The most eagerly awaited "Kalaignar TV", the ruling DMK supported satellite channel, started beaming programmes from September 15, 2007, on the auspicious Vinayaka Chathurti day. For the atheist DMK, it was the 99th birth anniversary of its founder leader, the late C.N Annadurai.
The channel was formed after the recent parting of ways between the Karunanidhi family and the powerful media empire of the Kalanidhi Maran run "Sun TV". Maran had accused Karunanidhi's elder son M.K Azhagiri of inciting violence in front of the Madurai office of his daily Dinakaran, which had published an opinion poll that showed Azhagiri in bad light. The subsequent mob violence led to the death of three employees of the newspaper.
Later the DMK leadership unceremoniously dropped Dayanidhi Maran, one of the most dynamic members of the Manmohan Singh government, and put the brakes on Sun TV. And to rub it in they decided to launch their own satellite channel to counter the Sun network.
First and foremost they brought in Sharad Reddy, a one time close associate of Kalanidhi Maran who was instrumental in making the Sun TV programme popular with the masses.
Sharad and Kalanidhi had a fallout and the former left Chennai. Karunanidhi brought him back to manage Kalaingar TV, and then they started poaching from Sun TV. At the last count, nearly 130 ex-employees of Sun TV are today working with Kalaignar, and all popular programmes including long time supporters like 'Pepsi' Uma have moved over to the new channel. In fact all those in Kollywood who watched Kalaignar TV, say it is a clone of Sun TV!
A Tamil superstar, who was switching channels on Vinayaka Chathurti said: " 'Kalaignar TV has a great telecast and packaging and will provide tough competition to Sun TV. It augurs well for Tamil film industry which will boom as every channel will now need more content from us."
Reddy's programming mix, is what has made the channel work big time with the viewers on the opening day. He took a leaf out of Kalanidhi's success recipe by having 90per cent film based programmes, interviews with the cream of Kollywood, back- to- back blockbusters and balanced news reports (not too much of DMK, and in fact it showed a visual and report of arch-rival Jayalalithaa at the Anna Samadhi).
The Kalanidhi Maran controlled cable network SCV which has monopoly over Chennai city , not wanting to have a face off with the state government, beamed Kalaignar in prime band, without any grains or technical hiccups. And on Tata Sky too, the telecast was crystal clear DVD quality across India.
Let’s take a look at Kalaignar's programmes during the opening weekend. Classical singer, Sudha Raghunathan kickstarted the morning telecast at 6.30 am. It was followed by a brilliant interview with Kamal Hassan where he spoke on the beginning and rise of Kollywood followed by a rare one hour interview with Isagnani Ilayaraja.
Leoni's Pattimandiram followed, and then Kollywood took over with a three hour stage show of Ilayathalapathy Vijay's 175 day celebration of Pokkiri, where the entire Vijay library of mass songs were shown and the star himself danced!
What followed has never happened before in Indian television history! Kalaignar TV showed the brand new six-month old path breaking super hit Mozhi, followed immediately by the one- year old blockbuster Imsai Arasan 23am Pulikesi.
Television industry observers say that it was smart packaging, as Mozhi brought in the elite audiences, and Imsai.. reached across to the B & C segment of television viewers. On the downside for the viewers was the fact that the film screening started at 1.30 pm in the afternoon and went up late into the night, as it got over only at 10.45 pm, due to excessive ad breaks at every 10 minutes.
It looks like Kalaignar TV is here to stay and has the potential to be the market leader. They have the entire Kollywood on a platter, the elusive media shy superstar Rajnikanth also gave a one-minute byte endorsing the channel and also wishing it all the best.
Now what has to be seen is how good, their serials are on week days (Monday to Friday) and whether it can take the eyeballs away from Sun TV, the 'Number 1' channel who has been ruling the roost for over a decade? It is a tough ask, but not impossible for Karunanidhi and co.