Star India's flagship Hindi GEC has steadily outpaced the rest of the pack week after week. A look at how it has managed the show.
It has been over a decade since Star Plus launched an array of 'saas-bahu' serials and took pole position among Hindi GECs. The icing on the cake came with the Amitabh Bachchan-helmed Kaun Banega Crorepati.
Ten years down the line - barring a slight hiccup - Star is doing just as well. Its viewership ratings are way ahead of the second and third ranked Zee TV and Colors, respectively.
Taking an average of 24 weeks of 2014, Star Plus has a lead of 61 per cent over Colors and of 54 per cent over Zee TV, as per TAM data (HSM, C&S, 4+), provided by the channel. But all this wasn't achieved overnight.
The channel enjoyed a peak period for five years in the last decade, until Colors, then a 16-month old channel toppled it in week 46 (mid-to late November) 2008. After that, both Star Plus and the Viacom18 channel occupied the top spots (barring one week when Zee TV was No.1) until week 39, 2009 when Colors took over and consolidated its position for weeks together.
Star Plus had started to lose its sheen. To counter the blow, the management first made some structural changes. Sanjay Gupta, COO, Star India took charge of Star Plus, assisted by Gaurav Banerjee (then VP and head, content, Star Jalsha), now the general manager.
Recalls Banerjee, "When I look at that phase (when Colors overtook Star Plus), I feel that some amount of jadedness had seeped into the channel. Colors came in with a different proposition and they told really good stories." The team started speaking to the consumers and realised that they wanted to see something different and interesting.
On the mend
As its core consumers, most of whom were women, started evolving, Star Plus started mending its programming to be in sync. The "bahus" were progressing. And while their families were still important to them, they they had moved beyond just their families.
Star Plus introduced shows like Pratigya (in December 2009) and Sasural Genda Phool (in March 2010) which gave a freshness, as well as confidence, to the channel. Pratigya was the story of a girl who would go to any lengths to fight for her rights. Suhana, the protagonist in Sasural Genda Phool, gets married into a joint family, but lives her life on her own terms.
"These characters became the first icons of Star Plus' new positioning of 'Rishta Vahi, Soch Nayi'," adds Banerjee. While Star Plus repositioned itself in June 2010, it managed to dethrone Colors in March. Since then, it has been a leader for most weeks, barring a few when either Zee TV or Colors occupied the spot. Since January, 2013, there has been no looking back except two weeks (week 4 and 43, 2013), when Zee TV gained a marginal lead.
During the second half of 2013, Star opened up a huge gap with its rivals - there were some weeks when Star Plus' ratings were as high as Colors and Zee TV put together. The channel invested heavily on its writers, storytellers, production and marketing to make a big mark.
The turnaround in fortunes came because of many reasons. Firstly, the fiction shows were created after rigorous research (they still are). It also made sure that the content was relevant. Secondly, the channel extended its prime-time offering from four hours (the typical prime-time band for Hindi GECs is 7-11pm) to five-and-a-half hours (6 pm-11.30 pm). Then, it extended its strong fiction programming to Saturdays too. The news shows made their mark too.
When Mahabharat was launched last year, backed by an extensive marketing campaign, it went on to become the 8.30 pm slot leader and also found a huge male and youth following despite it being the fourth version of the epic on Indian television after BR Chopra's Mahabharat (1988-1990), Chandraprakash Dwivedi's Ek Aur Mahabharat (1997) and Balaji Telefilms' Kahaani Hamaaray Mahaabhaarat Ki (2008).
Star's version was the only one to come close to the hit that BR Chopra's serial was. While the core story remained the same, the channel introduced Krishna as a sutradhaar (narrator) who linked the stories to issues of the day, making it more relevant for the audiences.
Twists and Turns
According to Danish Khan, programming head - fiction, Star Plus, the channel conducts qualitative and quantitative research to understand its consumers. Khan believes that the channel brings in novelty in the stories. "Every couple of days, you'll see that the story is moving and it is dynamic." Rahul Satoskar, partner-Client Leadership at Mindshare, agrees, "Star Plus ensures that there are a number of "high points" in the shows so that the audience comes back to watch the next episode - and not just on Fridays and Saturdays. They introduce twists or high points mid-week too, to keep the audiences intrigued."
The channel also started to focus on younger women. Star Plus, according to Nikhil Madhok, senior VP, marketing and programming strategy, is popular across age-group and gender. However, when the content is conceptualised and created, "a 22-24-year-old is closer to the person who we want to talk as our TG. We are female oriented as a brand because you can't be all things to everybody. Women are the glue that binds the family together," he says. Women's empowerment, their independence, their strength and their role in the family and society started reflecting in the channel's stories.
Akshara, the lead protagonist of Yeh Rishta Kya Kehlata Hai, who was earlier shown as a housewife, transformed herself into a professional businesswoman, Sandhya from Diya Aur Baati Hum trained to become an IPS officer, Veera (in the show of the same name) too grew up to become a smart, ambitious girl.
Of people and time bands
Talking about the audience, R S Suriyanarayanan, AVP - Initiative, explains, "Star Plus does well with female audiences. But later, in the evening prime-time band, male viewership improves through shows like Yeh Hai Mohabbatein. Also, India is largely a single TV household and the control of TV before 10 pm largely lies with the women of the house. For other Hindi GECs, Sony is male dominant while Colors has a mix of audience. Zee TV is popular in Tier II cities."
Apart from Yeh Hai Mohabbatein, the channel also gets good male traction for shows like Mahabharat and Diya Aur Baati Hum. The male-female ratio on the channel is around 40:60. Yeh Hai… is the only original show at the 11 pm band in the Hindi GEC space (weekday slot). The other channels air repeats of their fiction shows at this slot.
Says Shekhar Banerjee, SVP, Madison Pinnacle, "The repositioning of Star Plus and the high decibel marketing campaign for its shows has helped." Elastic prime-time scheduling too helped in no small measure.
While other channels have limited their programming within the 7 pm-11 pm time band, Star Plus went ahead to launch shows on either side of prime time. The second season of Iss Pyaar Ko Kya Naam Doon?...Ek Baar Phir (August 2013) came on at 6 pm and Ek Ghar Banaunga (April 2013 to June 2013; replaced by Suhani Si Ek Ladki) in the 6.30 pm slot. At 11 pm, the channel airs Yeh Hain Mohabbatein.
Colors airs four hours of original content on weekdays. Zee TV, 4.5 hours of original content, starting from 6.30 pm to 11 pm. The cost of investment is one factor that prevents other Hindi GECs from going in for longer time bands. On an average, for a regular daily soap, the production cost of one episode is Rs 8-10 lakh.
The next big move from Star Plus came in February, when it extended its weekday line-up to Saturdays. After Star Plus went six days a week in week 6 2014, it had a growth of 11 per cent (Week 1-5: 2512 TVMs, Weeks 6-10: 2597 TVMs).
Star Plus has been the leader in all slots from 6 to 11.30 pm (in Hindi GECs), except for 8 pm which is ruled by Zee TV's Jodha Akbar. Colors airs three of its shows - Sasural Simar Ka, Balika Vadhu and Madhubala on Saturdays as well. Post that, it has non-fiction/reality shows lined up. The other leading Hindi GECs depend highly on reality shows on Saturday and Sundays. But Star Plus broke the clutter with more strong fiction offering.
Says Banerjee of Star, "If fiction is doing so well even on Saturdays, why do you need non-fiction?" Explains Madhok, "Sustained success depends on two factors - content and the way it resonates with the society and how the channel is able to market and position itself. The marketing of the shows has also helped attract lot of viewers. Mahabharat was one of the most talked about campaigns last year. From the 3D print ads, to changing the name of Maharashtra Times (to Mahabharat Times), the channel had several innovations. There was an extensive digital campaign when Sandhya of Diya aur Baati… became an IPS officer.
Veera took a time leap in November last year. The track was driven by the marketing team. The show, which was widely followed by old women of rural India, wanted to shift the focus to young women of urban India. Radio spots were used to introduce Veera as a cool girl and a fashion icon.
Weak link in the chain?
If fiction has been the strong point for Star - in the past six months, at least six of Star Plus' shows made it to the top 10 list of most watched Hindi GEC shows - non-fiction did not actually stumble. The second season of Aamir Khan's Satyamev Jayate (SMJ 2), in March, helped build the brand further. In five weeks, SMJ 2 rated an average of 4.1 TVMs, compared to 4.5 TVMs (during the first five episodes of season 1).
The channel had also had successful season of Nach Baliye with Sajid Khan, Terrence Louis and Shilpa Shetty. The channel aired Masterchief India's kids' special for the first time ever titled Junior Masterchef. Ashish Golwalkar, non-fiction programming head of Star Plus says, "Our constant endevour is to challenge the status quo." There were failures too.
Mad In India (featuring Manish Paul and Sunil Grover, who achieved fame as Gutthi on Colors' Comedy Nights with Kapil), went under because of the lack of novelty and good script. Survivors India was another reality show that was a disappointment for the channel. It hasn't given up though.
A reality show with Yo Yo Honey Singh, India's Raw Star is on the cards. The show is a platform to find the "ultimate" performing artiste who can bring in a visual experience to music. And it has to be someone who can go beyond singing and create a distinct style of music, irrespective of language or genre. Somewhat like Star itself.