'Our biggest ambition is to rival Star Plus'

In conversation with Campaign India, Ajit Thakur, general manager, Life OK, opens up on expanding the market base, targeted channel share for 2013 and more.

Jan 18, 2013 02:25:00 PM | Article | Shephali Bhatt


Life OK, the second Hindi GEC from Star network, completed a year’s run in December 2012. Campaign India caught up with Ajit Thakur, general manager, Life OK, to understand the strategies that worked in the channel's favour and the ones that didn't. Thakur also shed light on plans for2013 and how a second GEC in a network operates. Edited excerpts:

What is the current channel share of Life OK in the Hindi GEC genre? How has it grown?

The current channel share for Life OK is 10 per cent. When Star One was transformed into Life OK, we had a 3 per cent share in the Hindi GEC market. We started off with 30 to 40 GRPs and today we hover around 120 GRPs on most weeks. In places like Uttar Pradesh and New Delhi, we garner 180 to 200 GRPs at times. Clearly, we have been among the fastest growing GECs in the country.

What were the highlights of this viewership growth phase?

First would be the take-off of Saubhagyavati Bhava. We asked people to tell us how they'd want the story to proceed and got a tremendous response from over two lakh people. And these were all paid calls.

Second was the turnaround of Devon ke Dev Mahadev. The show didn't get much response initially. We decided to treat it like it were being launched every month. And now it has become an event. The Mahakali episode was the highest viewed episode across all GECs in the last year. It registered close to 8 TVR.

‘Savdhan India’ would be the third highlight. It was a total experiment in the crime show genre wherein we didn't talk about police or authorities solving crimes. Instead, it shows you stories of common folk battling crime and setting a precedent for others to follow. The show opened with a 6.7 TVR.

Any specific strategies you tried in the last year that didn't work out?

When we started off, we were clear that Life OK is going to be an anti-GEC Hindi entertainment channel - in that it will have shows that are entertaining but they'll be relevant at the same time. They will have a social message at the end of it. And we were clear that we will not have anySaas-bahu series. We stuck to it but in the process we realised that some shows, which had a strong social message, were not very high on entertainment. Tum Dena Saath Mera was one such show. Some of these shows didn't deliver.

Secondly, we were slow in expanding our market base. We started in the North with UP and Delhi and got an overwhelming response. But we could have continued to expand further which didn't happen. That's going to be our agenda for this year now.

We also realised that we didn't utilise outdoor marketing initially. We intend to change that this year as well.

What does your media plan look like?

We still spend more than half of our marketing budgets on TV given its wide reach. Our online engagement is pretty strong, be it via Life OK's website, Facebook page or our Twitter account. In fact we launched online eight hours before we went live on TV. We had different music bands performing for us (at the launch), where they'd sing their respective Mahadev themed songs and we'd introduce our chief characters from different shows through the gig.

Life OK was the first to air shows without any commercial breaks. How has that worked so far?

It worked well. But as inventory grew and the channel gained momentum, we have had to change that pattern.

How different is life when you're working for a second GEC of a big network?

It's interesting to say the least. Uday (Shankar) and Sanjay (Gupta) encourage us to compete with Star Plus all the time. Our biggest ambition is to rival Star Plus, in fact. We have separate teams so there's no overlapping of any kind. We work at a good arm’s length and enjoy a healthy competitive relationship. Sometimes, we compete for producers and fight to get the same show. But there's no such thing as one channel being given more importance than the other within the network.

How strong is the traction toward Life OK's Live TV service? Are there plans to enhance online viewership?

I don't think there's regular sampling happening online on our website. People do go online to watch promos and navigate what's new but chances of them watching an entire show online is highly unlikely. In that sense, the Live TV service hasn't really broken through. But that's got more to do with the internet penetration than anything else.

There are enough changes happening, and the scenario will change soon. For now, we are not looking at trying to push viewership online. But we will constantly focus on enhancing online engagement with our audience.

How have advertisers responded to the online service?

Quite positively. But that's because advertisers have their own opinion on the content. Yet, online TV at the moment is not sizable enough to become a revenue stream for us. In future, of course.

What is the channel’s approach to social media, and what are the budgets like?

We are not spending a significant amount of money on social media. But we are constantly growing our fan base. Social media is critical for us in three aspects. It allows our online audience (mostly men and youngsters) to see our content, to engage with it, and most of all, it facilitates a feedback mechanism for us. I love going through all the love-hate mails/messages they send us on Facebook and Twitter. It helps you devise future strategies as well.

What should one expect from Life OK in 2013?

We plan to double our share from 10 per cent to 20 per cent. But without compromising on our core philosophy - relevant entertainment. Our shows are finite and they'd have to be replaced. We plan to launch one new show every month. We'll continue to tell new stories and if there are old classics, we'll try to tell them differently but you'll find a distinct element everywhere. Getting Madhuri Dixit as a sutradhar (narrator) was a good idea. We're planning to get another big celebrity (relevant to Life OK's proposition) who will take that role to the next level.