"We feel like the bad news is behind us and we are back. We are making the investments and we have the strategy in place," News Corp President and Chief Operating Officer Peter Chernin told news agencies in New York, four months ago.
Chernin was talking about Star TV's Indian operations -- News Corp is the parent company of the Star group -- where high programming costs were eating into advertising and subscription revenues.
At Star's India headquarters, channel executives had one hard look at the network's bouquet of 14 channels. Star One, a general entertainment channel that attained popularity with its reality shows, The Great Indian Laughter Challenge and Nach Baliye, was identified as one channel that had significantly lost its past glory.
Eighteen months after its launch in October 2004, Star One had attracted TRPs of 10-12 for its shows (nearly as good as Star's flagship channel Star Plus). However, as the novelty factor lessened, the channel found it increasingly difficult to retain viewers. And with TRPs dropping to under one for most shows, repositioning was definitely on the cards.
Back in 2004, the Star network was the unchallenged leader on Indian television. Its family soaps like Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhie Bahu Thi, Kasautii Zindagii Kay and Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki were all big hits that added to the aura that the channel had built on the overwhelming success of its quiz show Kaun Banega Crorepati. The three serials enjoyed TRPs of 10-14 and Star shows occupied 36 of the top 50 slots on Indian television.
But research showed that not everyone was watching these serials. A large chunk of viewers in the age group of 25-40 years, especially in metros, were unhappy with the general entertainment fare.
Hence Star decided to address this audience with a new channel, rather than lose them to rivals Sony and Zee. With Star One, the network decided to create a Hindi version of its English entertainment channel Star World, to appeal to a younger, upscale, urban audience.
"We decided to cater to English-educated young office-goers from the metros," says Ravi Menon, executive vice president and general manager, Star One.
For rural areas and smaller towns where cable and satellite was spreading its wings, the network offered Star Utsav, a channel that showed re-runs of the popular K-soaps for viewers who had just tuned in.
And, of course, there was Star Plus to complete the bouquet of Hindi TV entertainment and meet the diverse demands of marketers, advertisers and viewers from different demographics.
The plan looked perfect, but only on paper. While Star One had the TRPs, they were possibly not coming from the audience Star targeted. Research revealed that youngsters in metros wanted better content, but they are not willing to sit at home to watch television.
"In metros, the youth frequent pubs, discotheques, go to malls or hang out with their groups. Hence, the time they actually spend watching TV is less," says Prem Kamath, vice president marketing and communication, Star One.
As a result, even as programmes like Remix generated attention in metros, the audience in smaller towns was not impressed. "We never wanted to be a niche channel but we ended up as one," says Kamath.
Over the past four-five months, the company reworked its entire programming mix and broadened its target audience to include the young in the top-20 cities. Youngsters from cities like Nagpur and Amritsar are now on the radar, while the programming mix has been altered to create shows that centre on the young, but with a universal appeal.
For instance, Annu Ki Ho Gayi Wah Bhai Wah, a popular show on Star One, is about a small-town girl finding her feet in a big city, while pursuing her dreams. Another show, Bol Baby Bol, anchored by Pakistani singer Adnan Sami has participants being quizzed on the lyrics of Hindi film songs.
The company has just initiated a 360-degree campaign last month to market itself in the top 20 cities in the country. That includes a radio campaign in smaller cities like Amritsar, Kanpur and Lucknow, as well as outdoor and print campaigns in other cities.
Early reports suggest that Star's renewed focus on Star One seems to be working.
Shows like Chhoona Hai Aasmaan, Dill Mill Gayye, Bol Baby Bol and Annu... -- all launched between August and December 2007 -- now enjoy television rating points of 1-1.5.
Although that is still a pale shadow of its previous performance, the channel's overall gross rating points (GRPs) in December were 73 GRPs, a growth of 29 per cent from the 57 of four weeks earlier.
In the week beginning December 24, Star One, with 23.9 GRPs in weekday prime, was ahead of even Sony Entertainment Television and Sahara One.
In smaller cities, the shows are doing even better. For instance, Annu... has TRPs of 3 in various towns across Punjab. "Since we revised our focus, we are growing from strength to strength and our popularity will only increase," says Menon.
Analysts say that broad-basing its audience will help increase the channel's reach. "Television, at the end of the day, is a medium that delivers based on its reach. It reaches a wide audience and ends up as the medium with the cheapest cost per person. Hence, it is best to provide content that appeals universally," says Meenakshi Madhvani, CEO, Spatial Access Solutions, a media audit firm.
But she adds cautiously, "While the move to broad base themselves is a good one, whether they understand the needs of their target demography remains to be seen."
But Star is entertaining no such doubts. The company believes that this time it is bang on target: according to Star executives, this time Star One is not just increasing its reach, but also talking to a more eager audience.
"Youngsters in smaller towns have fewer entertainment options and once they like our content, they will be loyal," claims Menon. If he is right, Star One will help make the challenged Star Network a stronger leader.