience that the channel has shown is reflecting in its performance. In an earlier interview, Punit Goenka, Business Head, Zee TV, while commenting on the channel’s performance had said, “We have worked towards creating the right environment where people have been put in departments that are their core strengths. We have seen our share of failures, too, but the idea is to move on and continue strengthening shows that are working and bringing in new properties in blocks that are otherwise low on viewership.”

The strategy is seen in Zee’s sustained efforts in ensuring original shows in all its day parts. The point that is really working in Zee’s favour is that these numbers aren’t just bursts but coming from dailies and linear story lines. The channel didn’t let experiments like ‘Sarrkaar’ and ‘Kam Ya Zyaada’ effect it for long and was quick to launch replacements like ‘Saath Phere’ and Kasamh Se’, which are currently recording some of the best numbers that the channel has ever seen.

New shows like ‘Jab Love Hua’ are also steadily adding numbers. The channel also has a string of new shows like the recently launched ‘Johny Ala Re’ and the forthcoming ‘Shabaash India’. The consistent and gradual increase even allowed the channel to up its ad rates, twice in 2006.

Explaining more on this, Joy Chakraborty, EVP, Network Sales, Zee Telefilms, said, “Zee TV is the only channel that hasn’t been affected by cricket or is suffering from any kind of viewership fatigue. The numbers that are coming on the channel are gradual, which indicates some kind of loyalty and that it what the market has been quick in observing.”

He believed that media agencies had got on the Zee TV boat in time. “Agencies have locked long term deals with us and this year we have had the highest number of signed-up contracts even before entering the new fiscal. We have of course honoured these, but all new deals have been made on higher rates and people haven’t shied in giving these rates as this is rate correction for channel. This is the time when monies are in the market and the kind of money that would affect only the leader,” Chakraborty added.

“Agencies or clients don’t buy spike, they buy consistency and Zee has been consistent and from what is seen, we should be able to maintain and improve this,” he said, adding, “The biggest plus of these numbers is that it has been the fact that these are dailies. Zee TV has always had a high share of FMCGs in its advertisers but now we are bale to get other categories like consumer durables, telecom and automobiles, among others.”

The road is a good one for Zee TV right now. On the larger picture, those who observe numbers know that the leader isn’t throwing the kind of numbers that it was able to, even two years back. Has the increase in competition led to a phase where such highs like 12 and 13 for new properties aren’t practical expectations any more? Vidyasagar doesn’t agree. “I wouldn’t say 10 plus is a fair objective for any new show on STAR,” he maintained.

Reiterating STAR Plus’ dominance in the Hindi GEC, Vidyasagar said, “At the end of the day, STAR Plus continues to hold 70-80 per cent and that is what really matters to marketers. We are the best platform for carpet bombing and one wants volumes.”

Sony Entertainment TV’s new programming strategy has also almost completely unveiled with the launch of ‘Vaidehi’ and others in the 10.00 pm slated to be announced soon. STAR One is back in Mumbai and the channel has also prepared to regain the foothold it had lost in one of its most important markets. Action is brewing non-stop in Hindi GEC. Maybe it is because of the stakes involved in the domain, but the segment is seeing one of the most heated battles it ever did.


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