Suvarna scripts a programming turnaround

Star’s Kannada offering Suvarana is on a roll these days. The channel seems to be on the path to entrenching itself, at least for now, in the number two slot in the Kannada GEC space. The top three positions were for long occupied by the Sun Network’s Udaya TV, the number one player by far; Ramoji Rao’s ETV Kannada at No 2; and Zee Kannada, a relatively newer entrant at the third spot.

“Suvarna stands for fresh entertainment. Call it fiction or non-fiction or any program for that matter; our approach is to offer differentiated and fresh concepts as programs,” says Suvarana business head Anup Chandrasekharan.

The channel says that it is attempting through a planned strategy that it calls a ‘Threshold Strategy’ to grow its viewership by attracting the 15-24 age group, which did not consume Kannada television. “We decided that once we had the people to sample our offering through reality shows, we will ensure that stickiness prevails in the form of fiction,” reveals Chandrasekharan.

“Our reality shows such as ‘Pyete Hidigir  Halli Lifu’ (PHHL), ‘Halli Hyda Pyeteg Banda’ (HHPB) ‘Pyete Mandi Kadige Bandru’ (PMKB) have helped bring in younger and newer audiences – the 15-24 year olds, to Kannada television. To our pleasant surprise we find that even the 25 plus age groups are glued to PMKB during the 8-9 pm time slot,” avers Chandrasekharan.

“Also to  to attract the youngster, we have NGC programs with a Kannada voice over on air for an hour. We have brought in successful soaps such as ‘Lakumi’, a weekend comedy talk show ‘Maja with Sruja’, mythology shows like ‘Guru Raghvendra Vaibhava’, a weekend horror reality show ‘Shhh’, Tulu language shows, etc., into our programming mix,” informs Chandrasekharan.

He adds: “To present soaps in a new light and form to Kannada viewers, we have set our own rules for producing. For example, the protagonist has to be in the age group of 15-25, she has to be new to the television. Similarly, new to TV yet experts as directors are introduced. Four out of the six soap directors are from cinema, and have made their debut on the small screen through Suvarna.”

He clarifies that while reality shows have been bringing in the numbers for Suvarna, the effort has been to reduce the number of hours per week of reality programming. “Contrary to perception, we have only one daily reality show Monday to Friday during the 8-9 pm slot and one weekend horror reality show,” states Chandrasekharan.

The channel experimented with fresh programming concepts such as the tribal theme series with PHHL in May this year. The show had 10 city girls experience 50 days of village life with one winner for the finale. It immediately followed that with HHPB wherein it took the reverse tack in the show. Eight tribal boys were mentored by eight city girls to find who amongst them survived the best in the city.

The third and culminating sequel this year to the tribal theme is the currently on air PMKB which has 12 city bred Bangalore youngsters-young men and women in their twenties, to rough it out like tribal folk in a dense forest in Karnataka for 60 days. This is a first by any channel in a forest in India – other forest-theme programs have been shot abroad.

Another first by the channel in the Kannada GEC space is that the grand finale episodes of the two completed tribal reality show sequels have been aired on a Sunday, with each final episode being over 14 hours in duration. This has helped the channel rake in huge mid week GRPs and a leading position for that period in the Kannada GEC space.

For bringing in new audiences and to ensure viewership involvement and stickiness, the channel has initiated proceedings to help people indentify and associate themselves with the channel. It has started ‘Ladies Clubs’ in various towns and cities in the state.

“We have started the Ladies Club initiative to involve audiences, to try and understand its pulse, to find out what is that they want,” explains Chandrasekharan.

Membership to the Ladies Club has strict and special eligibility conditions. Chandrasekharan says the team has so far met and brainstormed with the Ladies Club members in three cities on weekends. To build continued loyalty, during meetings, Suvarna has also given an opportunity to some of the talented Ladies Club members to display any special skill sets they have on air.

Suvarna has also focused on high intense innovative activities over print and outdoor to promote its soaps. Its religious story ‘Guru Raghavendra Vaibhava’ has been promoted through activities like projecting the episodes on a giant screen everyday between 6.30 pm and 9.30 pm at Mantralaya temple where thousands of devotees gather. The channel has distributed the Mantralaya Prasadam to 200,000 homes in 10 towns along with information on the show.

Suvarna claims that it has set a record with the world‘s biggest friendship band as part of its initiative to promote the show ‘Classmates.’ ‘Classmates’ has friendship at schooldays as its core theme. It has also implemented classroom-to-classroom promotions in over 170 colleges in 10 towns.

These efforts seem have borne rich fruit for the channel. TAM ratings furnished by the Suvarana management indicate that over almost four years (starting from calendar year 2007 to week 48 of the current year) viewership for the Kannada GEC space has shrunk. Suvarana has, however, managed to grow its own numbers by double digits year on year, bucking the overall negative trend.

As per the chart above, Kannada CS 4+ viewership fell from 4147 in 2007 to 4079 in 2009 and to 4014 till the 48th week of this year, while Suvarna moved from the last position in 2007 with ratings of 84 to 251 GRPs (week 48 of 2010).

Suvarana’s ten week average GRPs from September 2010 to November 2010 are 335. Thanks to the 14 hour long marathon grand finale on a Sunday of HHPB, the channel reached its peak GRPs for the year at 418.

To quite an extent the channel has nibbled away numbers from Udaya, ETV, Zee and even Kasturi which stood at number four in 2008 just before Star took a controlling stake in Suvarana.

In 2007, Udaya’s mean GRPs for the year stood at an unassailable 780. The following year they stood at 637, in 2009 at 545, and during the first 48 weeks of the current year, they were at 502. Comparable figures for ETV Kannada during the same period are 372, 283, 246 and 208 GRPs, while those of Zee Kannada are 85, 209, 194 and 169 GRPs. Kasturi’s figures for the same period are 107, 143, 107 and 96 GRPs.

“The channel (Suvarana) has been producing quality serials and shows at very low cost. Its reality show cost per episode is one-tenth of what it would cost a national level channel to produce,” informs an industry source who has worked with the channel. The source further informs, “This year the channel should turn the corner and show a very decent profit.”

“From nowhere Suvarna has come up to a respectable position in the Kannada space,” adds a senior Bangalore-based media executive. “Its programming seems to be working well for it.”


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