Anirban Roy Choudhury

"Being a former advertiser, I can tell you that experiments on TV are welcome": Narayan Sundararaman, Star Plus

There was a time when premier shows 'Shanti' (Doordarshan) and 'Kumkum' (Star Plus) used to air in the afternoon for people to enjoy at leisure. But the growing focus on prime-time gradually brought an end to afternoon programming and the audience was only left with repeats of prime-time shows. Well, it looks like Star India is looking back as its flagship channel, Star Plus is betting big on afternoon programming. The network has decided to bring in four new shows in the afternoon slot - what they call 'Star Plus Dopahar' (12:30 PM to 2:30 PM).

"Being a former advertiser, I can tell you that experiments on TV are welcome": Narayan Sundararaman, Star Plus

Why is Star spending heavily on the afternoon slot? Why is it that the channel is putting a sequel of one of it's most successful shows in the afternoon slot instead of prime-time? We spoke to Gaurav Banerjee, president and head content studio, Star India and Narayan Sundararaman, general manager, Star Plus to find answers of these questions... Let's see what the duo had to say...

Edited Excerpts

Why is Star Plus eyeing the afternoon slot? What makes you confident about this move?
"Being a former advertiser, I can tell you that experiments on TV are welcome": Narayan Sundararaman, Star Plus

NS: We are looking at various ways to grow the category. Our research shows that there is a sizeable audience available in the afternoon. Then we thought - What is it that they watch? The answer is - repeats of popular shows.

That's when we thought of putting together an original content rooster. We think this will help us grow the time-band, audience and consequently, the category. The consumer insight that we are building on is - women live a very busy life, juggling many roles. It is the afternoon when they get some me time to unwind. We want to capture that 'me time' with engaging stories.

Tell us more about the TG for this slot. How different is this profile from the quintessential prime-time viewer?

NS: The audience that we are tagetting is women of all ages in the HSM. We don't cut it any further. Working women, young women, old women - there's a host of individual segments available in the afternoon and they all aggregate as the afternoon progresses. Are they different from prime-time viewers? Probably not.

You placed the sequel of Diya Aur Baati Hum - a prime-time show, in the afternoon slot. Wasn't that a risk?
"Being a former advertiser, I can tell you that experiments on TV are welcome": Narayan Sundararaman, Star Plus

GB: It was a very tough call to put Diya Aur Baati Hum in the afternoon slot. We spoke a lot, argued a lot, threw a lot of data around and finally asked ourselves, how serious we were about expanding viewership and time-spend. That's when we decided to do it. We have not budgeted these (four) shows less than our prime-time shows. We are not targeting lower ratings. We are not selling at lower rates. We are playing it big.

The move comes ahead of the Indian Premier League. Was it strategically timed?

GB: IPL has nothing to do with it. IPL comes and goes; it's a matter of six weeks. But when our shows work, they work for years. So this move (afternoon slot) is not to escape any IPL onslaught.

You recently experimented with an expensive property like Prisoners Of War (POW) which failed to garner the desired ratings...

GB: POW didn't get the kind of ratings that conventional dramas on television do, but I think its a great experiment. It got a new audience in, one that otherwise wouldn't have come to the platform.

When we experiment with something new, failure rates will be high. That is a cost of operating in the creative business.

All our shows don't need to make the same amount of money. With some shows we will make money, while with some we are okay with losses. It's a part of the game.

Right, but how do advertisers handle such experiments?

NS: From a business point of view, as long as the composite moves forward in the right direction we are fine. Being a former advertiser myself, I can tell you that an advertiser always welcomes and supports an experiment.

Even so, would you have experimented more had the system not been as advertiser-dependent as it is?

GB: Honestly, that has not come in the way of experimentation for a channel like Star Plus. The scale of Star Plus is very big. A good show on Star Plus is watched by close to five crore people. When you get aggregation of that scale, a lot of advertisers are willing to pay top dollars. The revenue the channel generates is good; we invest that into meaningful content. Could this change for the better with a better subscription-environment? To be honest, yes of course. Globally, look at channels like HBO - they have the ability to disrupt because they are not ad-funded at all.

The four shows Star Plus is launching are: A sequel of 'Diya Aur Baati Hum','Tu Sooraj mein Saanjh, Piyaji' produced by Shashi-Sumeet productions, an adaptation of a Turkish show 'Fatmagul', 'Kya Kasoor Hai Amla Ka?' produced by Purnendu Shekhar, Nandita Mehra and Bhairavi Raichura (24 Frames). 'Ek Aastha Aisi Bhee' by Ved Raj and Dheeraj Sarna and 'Dhhai Kilo Prem', from the creative mind of Sandiip Sikcand which will be produced by him in collaboration with Balaji TeleFilms.

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