Even as more TV networks ready their second line of Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs), Star India's two and a half year-old second-tier GEC, Life OK, is preparing to launch into the next phase of growth. From A-lister production houses to actors, the channel is aiming a programming overhaul as its special offering for the audience this Diwali.
Launched in December 2011, the channel currently holds a steady fourth position on the ratings chart. Last week, Life OK flagged off its rebranding with a large-scale Balaji Telefilms's fiction show. So far the production house, which burst onto the scene decades back with its saas-bahu serials, but has now turned the corner to serve a more modern fare, had a docu-drama, Savdhaan India.
But Ekta Kapoor's (joint managing director and creative director) teleserial Ajeeb Dastaan Hai Yeh is a Balaji trademark production. The soap marks the small-screen debut of actor Sonali Bendre and has other A-lister TV artistes like Apoorv Agnihotri and Harsh Cchaya.
Sony's just-launched second Hindi GEC, Pal, has been faster roping in Kapoor's production house with the love story Yeh Dil Sun Raha Hai but it is not on the same scale.
Life OK is lining up seven more large-scale shows over the next three months, each featuring a different theme and backed by well-known names from the industry. There would be a sitcom, Comedy Classes, a show by Sooraj Barjatiya of Rajshree Productions and a show by Bollywood producer, Vipul Amrutlal Shah, followed by the channel's next (after Mahadev) mythological show.
"We will be launching an aggressive content and marketing exercise. This is the sort of content revamp that a GEC would ususally carry out over a year, but we have decided to do it in three months. Over the past two and a half years, we have reached a certain level, and now want to go to the next level. We have a formidable share of 14 per cent in the GEC market and now want to provide even more differentiated content," says Ajit Thakur, general manager, Life OK.
On the cards, the promotions for which are already on-air, is its first movie premiere with the Alia Bhatt-Arjun Kapoor-starrer 2 States on October 18. Thakur, however, says this would be a festive one-off, and Life OK will not make movie premieres a regular feature through the year. "It's a Diwali programming play. I believe GECs should air good fiction and non-fiction shows and leave the big-bang movie premieres to the movie channels," he says.
Life OK managed to pip Viacom18's primary Hindi GEC, Colors, on the back of strategic programming in the last week of the Indian Premier League (IPL) to the third spot in ratings in May this year. It repeated the feat a few more times over the next couple of months. But overall, it has been a steady number-four player.
Thakur says that ensuring variety in both fiction and non-fiction programming has earned it a large audience across age-groups and social strata, widening the channel's reach.
The channel launched, earlier this year, the concept of a monthly awards show. The award ceremony is aired on the last Sunday of every month at prime-time, and has managed to give the channel an advantage on some weekends. Currently, only one more channel, Colors, has has had a successful weekend programming with shows like Comedy Nights with Kapil, Jhalak Dikhalaja, Kucch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai and Bigg Boss 8.
Thakur says that it is not wise to chase ratings in the current environment. "Of course, we would want to be number one. But realistically, it makes more sense to build the brand and work on content, since the environment is still pretty unstable. While our viewers and advertisers are happy, we are happy. If we nail the top position, it'll be a welcome bonus," Thakur says.
Thakur points to a delayed digitisation and a patchy measurement system as factors that skew ratings and render it dubitable as a parametre.
Life OK's festive season-led changes will also see reflect in the brand design and packaging, which will be unveiled in November. The channel is said to be spending around twice the amount GECs earmark for their festive programming on its Diwali revamp. However, media planners say the channel can afford to make investments as it has performed consistently so far. Sources close to the channel confirm that Life OK was one of the fastest channels to break even.