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Star to launch 2 Hindi channels, eyes South

June 05, 2004 10:18 IST

The action on the small screen is set to quicken. Three years after launching its last channel, Star Gold, the Rupert Murdoch-controlled Star India is launching two new Hindi channels -- Star Utsav, to be launched next week, and a channel that may be called Star One, later in the year. 
The two new channels will take the number of Star channels in India to eight, excluding channels such as Channel V that Star distributes, and the south India-based Vijay TV. 
More channels are on the drawing board but Star India Chief Executive Office Peter Mukerjea says it is premature to discuss them. 
The broadcasting company is also eyeing a major foray into south India, where it doesn't have a major direct presence. But its direct-to-home joint venture with the Tatas will require content in south Indian languages. So it is mulling its options -- alliances, buying a company and so on. 
Mukerjea conceded that with its Hindi programming, Star India largely remained a north Indian phenomenon. He said south India accounted for half the cable and satellite television viewing market, and that Star India's revenues and profits had been growing by about 30 per cent and to maintain this growth rate in the years ahead Star had to move into south India. 
In a wide-ranging discussion on Friday at the Star office in Mumbai, Mukerjea explained, in the context of the new channels, that Star India wanted to jack up ad rates but couldn't do so because the rates of its competitors, Sony Entertainment Television and Zee Networks, were so far behind Star's rates. 
"We want to be number one, number two and number three, followed by the others," he said. 
Star Utsav is to be a free-to-air channel whose programming will focus on classic Star programmes that have already been aired on Star Plus in

the past, but still command a high brand recall. These will include 'Saans', 'Palchin, Son Pari', 'Tu Tu Main Main', 'Musafir Hoon Yaaron' and 'Kahin Kissii Roz'. 
"We found that there was a big demand for these serials as we received offers from people to buy the rights to air these serials," Mukerjea said. 
Star One, on the other hand, is aimed at upscale viewers in the metropolitan cities with high disposable incomes. So the programming and graphics will be contemporary. 
"We find it difficult to get some kinds of ads such as car ads on Star Plus. We then identified a genre that associates itself with Hindi programming but demands an urban and youthful touch. The programming of Star One is purely designed keeping this in mind," Mukerjea said. 
Both channels are part of a grand gambit to garner additional revenues. A 30-second prime time spot on Star Utsav will cost Rs 127,000, 90 per cent less than the Rs 15 lakh (Rs 1.5 million) for a similar spot on flagship channel Star Plus. 
That makes Star Utsav far more affordable to regional advertisers who can't afford advertising on Star Plus. And since old programmes are being recycled, Star India will bear little additional cost, apart from uplinking costs. 
Star One, on the other hand, won't be a free-to-air channel -- it will be a pay channel, positioned almost on a par with Star Plus, and the ad rates are likely to be high. 
Some observers interpret the launching of Star One as a response to Sony's strategy of targeting the 25-35 age group through serials like 'Jassi Jaisi Koi Nahin'and 'Yeh Meri Life Hai', positioned against Star's prime time serials like 'Kyunki Saans Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi' and 'Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki'. 
Whatever the case, Star India is clearly determined to set the cash registers ringing even more loudly.

Rumi Datta in Mumbai