4-yr-old Alpha Marathi to emphasise on news, current affairs

MUMBAI: Alpha Marathi, the pioneer in Marathi satellite television, has embarked on its fifth year of existence with a renewed emphasis on news and current affairs.

The channel, which celebrated its fourth anniversary on 15 August, is well on its way to capitalize on the advantages of local uplinking from Noida.

Alpha aims to launch news bulletins and current affairs shows within the next two months, with its network of correspondents roped in from all corners of the state to make programming more interactive.

While DD-Sahyadri continues to maintain its dominance among the local players, Alpha Marathi business head Nitin Vaidya claims that several of their shows that have achieved cult status among Maharastrians have helped the channel become number one in the state.

TAM figures indicate that in the past few weeks, Alpha has been stealing the show with an average of 30 of the top 50 shows.

Properties like Abhal Maaya (one of the first lot of 14 original shows launched on the channel in late 1999) and Avantika (an adaptation of a Marathi novel), Vadalwaat and Jagawegli have touched a chord with native audiences which had been hungering for authentic Marathi fare.

Following the success of Hello Sakhi (an interactive phone-in show with experts roped in ) mooted by DD Mumbai station director Mukesh Sharma over a year ago, Alpha too has jumped into the fray with Namaskar Alpha. The channel's advantage -- its toll free number as well as the correspondents from major cities chipping during the show.

It helps to have the Zee News infrastructure and staff network handy. Vaidya claimed, the second edition of the Namaskar Alpha on 2 May, featuring veteran actor Dilip Prabhavalkar, had one lakh viewers trying to call in with their questions.

Now, Vaidya intends to push the envelope in current affairs shows, knowing the Maharashtrian appetite for news. From May, the 7 am news bulletin has already gone live, helped along by a four MBPS line to Noida. The 10 am bulletin and the hourly news updates are to follow suit shortly.

Zee News? OB vans are to be employed extensively in the state to strengthen news coverage. Like the recent festival of Ashadhi Ekadashi which was covered live from Pandharpur, Alpha intends to go live to prominent pandals in Mumbai for Ganesh festival, enabling 'remote darshan' for the devout.

The channel will also see celebrities appearing on current affairs shows, answering questions by prominent editors and journalists from six centres across the state, making for what Vaidya terms 'virtual press conferences'.

On ground initiatives like the Alpha Mahakarandak , an intercollegiate one-act drama competition, the continuing Alpha Gaurav Puraskar for felicitating excellence in theatre and films, and the Ganeshotsav Pandal competitions have all earned brownie points for the channel, both in terms of reach and awareness but also advertising support.

A slew of local and retail advertising, contributing to nearly 50 per cent of the total bulk by rough estimates, is now apparent on the channel after the changed RBI guidelines. Vaidya says the channel creates ads for advertisers like coaching classes, educational institutions and assorted book publishers and jewelers, apart from accepting advertisements from established but local entities like DSK builders in Pune, Waman Hari Pethe jewelers in Mumbai and Rajmal Lakhichand jewelers in Pune.

Events like the Mahakarandak aimed at collegians and the Gaurav Puraskar offer a distinct target audience for the advertiser to focus on, says Vaidya. Last year?s Alpha Gaurav Puraskar telecast secured the channel share of 85 per cent among Marathi channels and a 22 per cent share among all channels in Maharashtra.

But Vaidya, who has been with the channel since its inception, has also risked unusual programming like Nakshatryanche Dene, a poetry reading evening show that targets the classes and Pimpal Paan, a series of adapted novels.

Advertising support has been slow on these new initiatives, but the channel?s aim is now to cut the clutter on the more popular shows and even out the inventory.

To add to its 250 film strong library, Alpha Marathi now intends to commence airing a two-act professional play on weekends, guaranteed to appeal to the Marathi taste for theatre. Says Vaidya, "For the first time since DD Mumbai gave way to national programming, Alpha has broken the Maharashtrians' habit of not being able to watch Marathi shows at prime time, and did it successfully.

With Prabhat TV and Tara Marathi having bowed out of the race, Alpha now has only ETV Marathi (which is prized for its hourly news and some quality soaps) and the formidable Sahyadri to contend with.

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