Television

"'Our focus, this year, was on improving Star News' content than ratings" :

Ananda Bazar Patrika (ABP) TV and the Star Group recently unveiled plans of launching India's first ever Bengali news channel in the new year, under their joint venture Media Content and Communications Services India Pvt. Ltd. In the wake of this, Star News brand director Keertan Adyanthaya spoke to indiantelevision.com's Hetal Adesara, about the plans for the new channel, the infrastructure that will be put up, the content for the channel and more.

Adyanthaya also dwelled on Star News current status and the channel's plans in the coming year to stay ahead of the competition.

Excerpts:

The general perception in the market is that after Star News slipped to number four in the ratings, the last nine months have all been about course correction. Is that a fair assessment?

What we have tried to focus on the last one year is not on the ratings so much. The numbers game is almost like cricket. Every over is different; sometimes the fielder does well, sometimes the bowler or the batsman. It's a very close game and the ranks keep getting shifted.

The numbers game is such that if you're constantly looking at them, you are, in a certain way, always looking back. We want to look forward and see how we can do better. We have focused on improving content. We do not want to get bogged down by what other people are doing. So you'll see a lot of programming directions that we have taken on our own - Poll Khol and Red Alert, for instance. Following that we launched Sansani, which is a daily crime bulletin. Another tangent is the legal show that we launched, keeping in mind the increasing number of legal cases that are stuck in our courts because of the way our judicial system works.

Saas Bahu aur Saazish is another such initiative. Film stars are huge and there are so many channels and shows focussing entirely on them. What we are forgetting in all this is that television stars are as big if not bigger. Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhie Bahu Thi is like a block buster Shahrukh Khan movie, every day of the year. But nobody focuses on them. We decided to do that - find out what makes them tick, what drives them, etc. That was the whole purpose of this show.

On the back of good content, we are confident that our ratings will grow.

How is the brand positioned today among viewers as well as among the media fraternity?

The people we are really bothered about is our viewers. We believe they have a very good perception of our brand and like what we're doing. We get a lot of responses from our viewers. A recent example is when we broke the news about Shankracharya's confession; we got many mails saying how could we do something like this? But our stance was very clear: that nobody is above law. Even when we got those mails and calls saying how we could do this, we knew we were on the right track. We stood by our word.

What constitutes Star News' core viewer demographic?

Our core audience is 25+ upmarket males.

What activities have been undertaken in the recent past to increase and improve viewer connect?

We have done a lot of activities. The regular advertising is more and more becoming passé, where you just advertise in a newspaper or radio and invite viewers to watch you. At the end of the day, you have to give a reason to the person to watch. We believe in getting people to actually sample the channel. We take a number of steps to ensure this. In Mumbai and Delhi airports only Star News is played. So that's one way of connecting with the viewers. We are going to do this in railway stations as well.

We've also put up tickers on bus shelters. People get to sample the kind of headlines that we have; they may want to go home and know more about those headlines. We are also partnering for a lot of events. For example: The Economic Times Awards for Corporate Excellence and the Business World Design Awards. It is really about getting people to sample the channel. We believe if that happens, we can get them hooked on to it.

Media Content & Communications Services India (MCCS) had applied for a license in September for the new Bengali news channel. Has the approval been given and the date of launch decided?

We have not yet received permission from the government. We expect the permission in January. We can then launch the channel in the same month.

Has a name been decided for the channel?

No, we are running a contest on Star News to decide the name of the channel. We are asking people to suggest names. We are also doing some amount of press ads in Kolkata to get feedback.

What will be channel logo?

Once the name is decided, we will work on the logo.

Will it have the logos of both Star and the ABP Group?

We are running the contest and we are waiting for more names to come in. After that we will take an informed decision. Once we figure out the name, then we'll see how it fits best - whether it fits in with Star News, Star One or the Star Vijay logo format. Or we may do something completely different - like Channel [V] or National Geographic, which does not have the Star brand associated in the logo but is still a Star channel.

What kind of initial investment is necessary for a news channel?

I can't reveal the figures but it will be substantial. We have to put up studios with all equipment and cameras. You also need a reporter network and producers. Then there is investment towards OB vans, which will go across the state because it will be a national news channel in Bengali. Besides, we will need a strong local support to establish the channel.

How are you going to utilise your existing infrastructure?

A lot of studio equipment that we already had as backup between Mumbai and Delhi will be utilised for the new channel. Also there is a whole lot more that needs to be done. For example, we will need to build a new uplinking station of our own. Studio and lighting will have to be completely built. The control room has been moved but the rest of it all is going to be new. New editing stations and machines have to be put in place and editors have to be hired.

How many bureaus will you have across the country and how many new people will you hire?

Many of our people are in Kolkata and they're researching on where news flows from mostly. We're also discussing with ABP because they have a lot of strengths in that market and a keen understanding of what kind of news comes from where. They are playing a big role in guiding us.

The Bengali channel will get a lot of support from our existing Star News bureaus. In main places, we may have a few Bengali correspondents but we haven't decided on the exact numbers.

We are looking at hiring about 70 -75 people in Kolkata and overall maybe another 10 to 12. A lot of camera crew will be common, so what we really need are correspondents.

Will you be taking the ABP Group's reporters?

Not necessarily, because not all print journalists can make the transformation into broadcast journalism. You need to be far more snappy and to the point on TV because your bytes cannot be very long. So if there are people who work well and ABP is willing to share them with us, then we may look at it. But mostly it will be new people.



Can you tell me about the channel's content?

Initially, there won't be too many post-produced shows. It will be mostly live shows, news bulletins, news analysis, a couple of debates and chat show formats.

For the time being, we are not looking at magazine format shows because first we need to get comfortable with the language and the news that we're doing. As soon as we are comfortable with that, in three-six months we will expand to include more formats and variety in our programming.

It was reported that you may also be looking at launching the Bengali channel in the North American and European markets…

Well our partners abroad are very keen on distributing the Bengali channel. We check the waters in the rest of India first, and then venture out. It will take time but we will be definitely interested in looking at it.

What kind of advertisers are you expecting on the channel?

We're looking at a lot of corporate clients as well as a heavy retail clientele. The retail advertisers will be primarily from Kolkata, whether it be housing companies, travel agencies etc. A lot of local advertising will play an important role. People who want to reach the people of Kolkata can advertise with us.

What kind of brand push activity are you planning for the channel ahead of launch? And is it going to be restricted to West Bengal as far as marketing and distribution is concerned?

We are planning a lot of brand activities but it's too early to talk about it. These activities will be focused in Eastern India. The channel will be free-to-air. We will initially be pushing distribution mostly in Eastern India. After placing the channel there and making sure we have the connectivity, we will look at areas like Delhi and Mumbai where there are pockets of Bengali population. Then we will speak to the cable operators in those areas and really start pushing the channel there.

This has been a great year for news channels as there were three (four if you include the Union budget) big events: Indo-Pak cricket series at the beginning of the year, the Lok Sabha elections and the Maharashtra state elections. That is not the case in 2005. So what we have in a manner of speaking are more channels fighting to make a mark with less news. How will Star News approach this challenge?

There is never a dearth of news so to speak. There was the US election, Shankracharya episode, and then there is the stock exchange that keeps going through its ups and downs. So there are lots of unexpected things that crop up.

But as far as news is concerned, it will always be there as something or the other will capture the attention of people. Crime is ending up being a very important factor in India.

We have also diversified from just covering the politic. We want to bring news that people are interested in and things that matter to them. We also believe entertainment content will interest a lot of people. Hence, we have the Saas Bahu aur Saazish show. Debates involving current affairs are also going to be our forte. That's what we believe will take us forward in the coming year.

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