"If cannibalisation has to happen it is better we eat the flesh ourselves" : Raj Nayak, Senior VP, Advertising & Sales, Star Movies, Star World, Star News & Channel V speaks with Raj Nayak, Senior VP, Advertising & Sales, Star Movies, Star World, Star News & Channel V

Before taking on Star News, Star World, Channel V and Star Movies as Senior V P Advertising & Sales, Raj Nayak was heading sales for Star Sports for nearly three years. And in those three years revenue of the channel grew by a full 300%.

Today Star News is the only channel in the history of television the world over to have broken-even within two years of its launch. A chat with Raj Nayak - on how he made Star News a success story. He also speaks about the growth and use of Star World as a niche channel to generate advertising revenue.


"Over the last one year we changed the total perception of Star News channel. From a base of four million households, the channel is today reaching 15 million households in the country. Revenue has shot up by 350 percent in the last 10 months. (Raj took over the sales of the channel exactly 10 months ago). Advertisers have grown from a mere 10 advertisers on the channel to about 50."


"We have restructured the Star News channel completely. Earlier there used to be two to three advertisers who would sponsor the whole channel. We moved away from this channel sponsorship concept and introduced strictly programme specific sponsorship. Almost every programme on the channel is sponsored today.

"I sat with Dr Prannoy Roy and his team and repackaged the channel. From back-to-back half-an-hour English and half-an-hour Hindi news we went on to create ‘properties‘ on the channel. There was the News at Nine on Star Plus. And we were simulcasting the same news on the Star News channel which meant that both the audience and the advertising rupee was getting fragmented. So, we put in Hindi news on Star News at 9 pm, so that the audience watching news in Hindi and English could be segregated. Nine o‘ clock is a news watching habit in the country because Doordarshan used to show Samachar before the satellite channels invaded the Indian skies. Because people were familiar with the word samachar in the Hindi belt, we retained the name but added the prefix Star to it and called it Star Samachar. The Star prefix brought in the element of credibility.

"Star Samachar was sold out even before it went on air. Similarly, we replicated Star News Sunday and created a programme called Star News Ravivar. Good Morning India was dropped from the Star News channel and we created Breakfast News in lieu of Good Morning India which was being simulcast on Star Plus. Keeping in mind that the channel had a lot of business minded decision-making people tuning into it, Business News was elementary to the viewers. So we created a daily half an hour slot - Star Business News.

"News-Hour which is probably the biggest and the most comprehensive bulletin, ending the day with the top stories and studio guests was positioned and marketed as the flagship product of the channel. The success of the Big Fight during the elections meant that there was a slot for a programme of this nature to be scheduled on a regular basis. Because it was a debate on a topical subject matter, you could take up different issues in each episode. So the Big Fight was introduced as a regular programme on Star News channel.

At Star News we also realized that because of its increasing popularity, we also had a social responsibility besides bringing news to our viewers. So we brought in programmes like Assignment & India matters. The channel takes the viewer into rural India and exposes and investigates stories that are probably not of commercial value but are of human interest nevertheless.

"Whilst news channels normally attract only corporate ads or financial advertising or products that are mainly targeted at men like suiting, tyres and cars, we were able to break the mindset on the conventional way of buying time on a news channel and our success stories have been products like Coke and Pepsi, Surf, Ponds and Lakme who have never used a news channel in the history of advertising so far but are today buying airtime on the Star News channel. We have had some international advertisers like Toyota, Chevron, Meryll Lynch, these are the people who bought time on the channel from out of India."

"Star World: The niche market"

With the success of Star World Raj has brought about a paradigm shift in niche channel marketing. Since Raj took over Star World 10 months ago, the channel revenue has grown by 1,200 per cent. Almost all the important and high profile brands in the market are buying time on a channel that was once perceived as too niche. Remarkable, no doubt, but it wasn‘t a sheer stroke of luck or good timing that did this. It was hard sell on Nayak‘s part that has made such phenomenal revenue growth possible.

"When I took over this channel I discovered that even though the feedback on the channel was really good, not too many people knew about it. So I took a few days off and visited colleges in Bombay and Delhi and asked people if they knew about the channel. Everyone said "It is a great channel but I don‘t get it in my house.

"Here was the case of a great product that was not doing well because of its non availability. So you first focused on putting pressure on the distribution team and ensuring that the channel was widely distributed even if it meant subsidising the decoder boxes heavily.

"But by definition of being a 100 per cent English channel your audience is very very limited. The audience measurement system too is skewed towards masses it is not a true representative of niche channel viewership. Because of low viewership figures advertisers were hesitant to get on to the channel. But because we believed in the quality of our product we priced the channel at a premium.

The logic was simple, that advertisers would use the channel more for positioning their products rather than for reach. The analogy we gave was, You can go either go from Juhu to Nariman Point in an 800 cc car - chances are in Bombay traffic, you may reach even faster, or you could travel in a Mercedes. It all depends on which car you would want to be seen in? This is something I learnt in a J Walter Thompson book which said ‘medium is message.‘

"When it came to pricing, we expanded on this analogy, Jab Mercedes Benz kharidene jate ho gaadi ka average nahin puchtey (You never ask for the average mileage the car gives you when you are buying a Mercedes). This strategy worked very well for us where today the channel revenue has grown by 1,200 per cent in the past 10 months. There are over 25 sponsors with Hindustan Lever, one of the most media savvy companies in the country, alone opting for more than six sponsorships.

Moving forward with Star Plus now going 100% Hindi, and keeping in mind that the English viewing audience who were tuned into Star Plus do not shift elsewhere, we will be moving the nine o‘ clock news (in English) from Star Plus to Star World and we will be looking at other such upmarket Indian English shows.

The logic being if there is cannibalisation that has to happen it is better we eat the flesh ourselves.

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