'We killed Anurag Basu in 'Kasauti...' and that killed 'Ayushmaan'' : Shailja Kejriwal - Star India creative director

The woman behind the leading entertainment channel in India talks about the ways of maintaining the lead and keeping viewers hooked. If there is a list drawn up of the hottest young television professionals in India, her name will surely figure in it. Five years with Star India, Shailja Kejriwal continues to ooze optimistism and passion.

Coming from a conservative Marwari family, born and brought up in the City of Joy, Kolkata, movies have been her biggest passion. Whether it was handling creative --screenplays, scripting, editing, ideating for storyline in her ealier days -- or whether it is at Star India in capacity of a creative director, she?s been key in steering the creative for the entertainment monster Star Plus. Kejriwal offers some interesting insights in a free wheeling conversation with Sonali Krishna.


What have been the highlights for Star Plus this year?

The biggest highlight this year, is the fact that we have sustained our channel share, considering this year in particular has seen the emergence of a lot of new channels. The second being, the treatment given to our current shows. We have very slowly, perceptively and consciously understood our viewer needs. And without getting into knee-jerk reactions, we have woven gradual changes within the plot, which is why you have seen our shows spurt and grow. Despite cricket and the burst of channels, we have maintained a 18 - 20 per cent channel share as compared to a Sony or a Zee.

Hindi general entertainment as a category has been dipping? What would you attribute this to?

One of the main reasons would be the growth of regional channels. They have seen a growth of about 14 per cent this year. So, Hindi general entertainment channels have been eaten away a little bit by the regional boom, a little bit by cricket and also with the emergence of so many niche channels. In no other year, has there been a spurt of so many new channels.

How are you looking at strengthening the Plus? current command considering the overall GRPs relatively have been on a downslide?

See, we had the lion?s share and we continue to do so. So, with newer channels coming up if viewership is going to get fragmented, its obvious that it is going to go from Star Plus. Our endeavour has been to increase the whole entertainment pie, which is why we launched Star One. Also, adding value to existing products and promoting it. Along with that, we have launched new shows as well as looked at widening our audience base. So, if our core audience has been women, we have looked at programming that would interest kids and men as well. Shows like K Street Pali Hill, Khul Ja Sim Sim and Kaal Chakra have all been an effort to get in the male audience.

Let?s take a show like Hello Dollie for instance. Hello Dollie?s base viewership is 15 - 25. So, 15 - 25 TG is watching Hello Dollie, they will then get into Dekho magar Pyaar Se followed by Kasauti Zindagi Kay (KZK). From KZK, the viewership becomes 25+ which gets into programming after 9. KJSS is again an effort which is not restricted to any particular TG, but is meant for family viewing. So, with the whole family is watching KJSS, we then move into shows skewed towards men which is Kaal Chakra where the viewership becomes 35 +.

Now with Star One, how are you segregating shows and looking at different TGs?

Between Star One and Star Plus, the operation is very clear. Star Plus is family and fun and Star One is metro youth. So, Star One is clearly targeted at Mumbai, Delhi and other metros, youth 15 - 35. From our scheme of things there is no overlap. Star One?s prime time starts at 8 pm. Now, we launch a show at 7:30 pm (Hello Dollie) that delves into every girls fantasy that breaks boundaries and cuts across youth of metro, non-metro and caters to everyone, where as Remix on Star One is about youth, angst and rebels. The rebelliousness is niche, which is very urban metro. So, although Hello Dollie is slightly modern, it is in keeping with reality and hence expanding the scope a little bit.

Star One is bang on target. The biggest shares for Star One is coming from Mumbai 15-25. And Plus has always been about family and volumes.

The current brands that drive Plus are Kyunki.., Kahaani and Kasauti..? What are the next set of brands being developed so as for them to become channel drivers?

No, I don?t agree with that. Our 9 -10 pm band are equally channel drivers. Do you know getting a 9 rating over a one-hour is equivalent to getting an 18 rating in a half hour daily. To sustain viewers over one hour, the rating of 9 is over an hour and to top it all they being weeklies and most in their third year. I think that?s a phenomenal achievement. Because, there has been no other one hour format across any other channel that has worked. Also, you must realise the 9 pm is the most challenged band. Every channel targets the 9 pm band, and despite that, our 9 pms have retained this kind of viewership. If you look at prime-prime it is 9-11 pm. And if you look at competition, whether it is a Kkusum or a Jassi? at 9 pm and 9:30 pm against our one hours, it?s a tough battle. For whatever (Sony?s) Jassi? did at its height, it never crossed any of our 9 pms ever. Also, you can?t forget my afternoon band.

Agreed, but what set of brands are you developing next? Whats going to be the next key driver?

We are all in search of that one big driver. The way a daily can sustain itself, in terms of its potential to stick nothing else can. Even if you do a Kaun Banega Crorepati, it has a life span. It will rock the world for some time, but after a point it will have to go off-air and come back as the next season. It can?t go on for four years. I think the three K?s (Kyunki.., Kahaani.., Kasautii..) have become a part of the family for our viewers and the other shows can only be friends who come visiting and leave.

"2005 will be a year of consolidation and maintaining the distance between the number one and two"

What is the road map for Plus for the coming year (2005)?

2005 will be a year of consolidation and maintaining the distance between the number one and two and the ongoing strife to make it wider.

Indian Idol has received a lot of sampling, and has also received good ratings? What are you going to react to that?

Really? Do you think Indian Idol can justify its cost per rating point. When we launched KBC, we were nowhere on the horizon. But, we put all our monies into KBC, and KBC changed the face of television. Indian Idol was supposed to do that for Sony. They put as much effort and money on Indian Idol as we put behind KBC, but KBC is history and Indian Idol has been ok. It came and will go. It has not rocked anything. It has got as much ratings on that slot as a Jassi... was getting in any case. Before Indian Idol?s launch Jassi.. was averaging a 4.5 - 5 TVR, so Indian Idol in fact has taken ratings away from Jassi..

After spending so much money, if Sony is happy with a 5 TVR, I?m happy for them. So, they have actually landed up weakening Jassi.. which is good for us. Because of this complete chaos with the slotting of Jassi? and they using their loyal viewership which Jassi.. had created as well as taking a lead in from Kkusum they have not even created an additional slot for themselves.

Sony?s 10:30 pm band starting in December will be looking at crime based thrillers? Do you see that as a potential threat?

We see any new launch as a potential threat. We observe it for five weeks and then we bury it. We did the same with Ayushmaan and Hum 2 Hain Na. Yeh Meri Life Hain (YMLH) is in fact surviving on Kahaani?s.. break ratings. Our Kahaani... viewers surf during the breaks and hence YMLH manages a two TVR.

How difficult is it today to build a identity for a brand today?

It is tougher and it requires a lot of sustenance and maintenance. You cannot just rely on the platform.

Give me one example of a show on Plus launched this year becoming a brand.

Dekho Magar Pyaar Se (DMPS). Today DMPS gets a 5.7 TVR in an 8 pm slot.

But if we compare a Jassi.. and a DMPS, Jassi? became a talking point but DMPS has not managed to achieve that.

I?ll tell you why. Anything that a contender to the throne will do will become a talking point. Also, because Jassi.. was the first differentiated programming. I think Jassi.. made more of an impact than Idol, whether one talks about brand building or space in the viewer?s mind. The amount of time and money spent on Jassi.. and what it delivered was fabulous. Also, it was also the first programme of its kind and came at a time when a new wave came in hence it became a talking point.

But coming back to the point, brand building has become a lot tougher. Exposure for all channels have become very similar. Nobody is going to go out there and find something that we don?t know about and vice versa. The production community now is a much closer knit. The international television community and the access to international formats is the same for everybody. That is the fun. What is important now, is how you do it. It?s not what format you acquire.

What is going to be the next paradigm shift in programming?

That?s a constant search. As a programming team we?re always looking for that one big idea. But as a leader in the general entertainment space we feel that within our shows we should provide socially relevant things. Not didactic, but we believe as a broadcaster, apart from entertainment and due to our huge reach, we should start introducing themes that impact people. Today, if a Tulsi says that marital rape is a crime, even if there is no law against it, you can be sure that 35 million viewers think it is a crime. This is our way of giving back to society. So whether it is HIV related issues and ORS in Sanjivini or girl child education in Kyunki? and Kahaani.. it makes a impact.

What is your take on talent shows and format shows? Are they here to stay or just a passing phase?

It?s very important to have format shows on a GEC (general entertainment channel) as it provides for a great mix. It?s great family viewing. But, an overdose of anything can be fatal. Drama and story telling is a regular feature of a GEC. But an over kill of format shows will reduce its life span.

On the talent front, you cannot have 10 channels hosting talent shows at the same time. Also, because we are a part of a bouquet, we believe that a music channel should do music and Star Plus should provide family entertainment.

How does planning and research work in such a dynamic market place?

It is the most important factor. Without that I would be completely at sea. Your gut has to be substantiated by science. That minimises mistakes. It does not ensure success, but it does minimise errors. You have to plan and be on the ball all the time. For instance, when YMLH was launched, we made the story of Kahaani.. reach a crescendo a week earlier. So, it was very difficult for our loyal viewers to tear themselves away and sample a new programme. We made daily promos instead of weekly ones. We created hook points. We did the same for Ayushmaan?s launch. We killed Anurag Basu in Kasauti.. and that killed Ayushmaan completely.

How difficult has it become to manage a channel?s programming these days?

It?s more competitive but definitely more fun. It gets very boring when you don?t have any competition. Otherwise, you can become complacent. And, there was some amount of complacency among the reigning channels when we launched KBC, which is why it managed to turn the tables around. We are striving very hard not to become complacent. We compete within ourselves. Is one group?s Kasauti.. doing better than another group?s Kahaani..? That?s how we compete.

What day parts are you going to be focusing on? Are you looking at extending prime-time in reverse?

We are looking at adding shares in every slot. The agenda really is to take each show a little bit higher. On a quarterly basis, from our scheme of things every show need to go up a little bit.

You have received a lot of awards recently? What do you attribute your success to?

Well, if you work for a channel like Star Plus, you probably get ?Best creative director by default.

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