Star News realigns its editorial focus

MUMBAI: Star News issued pink slips to at least 15 people in the last one week. Bureaux in Dehradun and Chattisgrah have closed shop. Delhi now to function only as a bureau and not as a mirror production centre. Is this some drastic cost-cutting exercise? Apparently not.      

Elaborating on the thinking behind the move, Star News' CEO Uday Shanker explains, "When I took over we were doing a review of all our current activities and resources, and we thought it was the time to take stock. There was actually no need to do any production out of Delhi as the entire senior news management thrust is here in Mumbai which was not available in Delhi resulting in a lot of lax. Also, it was leading to a lot of duplication." So now Delhi will only act as a bureau, undoubtedly a very big one, but with no production centre.

Putting the layoffs in perspective, Shanker points out that of the 400 people working in Star News, just 15 have been shown the door. This he says was just an effort to streamline the entire production resources under their new philosophy of being a single production centre channel. Also, people were given the option to relocate to Mumbai and some could not do so because of some commitments and hence have left, he avers.

Interestingly, Star News, in the last three months has hired over 80 people. Also, their production hardware has been retained with them in Delhi. "We have plans of launching other channels so these resources will be utilised there," says Shanker.

Apart from ensuring that this news channel maintains a lean team, the channel is doing some serious realignment of their editorial priorities and focus. Says Shanker, "We are looking at finding our own audience. I don't want to steal from the existing pie. Today, news is of interest to people who are 35+ and male. Half of India's population is young and they are not into news. The 15-35 year-old audience watches TV, reads the newspapers, logs onto to the Internet but don't tune into a news channel. Why? Because they don't find it interesting enough? Similarly, with housewives. They consume a lot of TV, but not news channels. So, this a problem that all content heads need to address, as all of us are trying to fight for a very tiny share which is nine per cent of the news universe."

It is with this thought in mind apparently, that the programming format is undergoing some major changes. Prime time has advanced to 5 pm as the channel believes that eastern and northern India during winter feel the need for news. So, Desh Videsh, which originally was slotted at 7:00 pm, will now air from 5-7 pm . Aaj ki baat, which is a politics based show, has been shifted to earlier in the evening at 7 pm. A new show in the offing will be one that focusses on the metros that is scheduled to be slotted at 8:30. A new non-metro show is also in the pipeline, which will cater to news in the smaller cities of India.

Also, coming up will be a show that will follow a half hour format that discusses the happenings of the day. The name is yet to be finalised. Star News plans to launch a new show every week over the next one month to ensure continuous momentum and interest in the channel.

Interestingly, with Fox and Sky being a part of the family, the channel seems pretty optimistic about the coming US presidential election.

On the cards also is a Bangla News channel that seems to offer natural synergy considering that the majority stakeholder in Star News ABP "being the monarch of everything that happens in the Bangle space" (Shankar's words). As far as other channel launches go, March-April 2005 expect a dedicated crime news channel to be unveiled for the first time in the Indian news space. An English general news channel will follow mid-2005, says Shankar.

Star News has also beefed up its distribution as the channel saw itself dip in recent times with competition getting into deals with cable operators by paying them handsomely to carry them on highly visible bands. "So, we've also got into active marketing and relationship building exercises across the country for increasing our distribution reach," says Shanker.

All in all, some heavy activity coming up from the Star News pad. Whether these endeavours will translate into some major lifting of the channel from its present position at number four in the ratings stakes is what remains to be seen.

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