"At Life OK, we want to break the rules"- Ajit Thakur

MUMBAI: Around three years ago when Star India decided to reinvent one of its older channels Star One as Life OK, little did it know that it would be one of the most successful turnaround stories scripted in recent television history. Yes CEO Uday Shankar had set ambitious targets because Sony Entertainment Television's flanking channel SAB was beginning to get traction. He wanted another GEC which could absorb ad revenues which could not be accomodated on the clear market leader Star Plus.

And yes Life OK has more than lived up those expectations. Not only did it climb up to the number three position in week 22 of TAM's TV ratings in 2014, it also made naysayers sit up and take notice and even give their nod of appreciation.

The channel’s general manager Ajit Thakur shares with how Life Ok made it to the top three while revealing what’s in store for viewers in the coming months.

“I don’t feel any different than any other day. I strongly feel we are a work in progress. This has happened today, tomorrow, we might go back to being number four. Who knows some day; we might even be number two. The important thing is that it keeps us growing,” Thakur begins.

Life OK believes in walking the road not taken, he says. “We always think differently. Conventional television wisdom dictates that no one should plan high points during IPL or big cricket. Everyone has their high points and launches planned for the second week of June. But we just went ahead with Tumhari Pakhi, Savdhaan India, Naadan Parinde and the Life OK Now Awards… we put all of these high points in the same week as the IPL finale. We fundamentally believe that people continue to watch entertainment whatever happens outside of it. Second, we know everyone else will not plan for it so we did,” he elaborates.

Thakur says he is keeping a gimlet eye on growth, ranking third or fourth or whatever is not the gameplan.  “We won’t do anything to retain the number three position; we will do everything to keep growing. We believe that we cannot  underestimate any competition and our biggest competition is Star Plus, they are way ahead. In general, we have a long way to go,” he says.

Three things have been planned for the next six months, he informs. Firstly, Life OK will undergo a brand refresh in the next two to three months in terms of looks, visuals and packaging.

“It will be more reflecting of our thought content. We haven’t done any refresh since our launch because we wanted to create a channel base before we went ahead and did the next level on the brand. For people who watch the channel, it will just be an extension of what the channel is,” he elaborates.

Part of the refresh plan is launching six new shows. “We are working with agencies in India and outside. We should till December have 50 per cent new shows on the channel,” says Thakur, adding it could be dailies or even once or twice a week shows. “Whatever the story demands, we will look at all those formats. But yes, sometimes, we do have to shut the story if not done well.”

Secondly, Life OK will look for more new stories. As Thakur puts it, “We have set a benchmark for new genres. We want to find now more new stories and that as time goes by, we will become the next level of Life OK.”

Thirdly, the channel will look for new producers and agencies as collaborators. “We have always taken pride in working with new people, both inside Life OK and the people we work with outside, our producers and agencies. We are throwing the house open for new people to come and work with us. We want to become, in the next one year, THE  talent-power house. Get more exciting, young and old people who have done TV and who have never done it to come and work for Life OK from inside or from outside,” explains Thakur.

He takes great pride in the success that Life Ok is acheiving.  “In the past 10 years, with the exception of Colors, there hasn’t been a turnaround story like Life OK. And this was possible because we wanted to break the rules," he says quite confidently.  We wanted to do it with a bunch of completely new people and we wanted to do it with the patience and perseverance that is required to build in the long run.”

Thakur is very happy that many a professional who started his or her career at Star One is still working for Life OK. “Lot of top teams at Life OK comprise people who have never done TV before. And we have combined them with people who have done it before,” he adds.

Life OK has also gone on to create many new producers. On Savdhaan alone, the channel has worked with five to seven first-time producers. Bawre is the TV debut of Neelesh Mishra - lyricist and former journalist - who has never ever written a TV show before.

Thakur reveals that the channel plans to tap into a big dancing property. “We will do a big non-fiction property in dancing, but that won’t be a regular one. I have no aversion in doing saas-bahu, singing or dancing shows. It is just that there is so much of it, that unless we find a really new idea, why do it at all?” he argues.

While both of Life OK’s prime properties Savdhaan India and Mahadev will be replaced during the refresh, the channel does not plan to launch more than one new show per month. “In the next six months however, we will have six new shows,” stresses Thakur.

Comparisons with Star One are inevitable. Compared to Star One’s 3 per cent share, Life OK has achieved a 15 per cent share which is an eyepopping 500 per cent growth. “We consider Life OK to be genuinely a new launch. From 0 to 15 per cent share is what we have come to. The market has got increasingly fragmented,” he says.

While Thakur refused to disclose any financial details, industry sources reveal that the channel’s turnover could be anywhere in the Rs 350 crore-375 crore range. And its advertising rates are also climbing though they are at about 50 per cent of that Star Plus sales managers are able to command.

Life OK’s rise has seen advertisers making a beeline to buy inventory on it. “Our advertiser base has been growing. In fact, we have seen a surge of advertisers beyond the usual in the last one year. Some have come for our weekends, some for our weekdays, some come for events and some only want to buy mythological shows. We have all kind of advertisers coming in and each has their own requirement. The reason we have been able to attract all of them is our target audience comprises women, men and kids, metros and small towns in India,” Thakur highlights.

He expresses the view that it is heartening to see the channel continue to grow at a time when the growth of most GECs is on the decline. That too without a single saas-bahu show. “We don’t want to become number one by doing the same thing. It has been harder for us, but the people who have started coming to the channel have realized that this is the channel for everyone in the family,” he signs off.

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