By Varada Bhat
With HD content and fresh programming, the broadcaster is redefining the rules of the game
Just a month after Newscorp’s prince-in-waiting James Murdoch toured India talking about digitisation, Star is set to give you an overdose of high-definition (HD).
The premier broadcaster is taking the battle for the eyeballs straight to your living room. But it’s not just about HD feed across five key channels; Star is regrooving its focus with a new corporate logo, fresh content and direct interaction with viewers for feedback.
“The two of the most watched channels in Hindi will be now available in HD. This will change the entire broadcasting landscape. But it’s just a glimpse of a slew of exciting initiatives we will roll out in coming months,” says Uday Shankar, CEO Star India.
It’s perfect timing too. The fight for the top slots across genres has hit prime time. Nimbler competition, aggressive sales and marketing, distribution wars and fight for programming in a commoditised market have made it critical to stand out from the content clutter.
Hiren Pandit, Managing Partner South Asia, Group M, feels such initiatives are rejuvenating. “It’s not really about television ratings. This is about reassuring stakeholders, advertisers and joint venture partners that you are bringing more energy into the brand,” he says.
Star India, a fully-owned subsidiary of News Corporation, broadcasts 32 channels in eight languages to more than 168 million people every week across India and more than 65 countries across the globe.
Star going HD from Friday in turn will force others to rethink their strategies and migrate to a higher but more expensive technology platform, observors say. The GEC space is strategic for all channels as according to TV audience monitoring agency TAM, more than half the viewership share in Hindi speaking market is dominated by Hindi GECs and movies combined.
“The viewing will now have to transcend the affordability issue to bring in more volumes. Once more audiences prefer HD, GECs will jump onto the bandwagon,” observes Jehil Thakkar, KPMG Executive Director (media & entertainment).
Rival network, Multi Screen Media which owns Sony and Set Max is also providing HD feed for its IPL telecast. Rohit Gupta, President, MSM, says “Star going HD is a reflection of the times. But it will be slow progression.”
Gupta says most content providers have already started using HD cameras and films but spectrum availability to uplink HD content remains a major handicap.
But finding eyeballs may not be easy. HD viewing is yet to take off as hardware like TV sets are still niche accounting for only 15-20 per cent of the flat panel segments. Even DTH platforms are slowly upgrading their technology.
Sanjay Gupta, COO, Star India, admits: “Typically, a channel takes four to seven years to break even but HD may take a little longer.” The immediate challenge for the broadcaster is to involve key stakeholders and make them adapt to change. “For the time being, we may not have any advertisements, but going ahead we may look at selling inventory to advertisers who are interested, he adds.
Uday Shankar stresses that HD is not an end game but an intermediate stop for Star towards improving the total viewing experience. Star recently even experimented with 3D content for a future launch. “In the last 8-10 months, we have been investing not just in terms of financial, but also time and efforts in training and infrastructure.”
The HD blitzkrieg is coinciding with Star unveiling its new corporate logo — Hot Star, as the channel felt the need for an umbrella identity on the back of its expanding network. “We run a successful network spread from Asianet in Kerala to Jalsa in Bengal. We just do not cater to the Hindi speaking audience any more.” says Gupta.
Shankar adds Star’s dependence on flagship Star Plus for its revenues and profits has reduced substantially despite the much hyped makeover last summer. This is due to the newly-launched regional channels and last year’s acquisition of Asianet, which operates entertainment channels in four south Indian states.
Star World — the English entertainment channel— has already introduced Star World Torrents, a special weekend band featuring the most recent sitcoms and shows that are aired almost simultaneously in the US and Asia.
Star has also initiated interactive communication with its viewers across its network. So recently, prior to the telecast of Kali, a popular soap, viewers actually recommended the content they wanted to see.
Star World and Star Movies have also launched Viewer Partnership Programme on-line and on social media. The Facebook community of Star World will get to view the programmes before their launch and even give feedback directly to the channel.
Shankar clearly wants you to come home to the Stars, quite literally. But will he stand out for long?