Ask Akbar Ali's family in Amethi (UP) or Kuldeep Chand's family in Pinjaur (a village in Punjab) about their favourite shows on television. They will typically talk about 'Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi' and 'Saans'.
There is nothing unusual about their choice, except for the fact that their loyalties lay elsewhere a year ago.
It's not that these families have developed a liking for these shows overnight. Put simply, these families did not have access to these soaps till June 2004, till STAR Utsav was launched as a free-to-air (FTA) channel. Within months, 'Tulsi' became equally popular in small towns and villages.
Ajay Vidyasagar, senior vice-president, marketing and communication, STAR India, says, "STAR Utsav was launched to reach out to the SEC B, C, D and E C&S households, living in smaller towns of the Hindi speaking markets, who do not have access to pay channels. With a market share of 15-20 per cent in these markets, we are quite satisfied with the channel's performance."
He adds, "These families have just entered the consuming classes and have acquired a C&S connection in the past 2-3 years. Our aim is to reach them with a FTA channel and then sell the idea of pay channels."
STAR's contention is supported by an independent research by management graduates from Mudra Institute of Communication, Ahmedabad (MICA) and the University of Melbourne.
When STAR Utsav was launched last year, the industry had expressed serious doubts on whether a channel with only repeat programming is a sensible concept. It seems the success of mother channel STAR Plus has helped STAR Utsav to taste success.
Indian demographics and aspirations had an important role to play as well. There are about 15-20 million C&S households in India now, who either cannot afford a pay channel such as ZEE, Sony or STAR Plus, or do not have access to it. Their only source of entertainment on television is free-to-air channel such as Aaj Tak, STAR Utsav, SaharaOne, Doordarshan, or regional channels such as Eenadu or Alpha channels. Research shows that this category of viewers, fed by the print media, aspire to watch popular soaps on pay channels. Also, just like a jet-setting viewer, who aspires to watch popular international television shows when back in India, a visit to a bigger town whets the appetite of a typical small-town viewer.
What's interesting is STAR Utsav's growing fan-base is not really captured by TAM statistics. That's because TAM focuses on cities and towns with an one-million-plus population. Little wonder then that STAR Utsav's market share is 1.1 per cent in cities with population below 1 million, as per TAM Media Research (C&S 4+) in Hindi speaking markets.
Undeterred by this, STAR executives claim advertisers are drawing benefits by associating with the channel. "The small-town and rural market is important for advertisers and brand owners. Almost 50 per cent of HLL's turnover comes from rural India. And in 2002-03, LIC sold 50 per cent of its policies in small towns. That's why advertisers are approaching us," Vidyasagar says.
Anita Nayyar, executive director, north and east, Starcom worldwide says in support, "For certain product categories, the urban market is very close to saturation. These cities with a sub-50,000 population will certainly open new markets for brand owners."
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