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Star will continue to focus on existing regional channels: Kevin Vaz

The head of regional entertainment gets candid about his plans, going forward.

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MUMBAI: The broadcast space is continuously evolving, with players today no longer solely focused on Hindi general entertainment channels (Hindi GECs); they’re taking to regional content in a big way. Leading broadcast networks are introducing regional channels to their network bouquet. Industry experts have also admitted that the language market is where the growth is coming from, and this will hold in the future. Indian audiences are more than willing to consume content in their respective vernacular languages.
 
In recent developments in the regional horizon, Star and Disney India launched Vijay Music, targeting Tamil music lovers. Star Pravah, the Marathi GEC from Star Entertainment Media, has garnered the highest ratings in viewership week after week, outstripping competitors and old horses in the game like Zee Marathi. Along with this, Star has gained the leadership position in Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Bengal markets.

The company attributes its string of successes in the regional space to its strong content line up. In 2018, the network put Kevin Vaz in charge of its content slate in the regions of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. He has spent more than two decades serving Star India before heading the entertainment channels in the southern market. 

In conversation with indiantelevision.com’s Shikha Singh, Star & Disney India infotainment kids and regional entertainment channels CEO Kevin Vaz shared his perspective on the evolution of regional content in the broadcast space, the formula for success, and the plans ahead for 2021.

Edited Excerpts:

How do you think regional content has evolved in the Indian broadcast space? Also, how important is the regional market for you?

Regional content has evolved manifold in the past decade due to three main factors: content innovation across screens, growth of the M&E regional ecosystem, and expansion in hours of content which has led to higher consumption.

We have seen tremendous innovation in the regional content space – whether it is in terms of the kind of stories told, experimentation with new formats, enhancement of look and feel using technology, etc. We have also witnessed multiple players enter the regional markets and this has led to higher investment in content overall. Programming hours in regional have grown over the last few years, today the top regional GECs each have about eight to nine hours of original content in a day.

Star India is one of the oldest players in the regional space. From investing in Vijay in 2001 to launching Jalsha and Pravah in 2008, acquiring Asianet that same year and then Maa in 2015 – we have been consistent in our regional ambitions for 15+ years.
 
How have you seen the content and marketing strategy translate in terms of revenues and viewership? 

Great storytelling remains the bedrock of great entertainment. Audiences are fundamentally attracted to a good story that is well told. The unmatched strength of our regional brands combined with their unique style of storytelling gives us the opportunity to forge a connection with audiences of all ages. With the right content strategy in place, everything else falls in place for the success of a channel. To give you an example, in Kerala, Asianet has been a clear leader in the Malayalam GEC space. This is a result of rich content offering (fiction and non-fiction) that continues to emotionally engage with our viewers.
 
Can you tell us more about how each channel is performing?

In our regional bouquet of channels, we operate in six markets and we are delighted with the stupendous performance of the channels.

·   In Kerala, Asianet has a 47 per cent market share (Kerala Urban 15+).

·   Star Maa is ruling the roost with a 41.2 per cent prime time market share within Telugu GEC AP/Telangana urban 15+. The introduction of non-fiction shows like 'Bigg Boss' has helped bring in new audiences which have contributed significantly to the overall channel performance. Star India network is the clear leader in Telugu (GEC + movies + music) with a 38 per cent market share.

·    In the Bangla GEC space, Star Jalsha has had a strong performance and has maintained its leadership position in West Bengal (U+R 2+)

·    Star Pravah has continued its strong streak and has emerged as the preferred Marathi GEC in Maharashtra and Goa (U+R 2+)

·    Star Vijay has always been a strong brand in Tamil Nadu, known for its non-fiction shows. Over the last two or three years, with the introduction of strong fiction programming, the channel grew by close to 300 per cent

·   Star Suvarna has emerged as a strong #2 in Karnataka (Urban 15+)

Which is the strongest regional market for you?

For us, the entire regional offering is of great significance and we continue to push the boundaries to unlock its potential in every market we are present in and offer great stories and narratives to the local audiences.  
   
Sun TV is clearly dominant across genres, what will it take to crack the Tamil market?

Star Vijay is a very strong brand in Tamil Nadu today. It has had phenomenal growth of close to 300 percent over the last few years which is a significant achievement. The channel has attained the leadership position in prime time and we are happy that our viewers are enjoying high-quality entertaining shows like Bigg Boss, Super Singer, Start Music, Mr & Mrs Chinnathirai, Enkitta Modhadhe, Cook with Comali, and more. We will continue to innovate and present content that the viewers can relate to.

Which other markets look like a white space to you?

Currently, we have a strong and well-spread regional market presence. We will continue to focus on these and bring in rich and compelling programming for families to enjoy.

Star Pravah has acquired a leadership position in Maharashtra, what led to the success?

Star Pravah has always strived to provide an eclectic mix of entertaining content to Marathi-speaking viewers. Every show we have launched in the past year is based on deep-rooted consumer insights and every story has relatable characters that break a social stigma. We have introduced shows which offer entertainment to its viewers, which includes Comedy Bimedy, a laugh riot for the family, Jai Deva Shree Ganesha, an 11-part mythological show based on Lord Ganesha’s most popular stories, and Jyotiba, a mythological show revolving around one of the most revered gods in Maharashtra especially in the regions of Kolhapur, Sangli, and Satara.

You already have two channels in the West Bengal market. How is the audience response?

In our Bangla offering, we have a Star Jalsha (GEC) and Jalsha Movies (movie channel). Both the channels enjoy great affinity and are the top two channels in the market. We continue to expand on content offering that resonates with the Bangla-speaking viewers.

With Star Jalsha, how difficult it was to gain a leadership position in the West Bengal market?

Star Jalsha has been an iconic brand in West Bengal from its early days. It shook up the Bangla GEC market in 2008 and steered to the top position within eight months of launch. In 2019, we felt it was time to reinvent the wheel and change the overall offering to stay relevant. We asked the Bangla viewers what kind of content were they looking for and the answer we received was they want to watch strong, yet rooted female protagonists and a milieu that had a greater local flavour. So we wanted our shows to focus on three things - relevant, relatable, and progressive. From these insights were born the iconic shows – Sreemoyee, Mohor, Debi Choudharani and Mahapith Tarapith. Of these, Sreemoyee has been remade across the network, including on Star Plus, and has become a hit.

Star Vijay has recently launched a music channel, considering the pandemic, do you think it’s a viable option to launch a new channel?

We believe there is always scope for us to grow in the markets we are present in. In Tamil Nadu, the young generation is very musically inclined and we felt there was a gap for a dedicated music channel suiting their needs. Vijay Music is targeted at the new generation of Tamil music lovers and the channel is also determined to be a platform for nurturing new talent with an exciting line-up of reality shows. Enga pulingo lam bayangaram, Kanna paatu paadam asaiya are a few of the shows in this genre, and expect many more soon.

The Gujarati ad revenue market size is pegged at Rs 100 crore, it is a growing market. Do you have plans to expand to new markets?

At present, our focus is to bring wholesome quality programming for families to enjoy in the markets we are present in.

Regional languages are predicted to be the growth driver for all the brands. How well-placed are you across the regional languages to leverage the opportunity?

We are happy with the performance across all the regional markets we are present in. We believe that there is a lot of scope for growth and we will continue to provide high-quality content and tap into the next tier of markets for further growth.

What growth targets do you have from regional businesses?

As per our company policy, I will not be able to share this information.

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