Sameer Nair - Setting up the kayo punch

?What?s up dude?? ?Much more than just KBC 2 mate.? An imagined exchange maybe, but not too far off from what Sameer Nair, among the country?s most celebrated TV honchos, would likely tell you about what?s in the works programming wise at India?s lead broadcast network.

Even as the media noise around KBC?s second coming rises to cacophonic levels as the 5 August launch D-Day draws closer, there is a whole lot else the fortyish bespectacled Star India COO has brewing in terms of programming initiatives.

In a freewheeling tete-e-tete with, Nair offers a peek into the strategies Star is putting in place which, he believes, will at the very least wrong-foot the competition, if not take them out completely.

Read on for some Sameer Nair speak:

KBC 2 in Tamil

There was a thought that we should dub it into Tamil, and we got the rights for that. We are going to simulcast it in a para dub. The reason why we think it will work is firstly because Mr Bachchan is arguably the most recognizable face in India and secondly because the questions come in English when they come on air. So, in any case we got a lot of interest from South India, so as much as people could not understand Hindi, they could still understand the questions. We are producing an extremely expensive and popular show, so it makes sense to broaden its appeal. One could not do the same with fiction; as it would have the issues of milieu. In fact, the last time round (as well) we wanted to do it, but we didn?t have the rights. This time round when we found out about the dubbing rights, we saw there were two ways we could deal with it - either remake it or dub it. Remaking it becomes a whole new enterprise; we need a host and have to go through that whole process. The dubbed version is a more simplistic approach.

In any case, people in South India have watched KBC; now getting a version of it in their own language - I think it should work. Additionally, we also get a lot entries in South India.

Didn?t Sun try it as well with a show called ?Koteshwaran? with little success?

But they had no intentions of giving money or anything. And because it didn?t work on Sun does not mean anything. This is the original show. We are hoping to get local advertisers from there, because it will be focussed on Tamil Nadu, maybe one or two of the big national sponsors will also be a part of it in the South. This is a programming idea. With regards to Vijay, we are looking at airing it from Monday - Thursday for Vijay and that will continue. KBC 2 on Vijay will expand its mass appeal. It would be a waste if not done. Even if you look at India?s Child Genius, we had a very strong following in the South (Bangalore, Kerala and Tamil Nadu).

Merchandising efforts for KBC 2

No, we are not getting into that - India as a retail market has not specificated; you can do stuff but retail is tough. Mumbai does not have a toy store. Even in a mall, it is very, very small. It will take some time for it to pick up in India. We make merchandise but just to give away.

Agenda for Balaji

Balaji is our biggest supplier. We have a wonderful relationship with them and they make our big shows. Any simple military logic will tell you that you must always secure your supply line. So, it made sense for us to have a stronger and a more bonded relationship with them. Both to grow the company and secure our supply line.

Growth plan for Balaji

To make more shows and movies. They should do more programming to increase their top-line growth. They are doing two new shows for Star One - coming up in October and December. She?s (as in Ekta Kapoor) doing a one hour show and a daily.

Southern initiatives

Currently we have Vijay TV and that is pretty much it. We are focused on quickly consolidating the Hindi entertainment business which is Star Plus, Star Gold, Star One and Star Utsav. These are the immediate priority for the next six to nine months. South is not a priority for the next six months at least. South is already a cluttered market. At this point in time, we don?t have a view on it.

(That?s not what Nair told mens? mag Man?s World in its June cover issue though. To quote him: "We have spent the last three to four years focusing on Hindi entertainment which we have got sorted out. Now we have plans for regional channels both in the north and south.")

Growth for Star

NRS has grown by 43 per cent. Absolute volume is going up. So that?s where the growth for Star will come from. Growth will come from the expanding cable market. This fiscal the growth will come from the growth in the number of cable homes.

Star Plus has already reached its peak?

No, there is a glass ceiling - once we shatter it, it will go higher. We are doing weekends. This time it is a concerted strategy to go up to the weekends. Complete new frontiers from thereon.

From the Hindi market, from the growth in the number of cable homes; from the rationalization and the transparency that we have introduced with our advertising sales and the programming that we have got in our weekends - by Star One, Star Gold, Star Utsav.

Star One: The road ahead

Star One will become Number 2 to Star Plus. November is the plan. It is growing week on week. TGILC (The Great Indian Laughter Challenge) has really caught on; Remix is doing very well; the game shows are performing. It takes time, it?s a new channel. Sony, Zee and Star Plus for that matter have been around for 10 years. And now there are some super hot shows coming up in the next couple of months. In the next two to three months, we?ll do exciting programming and build on it and expand it.

The challenges it is facing is that being a new brand it has made remarkable progress, but our expectations are higher. If we were not Star TV, we would actually be having a party celebrating Star One?s success.

We have in any case got a lot of audiences who have sampled the channel, we just need to collate that audience and make it a critical mass. In that sense the Tam Elite panel coming is a good thing for all the channels. In fact, it will help the English category a lot. At the end of the day India is (still largely) a single TV home and the larger measurement usually tends to get subsumed. The niche channels usually get buried between the mass of Hindi entertainment. This (Elite panel) will bring in a degree of qualitative differentiation into how audiences are measured.

The challenge for Star One is really to overtake Sony and Zee. We are expanding its appeal. We wanted to start off with a differentiation, so that you create that distinction.

It was a really difficult thing to do. Especially when it stems from the same family and tackles the same Hindi entertainment genre. Now having created that distinction, we are broadening that distinction?s appeal. When we launched, the aim was not to clone Plus. So, we started off with a complete distinct identity and now we are broadening its appeal. So that we have two versions of Hindi entertainment. We are very well coordinated on this. The plan is to become number two and monetize it.

Star One, is all connected to value for money; network sales.

"Indian English" shows on Star World moving to Star One?

Koffee with Karan we are doing repeats on Star One, Now Simi?s second season is coming up. I am not entirely sure where to slot it - Star World or Star One.

Apprentice is slated to launch in November-December on Star One, although the hunt for (India?s) Mr Trump is still on.

Star World ramp up plans

Big plans I think. Great shows coming up. Star World is very aggressive on that front.


Star Gold

The plan for Gold is to overtake Zee Cinema and Max by December. In the last two - three years we have maintained a very non-aggressive position with regards to Hindi movie acquisitions. With Star Gold we used to earlier buy movies with a set pack of producers who we had a good relationship with. Starting this year, we are expanding our positioning on Star Gold and so we are going to be aggressively buying movies.

Also, movies have gone off Star Plus. Movies will now premier on Star Gold. On weekends too we don?t play movies on Plus anymore. We are looking at doing more programming stunts, festivals, and better movies.

The new rate card

At the end of the day we have an absolute top of the line product to sell. And I don?t think one needs to go through so much negotiating over what its inherent value is. This is the best way. This is what we think we are worth.

It?s one thing about improving your rate, it?s another about improving your yield; the third is about increasing your volume. The new system will enable us to do all three.


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