Utsav bid to court celebrations

In theory, the idea was good. In reality, the dividend yielded leaves much to be desired.

Unlike the serials that it re-runs, free to air Star Utsav, which was created as a flanking strategy by Star (at a time when CAS was being talked about), should have thrown up a new success story of capitalizing on a market that doesn‘t figure in TAM ratings, but still is big enough to be tapped.

Still, one year down the line, the question remains: has the programming philosophy of offering a chance to consumers, who are new to the cable and satellite world, to see successful serials of yesteryears paid off?

The jury may still be out on that aspect of Star Utsav --- which airs serials that have had a successful airing on Star Plus --- but Star India has decided to focus on this channel anew with vigour. An early indication of this trend was the appointment of Harsh Rohatgi as GM of the channel to oversee content, ad sales, distribution and marketing in February 2005.

Simultaneously, Utsav also got itself a dedicated ad sales team headed by Shanti Rao.

Realising that some pieces in the jigsaw puzzle were missing, Star India commissioned an internal consumer study to understand the psyche of middle and lower middle class India in the Hindi speaking market (HSM).

The research did throw up some interesting facts. One of them being that Utsav may not figure in the TAM ratings, but, as a channel,is being watched in smaller towns.

Pointing out that there is a need to "create an assimilation process" for Utsav as it does not figure in the TAM list, Star India senior vice president marketing and communications Ajay Vidyasagar said, "The research shows Utsav is doing well in towns in the below 100,000 population strata."

Rohatgi added: "There is a huge volume of audiences watching cable in smaller towns, which have not yet been penetrated by pay television. Since the below 100,000 (population) towns are not metered markets, Utsav‘s performance is not reflected in the TAM data."


A dozen management graduates from MICA and the University of Melbourne were sent out to Hindi heartland to try determining the market share of Star Utsav in non-TAM areas and also understand consumer needs.

The research documented consumer-speak essentially in Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, which are pre-dominantly the HSMs. A total of 35 towns (population less than 50000) were covered with 321 consumers interviewed.

The channel, basing its observations on the study, claims Star Utsav is among the 12 to 15 channels that are available in the below-100,000 population FTA markets. Shows that are popular with the audiences include Kyunki…, Kahiin to Hoga, Son Pari and Shaka Laka Boom Boom.

"On the back of this research exercise, we have seen a fairly dramatic increase in the number of brands (250 to 300) on the channel. Advertisers are sensitized to the fact that the current measurement system panel cannot give a real picture of the Hindi heartland," explained Vidyasagar, adding Utsav would lead the endeavour of taking satellite TV into newer homes.


The whole premise of Utsav‘s launch was to focus on smaller, price sensitive cities and towns where Star Plus was not widely available because of its status of a pay channel. The channel went on air by seeding 5,000 boxes. The aim: to tap into an ad market that was being serviced by cable channels and, up to an extent, trade related magazines.

A stroke of luck and opportunity came in 2004 when the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) allowed foreign broadcasters to garner ads from local non-exporting companies. In essence, instead of payment for airtime being made in dollars or some foreign currency, now ads could be booked against payment in Indian rupee.

A whole new world of opportunity opened up not only for Utsav, but other channels also. Keeping this fact in mind too, Utsav was positioned as a vehicle that would offer extremely competitive rates, giving smaller players a "quality channel" to advertise on.

Though the original game plan for Utsav is yet to gain momentum, May 2005 has witnessed a sudden surge of advertising on the channel with its inventory getting full, according to Vidyasagar.

Is this renewed interest in Utsav from new advertisers? And, more importantly, are they from the Hindi heartland?

"There are two kinds of advertisers who are bringing in new monies into the channel. About 20 to 30 per cent advertisers are completely new to the Hindi general entertainment space, while the rest have come on with the belief that the channel is delivering," Vidyasagar offered as an explanation.


Theory versus reality. This precisely sums it up.

The theory being that Utsav could tap into a new market. The reality being that lack of focus made the channel meander.

The earlier approach of bundling Star Plus and Star Utsav for air time selling, according to media professionals, was not paying off. With Utsav now tearing away from Star Plus, a more focused approach has come into play.

Going purely by statistics, it‘s a mixed bag for Utsav. Sample the TAM-validated penetration levels (reach figures) in the C&S 4 + TG, HSM between 10 April, 2005 and 7 May, 2005: Utsav 11,025, Sab TV 14,620.75 and Sahara One 26,054.

Utsav‘s market share for the same period in the C&S 4+ HSM in the smaller towns (population: approximately 1 million) is 22 per cent, while that of Sab TV is 27 per cent and Sahara One 51 per cent.

That‘s why, Vidyasagar pointed out, the channel has begun its focused small-scale marketing activities, which include a series of contests aimed at bringing in larger visibility and interaction with the channel.

Agreed Lodestar media director Arpita Menon, "In the below 100,000 population towns and smaller villages, where spending power is not so high, Utsav has picked up in all the non-Star Plus homes, thereby paving the way for Plus."

Thus, if the example of Bajaj consumer care products is taken where sales are skewed towards smaller towns, efficiencies of Utsav as an advertising vehicle make sense as rates are cheaper.

"My supposition is that a lot of FMCG clients who are going down the population strata will put their monies on Utsav," Menon added.

Ditto for Britannia‘s media coordinator V Srinivasan, who said the company‘s feedback is that Utsav is "quite popular in the below 100,000 population" cities and towns.

While admitting that Britannia takes airspace on Sab and Sahara One too, Srinivasan explained, "Since Star Plus does not have a 100 per cent penetration in C&S homes, in the free to air markets Utsav is like a Plus. Coupled with the fact that costs of advertising are quite low, it makes a lot of sense for us to buy Utsav."


According to the Marketing White book 2005, published by Business World, 53 per cent of all FMCGs and 59 per cent of all consumer durables are sold in small towns of India. More than half of the Rs 1,17,000 million turnover of Levers comes from rural India.

Also, in 2002-03, Life Insurance Corporation of India (LIC) sold 50 per cent of its policies in small towns of India and of the two million mobile phone subscribers of the state-controlled Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), 50 per cent are from smaller cities and towns of the country as per the Marketing White book.

It‘s always difficult to predict the future, but available data indicates that a focused approach and strategy should do the trick because there is an existing market beyond the metros and urban India.

According to Rohatgi, Utsav is looking at initiating a semi-urban and rural brand tie-ups, leading to on-air and off-air promotions. For instance, the ‘Lifebuoy Vote Do, Show Low‘ – a promotion where consumers got to choose which show gets launched on Star Utsav.

The second area of focus is Utsav‘s availability on the cable networks, aka distribution activities. Star Utsav is already available in all the 2,855 towns with 50,000 population, in all the 444 towns with population ranging between 50,000-100,000 as well as larger villages in rural India.

The plan is to enter new homes; homes that view a lot of Doordarshan and other FTA channels," Vidyasagar said. As part of the future game plan, the channel is considering a slew of marketing initiatives.

These include commissioning a third-party research to analyze the market share of Utsav vis-?-vis other channels in non TAM markets so that the findings could be used to convince advertisers come on board; setting up of a rural panel with TAM to monitor the non-metered markets and forming a special sales channel to seduce more small advertisers.

Also in the pipeline are promotions of blockbuster movies and contests every month to increase interest and eyeballs. June will see the channel‘s anniversary promotion where gifts would be given away through a reverse auction.

On the advertising side, the focus will be to work with brands that are looking at markets beyond the traditional urban areas and big cities.

"The challenge for the channel will be to get more advertisers as the growth in TV will come from the North, West and East India markets," Vidyasagar said.

An apt summation of the scope of Utsav came from Lodestar‘s Menon who said, "Utsav has practically zero cost, hence any money that the channel makes is incremental. If CAS had come in, Utsav would have managed to tap into audiences who might have had an initial inertia towards addressability."

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