Star’s youth-turn

From Tulsi to Sandhya to Yo Yo Honey Singh, the country’s oldest general entertainment channel (GEC), Star Plus, is definitely keeping pace with the changing tastes of viewers.

A gamble for News Corp executive chairman Rupert Murdoch, when launched in 1992, has been churning out content, which has created enough and more loyalists. Be it the 2000 revamp, which saw the launch of ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ and the ‘K’ series led by ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi’ and many others or the current array of hits like ‘Diya Aur Baati Hum’ and ‘Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai’.

So what is the secret ingredient for its success? “It’s the stories we tell,” says Star Plus general manager Gaurav Banerjee, who took charge in 2010 when the channel went through a second revamp.

Star, over the years, has changed the way GECs told stories and made the characters a household name. Families sat together to watch the story of Tulsi and the Virani parivar. However, as the stories stretched, people’s interest diminished, giving birth to newer channels to proliferate and reasons to the strong team to move on.

It is at this time that the channel again repositioned itself with 'Rishta Wahi, Soch Nayi' in 2010, which saw the birth of new characters and different and interesting stories.  In the last decade or so, viewers have evolved; as more women stepped out of their homes to work, the thinking changed as well. Keeping pace with this, the channel brought in the new “progressive bahus” of television.

The most popular of them being Sandhya of ‘Diya Aur Baati Hum’, which went on air in 2011 and tells a story of a girl with aspirations married to an illiterate halwai and conservative in-laws. Banerjee believes that the channel has always come up with some of the biggest ideas. “It was ‘Kyunki…’ 15 years ago, today its ‘Diya aur Bati’.”

Some of other shows launched with the new philosophy of the channel were ‘Pratigya’, ‘Sasural Genda Phool’, which died a natural death, while some like ‘Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai’ continue the successful run.

“The times are changing, but even today the role of a family, especially the relationship between a saas and a bahu is an integral part of our society,” says Banerjee, who feels it would be wrong to call the channel, a saas-bahu channel. “In our stories, relationships are important but the characters are stronger.”

In 2012, with ‘Satyamev Jayate’, the channel once again shook the industry by revamping the Sunday morning slot which no one dared to experiment with, after the success of ‘Mahabharat’ and ‘Ramayan’ on Doordarshan. The weekly show created and hosted by Aamir Khan highlighted social issues prevalent in India and discussed possible solutions.

Star India CEO Uday Shankar has gone on record to say that he had called up James Murdoch and told him about the risk associated with SMJ because of the investment and he told him ‘we would live.’ The channel had invested Rs 4 crore per episode in season one, the amount unheard of then for a reality show. The series is now in its third season.

As we move towards the end of 2014, the channel still continues to enjoy its number one position in the TAM TV ratings with a huge margin. In the week 42 of TAM TV ratings, it witnessed a huge hike and clocked 600,523 GVTs while Colors recorded 436,422GVTs.

A year back, with shows like ‘Veera’, ‘Pyaar Ka Dard Hai Meetha Meetha Pyaara Pyaara’ and more recently, with ‘Yeh Hai Mohabbatein’ and ‘Ek Hassena Thi’, the channel has moved its programming strategy towards youngsters. The same was also donned by the actors and actresses during the 2014 Star Parivar Awards, who wore ‘modern’ outfits while thanking the channel going ‘younger’.   

And now with the four new shows – ‘India’s Raw Star’, ‘Airlines’, 'Nisha Aur Uske Cousins' and ‘Everest’ – the channel is once again changing its programming strategy.

Is Star Plus going younger?

 “Why shouldn’t we?” comes the prompt response from Banerjee who feels that with consumers’ tastes evolving, the channel which entertains the youngest democracy in the world, needs to change as well.

The continuous effort to do something new and different has once again made the channel take a step forward to cater to the younger audiences. The now Balaji group CEO Sameer Nair, who is credited for the 2000 revamp of the channel, believes that if Star is moving towards catering the youth, then it is good. “One needs to move with time and Star has always been aiming to give the viewers what they want,” he adds.

The channel, which has a strong in-house research team and associates with various agencies, is continuously conducting researches across the country to know what the viewers want. The recent studies tell that there is a certain section of youngsters who want to watch different stories, something that won’t put off the elders and can be enjoyed by the whole family.

The research emphasised on today’s women who want more financial freedom and want a career; though marriage is important but that is not a priority anymore. It also highlighted that GECs weren’t reflecting that desire in their content.

The channel informs that as per TAM data, 50 per cent of the total television viewership comes from women and only 10 per cent of this comes from the age group of 15 to 24. “We are already higher in this category as 16-17 per cent of our audience comes from within that age group, but we think there are still a number of women who don’t watch enough of Star Plus and we want to cater to them,” says Star India SVP Nikhil Madhok.

The 10 second ad slot for the weekend properties ‘India’s Raw Star’ is touted at Rs 3 lakh while ‘Airlines’ is anything between Rs 80,000 and 1 lakh. The daily soap ‘Nisha Aur Uske Cousins’ is Rs 50,000 plus.

 “The viewers are giving us direction and as market leaders we have to lead that change,” says Banerjee.

However, media planners say that though Star isn’t averse to experimenting and state the example of ‘Satyamev Jayate,’ they point out that GECs work on loyalty and Star Plus enjoys a huge following, but somewhere the shift is to tap in the youth segment so that the revenue doesn’t get impacted.

Planners state that sometimes for a brand, ratings don’t matter but the TG does. Hence, they opt to be associated with channels or shows which are talking to that TG. They give the example of Tata Safari and ‘24’ on Colors.

Banerjee dispels the argument and firmly says that the channel doesn’t need to change to woo advertisers. “We are not under any pressure, but we wish to change as the country is young.”

But do planners believe that the change will impact Star’s brand equity? Maxus MD Kartik says, “I don’t think the move to go younger will impact the channel’s image or brand value because the core of the shows is still entertainment. They are not moving away from the brand’s identity.”

On the other hand, brand consultant Harish Bijoor thinks that while the brand will alienate a set of its older viewers, the big segment to harvest is the young. “Indian demographics today do not necessarily go hand in hand with channel viewer profiles today. The audience is young. If one is to grow, one needs to harvest young viewership. Star Plus should go young in slots. A 50: 50 skew would work well for it.”

The process of bringing out the best content isn’t simple. After numerous meetings with the best in the business as Banerjee says, pilots are shown to viewers to get their feedback as it is very important, so much so, that sometimes numerous set of viewers watch a particular pilot to tell the right story.

 “Fiction is our greatest strength and we make sure that we get all the elements right apart from the story. The settings, the actors all need to fit the story and it takes time before we put out a show for consumption,” says Banerjee. For instance, the channel worked on the finer details and concept for years on ‘SMJ’ and ‘Mahabharat’.

Weekend programming head Ashish Golwalkar says that people have grown up watching their serials, but with time one needs to look at the current lot of youngsters. “Today a lot of youngsters think of Star Plus as a ‘mummy’ channel and if we didn’t change now, five years down the line nobody will be watching us,” opines Golwalkar.

Banerjee along with his team, which consists mostly of 30 years-olds, put in a lot of effort to bring a variety on the channel’s platter. Research is an important part, but the team also depends on its understanding of the consumer as well as learning gained from its previous hits and misses.

He doesn’t shy away from admitting the shortcomings of the channel. For instance, he agrees to the fact that with no innovation, the channel’s dance reality show, ‘Nach Baliye’, will not be able to grab the eyeballs in the future. Same goes for ‘MasterChef’ where the channel experimented with ‘Masterchef Junior’ and was able to make some headway. Banerjee proudly boasts about the channel’s biggest bet with mythological show, ‘Mahabharat’ which was aired in the 8:30 pm slot giving tough competition to Sab’s ‘Tarak Mehta ka Oolta Chashma’.

For Madhok, while content on the channel has seen a change, the marketing too will soon have a changed approach. “Our main communication is our promo which gives us enough leeway to widen our approach and position. Also, since the TG (women between the age group of 22-25) which we are focusing on are very active online, hence, that will be our major catchment area,” says Madhok.

It is very clear that Star Plus  doesn’t want to overlap with its youth channel, Channel V. “We want to cater to young women, not girls, therefore, the content will talk about marriage and relationships but the theme will resonate what is priority for these young women,” adds Madhok. In the past couple of years, the channel has already increased its digital spends from 5 per cent to 20 per cent.

On social media, the channel lags behind Colors, which has more likes on Facebook and followers on Twitter. The channel has 6,233,082 likes on Facebook while Colors has 7,652,409 likes, Zee has 3,620,047 likes. On Twitter it has 335K followers while Colors has 395K and Zee has 153K followers.

At the recently concluded MIPCOM 2014, 21st Century Fox co-chief operating officer James Murdoch said, “If we continue to innovate and lead in India, it will prove to be a game changer for us.” And moving ahead with this is Star India which is now gearing to lure the women in business suits.

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