Three years ago when Star India decided to re-launch one of its redundant channel, Star One, as Life OK with new and fresh content, nobody expected that the channel, in a short span of time, would make a strong hold at number four at the ratings chart. Taking the responsibility on his young shoulders was none other than Ajit Thakur, who didn’t succumb to the temptation of doing the usual general entertainment channel (GEC) saas-bahu soaps, to create its own identity in the clustered market. With the channel creating new heights with its unique and poignant stories, the network handed additional responsibility to Life OK EVP and GM to head one of its sister youth entertainment channel, Channel V. In his first interview, after taking the charge at Channel V, Thakur chats with indiantelevision.com’s Disha Shah about his new role, challenges that he has to face and how he handles the two channels. Excerpts: Life OK and Channel V are two very different entities, so how are you coping with the two properties? Life OK is my baby. I launched the channel so my attachment to it will never fade away. Also, the channel is in a very competitive category so it requires a lot more attention from me. On the other hand, Channel V holds a strong position in its genre and has a strong team. The brand thinking is sorted. The way I am seeing my role is that on Channel V my job is more like a mentor and on Life OK, I am the doer. And in both channels, the biggest challenge is how to build a great second line. Channel V has Nipa Asharam and Vaishali Lavania , who are very strong marketing and programming heads, respectively and on Life OK, we have Sushma Rajesh and Yuvraj Bhattacharya. I need to build these teams and move towards chief mentoring role so that I can think about how to grow the two channels. It’s tough; I have to add four hours more to my work day (laughs).Was it a difficult decision to head Channel V? How has the year been for the channel? I have loved the Channel V brand. The kind of content we get to do on the youth channel, we can’t do that on a regular general entertainment channel (GEC). I was excited about it. And since, Sanjay Gupta thought it was right for the company, so I took it up. Channel V is in a great place because it has been number one for 52 weeks in a row, all thanks to it, sticking to the brand positioning, ‘Correct Hai’. As a brand it is testimony to the fact that in the youth space if you get the brand and the positioning right, the youth will come to television. My aim for Channel V is that it should give Life OK and Star Plus a run for the money. In terms of programming, at Channel V we should create content that changes and creates a revolution.What is going to be your strategy in terms of programming, marketing or digital so that the youth channel can create a revolution? How are you going to achieve that? In terms of the brand, no changes, I am very happy with it. But in terms of programming, we can do a lot more. Today it is the leader with 40-45 GRPs, why can’t it be 100 GRPs is the question I ask myself. The youth is watching content and in that context we have a lot of opportunities thrown at us. We have few daily shows like Sadaa Haq, D3, P.S I Hate You and Gumraah is twice a week. We plan to add more original hours of content. In the coming months, we are launching some very interesting new shows. One of them is called ‘Friends’. We are exploring ways of how we can grow the channel faster. It could be with more shows and more platforms. It could be either or both.What kind of platforms? Platforms like IndiaFest. It is one of the biggest youth festivals in the country, can that be made bigger? Are there ways to take the footprints of the brand beyond just TV and on TV what can we do more? The brand is good, the team is good, and my task is to grow the footprint of the brand.Do creative talent understand the youth programming today? Are there enough production houses which understand the youth content? Yes. And the younger they are the better they understand. We have a very young people as interns, who work in the team and they come up with some really good creative ideas. Answering second part of the question, there are enough writers. There is writing talent, the task is to find that talent and get them to work for us. You have to find a different set of story tellers, if you will take the same GEC story tellers, they will write it like a GEC. So, the challenge is how to find those new people. At Channel V, we are always looking for new writers and producers.Youth is a fickle audience with a very short attention span, so how do you plan to keep them engaged? Early days, don’t know, yet. But the channel will have a very big role to play in the life of the youth in India and that is what we are preparing for. We don’t know the answers yet whether it will be events or on-ground or digital or television.How do you see current competition coming from other channels? Channel V’s biggest competition is GECs; it’s not the youth channels. Because a lot of youth are watching GECs, so how do we convert them to watch Channel V. Channel V’s biggest competition is Life OK and Star Plus.It’s been a year since the revamp. How has it helped the channel, so far? We have seen almost 30-40 per cent growth in terms of viewership in across markets and it’s been growing steadily. It went up to a high of 50 plus TRPs, so I believe it is in a good space.How has been the advertisers’ response towards the channel? They are very happy with it. In fact our advertisers’ base has been growing; more brands are coming on to the channel. IndiaFest is happening is February and we have already sold it, so people are seeing the power. Everybody wants a pie of the youth and within that this is by far the number one platform.
And how is the licensing and the merchandising business doing? Not very big right now. I am not very sure what to do with it. It’s an extension of the brand, but currently not on the radar.