Anindita Sarkar

ABP vs STAR; what lies ahead?

It is expected that at least for the following 4-6 weeks from the day the change is in place, the channels, especially ABP News and ABP Majha, are sure to experience volatility in viewership.

Effective June 1, Media Content & Communication Services (MCCS) will take off the STAR quotient from its television news channels and dress them with their new identities, namely ABP News (currently STAR News), ABP Ananda (currently STAR Ananda) and ABP Majha (currently STAR Majha).

MCCS is also crafting an eight-week communication campaign around the revamp procedure, wherein the communication theme states, 'Our Stars don't change, our News does not change, only our name changes'.

But even as MCCS is aggressively gearing up to endorse this new change, will the STAR-drop have an impact on the overall news brand? afaqs! explores.

Well, the answer is simple. At least for the following 4-6 week period from the day the change is in place, the channels, especially ABP News and ABP Majha, are sure to experience a drop in viewership, which could be massive. And here is the reason why!

Impact on viewership!

With the change in name, a common layman will have two perceptions at play. While the first set will believe that the channels are new launches which would instantly break the loyalty base, the other set will choose to drift from the channel thinking that this change would also mean a change in overall content.

ABP vs STAR; what lies ahead?
ABP vs STAR; what lies ahead?
ABP vs STAR; what lies ahead?
ABP vs STAR; what lies ahead?
This, in turn, could in fact increase the sampling of other channels, thereby attracting the loyalists to find comfort in competition.

"Interestingly, since the change is happening at the same time when India TV is steadily graduating toward better content (being viewed by SEC A and B too, now), the STAR News loyalists could eventually shift to India TV," says Pratik Rathod, senior investment director, Maxus Global.

According to Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting, while ABP's brand popularity is limited to West Bengal, STAR is a well-known brand, nationally.

"And since for many viewers outside West Bengal, ABP means only a random set of letters, there will surely be the struggle to gather national eyeballs with the identity change - at least in the initial phase," he says.

Many industry experts, meanwhile, point out another interesting factor. The change in the news channels' status - from being a STAR-identified product to an ABP - could bring in some insecurity into the channel employees. Consequently, if the people choose to quit, especially the faces of the channels (read editorial), it could call for a huge debacle.

"While the change will initially confuse people, the relatable faces on the channels have the potential to bring back the drifted audiences. However, if the faces choose to leave, the relatability will completely die down and thus, the brand building will have to start from scratch," they say.

Praveen Tripathi, chief executive, Magic9 Media & Consumer Knowledge, however, has a different take. According to him, while the channels could see a major fluctuation in viewership during the first 4-6 weeks post the change, the transition will not affect the eastern parts of India.

"ABP is an extremely renowned brand not just in West Bengal, but even in the other parts of East India. As a result, the change will have its least effect in this side of the country and in fact, could turn out to be a positive transition," he says.

And so the impact on advertising!

Evidently, with such a fluctuation and fall in viewership, many media experts note that advertisers are taking a step back to re-evaluate investments and wait to see the viewership swing. Many note that if the channel remains consistent with its content, the core channel audience is eventually expected to return, once they have sampled the other channels. Nevertheless, if the comfort zone is found, there could be a few who could stay back on another channel.

Tripathi opines, "It also depends on the ad sales team. If the ABP ad sales team decides to take over, some of the relationships with older clients could be lost. But if the team stays the same, the loss could be minimal. After all, ABP signifies a stronger equity in news when compared to STAR. STAR is seen as more of a GEC-specialised entity, with news as an added offering."

MCCS defends!

Neeraj Sanan, executive vice-president and head, marketing and distribution, MCCS explains that the viewership and thus ratings of any given news channel primarily depends upon five factors namely - brand name, the people (anchors and reporters), the programming, its visual identity (look and point) and the stand it takes (positioning).

"Here only one thing is changing - the brand name; rest the core strength of the channel remains intact. Therefore, we are sure that in the short term the habit of watching the channel will translate into brand loyalty and in the long-term, that brand will become the habit. Therefore, we do believe that the viewership fluctuations will be minimal," he says.

MCCS states that the company is committed to its advertisers and viewers. It has taken the requisite actions on the basis of the various learnings from several successful transitions in India. The company states that it will ensure a smooth migration of viewers so that the business proposition to advertisers remain a constant.