The numero uno of the Hindi general entertainment genre, Star Plus, has been seeing a golden run since its repositioning. And while other channels are fighting for the second or third spot, Star Plus is enjoying an enviable position far ahead of its peers.
TelevisionPost examines the channel’s journey in the last one year (Oct 2013–Oct 2014) under its new captain Gaurav Benerjee, and unravels the secret of its continued success.
The five strategic moves that paid
Banerjee had taken on the mantle in October last year and thinks that it has been a year of major achievements.
“It’s been a year in which the creative team at Star Plus and the creative people who worked with us have outdone themselves. It’s been a very good year,” Banerjee tells TelevisionPost.com.
For a large part of the year, the channel had six or seven of the top 10 shows in the GEC category on Star Plus. “So what would be brilliant on any other channel is perhaps average or below average on Star Plus, and that’s something everyone working in the channel will acknowledge,” he adds.
The major initiatives that Star Plus took in the last one year include:
1. Stretching weekday fiction to Saturdays
In February 2014, the channel extended its entire line-up of weekday fiction shows—all 11 of them—to Saturday. While in the process, it narrowed the need for developing weekend properties; what it achieved was a far greater fruit.
The channel saw over 15 per cent growth in average viewership after expanding fiction to the Monday–Saturday routine.
The channel says that the decision to stretch the weekday programming was based on the fact that barring a privileged few, India is largely a one-day-off-in-a-week country where most people do not go out on Saturdays as they are like another weekday.
2. Focus on storytelling
While it may sound clichéd, the channel is sharply focused on storytelling.
“Our storytelling reflects a certain kind of brand. We believe that we have built a great brand which has a massive connect with our viewers, and this brand idea is about our core belief that women are catalysts for change in the society and more power to them really pushes families towards progress,” says Banerjee.
3. Opening up 11 pm slot
The channel took a bold move by launching ‘Yeh Hai Mohabbatein’, a more mature story based on an English novel (‘Custody’) by Manju Kapoor. Produced by Balaji Telefilms, the show tells the story of second chances in love for its two protagonists.
“It was a courageous story to do because in India we have seen mainly stories of love where it is love at first sight or a first brush of love. This was a story about second chances, story of a woman who is not able to conceive and what it does to her and the family,” adds Banerjee.
“The writing is beautiful and courageous, which again is a new trend because obviously the success of the show is the success of its writers, and of Ekta’s.”
The show opened up the 11 pm band for the channel and got it never-before ratings at a perceived ‘repeat’ slot. The show also entered in the top 10 list and at present, the channel is airing it at dual time slots.
4. ‘Diya Aur Baati Hum’ and ‘Mahabharat’
The two flagship shows from the channel, ‘Diya Aur Baati Hum’ and ‘Mahabharat’, were the highpoints of the year.
In ‘Diya Aur Baati Hum’, it was 2014 when the protagonist Sandhya became an IPS officer. “The entire training sequence, which we shot on a massive scale, and the turning of the story from Sandhya being a housewife in a small town of India to Sandhya becoming a brave and principled IPS officer were much appreciated by our viewers. I think that’s a story that India has really cheered for this year,” Banerjee proudly tells.
The second story was ‘Mahabharat’, which he thinks became the first mythology that had a very modern point of view. “We took mythology and gave it a modern interpretation. This again had already been done in two ways—the epic that came on Doordarshan 25 years ago and set a benchmark, and then the other avatars which were not successful. It was a pretty courageous choice, and the second part that was courageous was the scale on which we did it,” Banerjee adds.
He says that while mythologies have happened, no show in this country has been built on the scale on which ‘Mahabharat’ was built. “We literally shot it over a year before we telecast any episode. We researched and tried to write it for about four years before we put it on air. We put a research and writing team which was big and had great names and credibility. We decided to shoot it all across the country like Kashmir, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Jabalpur and more. We made an investment in graphics, which was significantly higher than what is normally seen. So it was a courageous idea to put these kinds of resources in a story that
has been tried earlier,” he says.
And the courage did pay well. The show, one of the costliest on Indian TV, clicked with viewers and quickly jumped on to the top fiction shows on TV.
5. Setting the bar by virtue of story
Banerjee observes, “There is a much higher bar we set here. When we evaluate whether to shut down a story, we don’t evaluate only by looking at ratings. Our primary method of evaluation is storytelling. When we believe that a story has run its course, then we are not swayed by ratings.”
During the year, the channel had shut down shows which were doing okay in terms of ratings, but were not having enough steam left in the storyline. Banerjee says that the call of shutting the show on the channel will always be based on storyline and not on ratings. Gaurav Banerjee
“I remember five years ago we shut down ‘Bidaai’. It was among the top two or three shows in the country. We believed the story had run its course. This year ‘Saraswatichandra’ was in the top 10, we shut it down, again because it was a finite story when we were deciding to do the book.”
“We don’t want to take viewers for granted. We work hard to win their love. That has been a very important part of how we think. We evaluate on the basis of the story and how much of it we can tell organically, and only then do we decide on the numbers,” he says.
Weekend: Biggest challenge
So while the Monday–Saturday programming looks completely sorted, the biggest challenge in front of it is the weekend, where it has only Sunday to offer variety.
The channel airs strong seasonal high-impact show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ on Sunday mornings, while in the evenings, it currently has ‘India’s Raw Star’ and ‘Airlines’, both average on viewership.
Prior to these, it had dabbled in comedy (‘Mad in India’) and thriller (‘Ishq Kills’), both of which failed.
Banerjee agrees that while ‘Mad in India’ was a mistake, ‘Ishq Kills’ was ahead of its time. “We are also learning. We will make mistakes, as we did with ‘Mad in India’. ‘Raw Star’ too was a learning experience. The idea is to keep doing interesting stuff,” he says.
Focus ahead on progressive content
The channel wants to offer only inspirational and progressive stories to its viewers. “I am hoping that through our numbers we will be able to prove that progressive, inspirational storytelling works and people cheer for it. There was a feeling around TV many years ago that if you do regressive stuff, you may not like doing it, but it may work and can be good business. Good, inspirational, powerful storytelling with the right social messaging is good business too, as we have proved,”