Sony builds prog strategy for '04, block by block

MUMBAI: The contours of Sony Entertainment Television's programming strategy for 2004 appear to be slowly taking shape.

SET India executive VP, content and response Tarun Katial - all SET for 2004 The key will be the weekends first and then building around the 9 to 10 pm block which is where Sony is at least competitive vis--vis leader Star Plus in the Hindi entertainment stakes.

But first of all, it is the weekends that newly inducted executive VP, content and response, Tarun Katial wants to shore up. This is an area that has gained even more importance for Sony, strategically speaking, since Star Plus has just launched its own weekend supernatural thriller Koie Jane Na, in the Sunday, 9 pm slot.

In Koie Jane Na, Star is traversing terrain already explored by Sony, which was the first to launch a weekend supernatural thriller - Kya Haadsaa Kya Haqeeqat from the Balaji Telefilms stable. Koie Jane Na will be coming up against Balaji Telefilms' youth-centric soap KKoi Dil Mein Hai.

It is to add strength to the weekend prime time band that it has brought in Balaji Telefilms' Kkehna Hai Kuch Mujhko, which will launch on 12 March. KHKM and KHKH , airing Fridays through to Sunday, will be expected to fortify the 8 pm to 9 pm weekend slot against any assault that Star may make on it.

Only recently, the channel revamped its other popular Friday shows - Devi (by extending it from a half hour show into a one-hour socio mytho), Crime Patrol (by changing the anchor) and CID (by launching a fresh series of stories).

One franchise that Sony is letting go off is the thriller one, which was working fairly well with the Aahat series. Aahat was later morphed into Achanak 37 Saal Baad but failed to get in the required ratings.

Katial asserts, "No show can last forever. Like Heena for instance, had reached the last page of the book. Plus it was important to get the family audience in as well, over the weekends. That is the prime reason why we have two soaps from Balaji now in the Friday-Sunday group."

The channel is putting up a brave front to the slow start of the Balaji show Kkoi Dil Mein Hain, which has not registered creditable TRPs so far, since its inaugural episode three months ago. Says Katial, "It will be early days to write it off. I think it has done well. In the next few days, something sensational is going to happen in the triangle romance, which would set the show rocking."

Moving on to Kkusum, where the walk-out of the protagonist Nausheen Ali Sardar has created some controversy. Katial refuses to agree that the replacement of the protagonist would affect the show adversely. He even disagrees that the length of Nausheen's role had been drastically chopped since the past two or three months. "One can't go on playing with the same character in every scene. Nausheen was always the main character and the others just revolved around her. Her decision to leave the serial is entirely of personal nature and I am confident that her replacement would do an equally good job. There have been several instances in the past where the show has moved on successfully with replacements," he says.

But what will be more closely watched as far as programming strategies go is how Sony proposes to take on Star Plus in prime time week days, which is where the leadership stakes are ultimately decided. While Katial refuses to discuss what new weekday shows Sony has up its sleeve, one daily serial which the channel is expected to pull out within the next month is Optimystix's Yeh Meri Life Hai .

The show has a youth-centric plotline and is expected to be slotted in the 10 -10:30 pm band where it will be coming up against Star Plus' heavyweight from the Balaji stable Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki. The lead-in for YMLH will be provided by Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahin , which has established itself in the 9:30 pm to 10 pm slot.

As for the heavily marketed Jassi , some major innovations are coming up in the serial. For the first time, the show, an adaptation of the Spanish Yo Soy Betty La Fea would take a major deviation. Apparently, a drop in the TRPs over the past few weeks have forced the channel and the producers Deeya and Tony Singh to reconsider their original stand of producing a near replica of the original.

Says Katial, "We are going to have a few changes. For one, Jassi will storm out of Gulmohur Fashion House owing to an ugly altercation with Armaan (Apoorva Agnihotri) and Mallika (Rakshanda Khan)." learns that Cinevistaas has also been roped in to create a weekly one hour show, Saakshi, in the next couple of months. Could Sony be planning to fill the 8 to 9 pm weekdays band with one-hour shows the way Star has done with the 9 to 10 pm band? One will have to wait and watch for that.

Serials apart, Sony has already pocketed some blockbuster movies like Koi Mil Gaya and Baghban, and the 2003 surprise hit Tere Naam. And if, as expected, Sony also pouches Kal Ho Naa Ho and Munnabhia MBBS, then all the Top 5 hits of 2003 will be on the Number 2 Hindi network.

Till the Champions Cricket Trophy takes centrestage in September, then, the network seems to have firmed up its programming strategy.

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