Only the logo will change: Venkatramani

31 May,2012


As the clock strikes 12 midnight, the logo on popular Hindi, Bengali and Marathi news channels Star News, Star Ananda and Star Majha will change. In fact as the communication from the channels has been emphasizing, save the brandname, nothing else will. Following the announcement of the discontinuation of the Star brand affiliation with MCCS (Media Content and Communications Pvt Ltd), the the Ananda Bazar Patrika and Star India jv, the three 24-hour channels will be rechristened. Star News to ABP News, Star Ananda to ABP Ananda and Star Majha to ABP Majha.


MCCS unveiled its new logos for the three channels and kicked off its communication campaign around the rebranding on May 7. The creative communication campaign was developed by Lowe Mumbai and the media buying plan was formulated by Mindshare. The aggressive communication campaign based on the theme, “Our Stars don’t change, our News does not change, only our Name changes”, was launched across media, on TV, Print, Radio, Outdoor and Internet to familiarize viewers and stakeholders about the new name and logo.


Just hours ahead of the rebranding, MxMIndia spoke to Mr Ashok Venkatramani, CEO, MCCS on the acceptability levels of the new name, measures being undertaken to retain viewership and the road ahead for MCCS.


What time will the change happen?

Tonight. 12 midnight.


Since you spoke to us the day the announcement was made to now, what are the reports that your front-facing sales and editorial forces bring you – in terms of acceptability of the name… especially for Star News to ABP News?

So far the feedback has been positive and encouraging. If I were to divide the stakeholders into three parts – the viewers, the newsmakers and the media buyers and the trade, for the first segment which comprises viewers, the change has not happened. It’s going to happen from tomorrow. But since the time we announced, there has been no change in our ratings. We report daily news, and as long as it is the same set of people doing the same set of news in the same manner, I don’t expect much change there. The second constituent which is the newsmaker, there is absolutely no issue there because ABP is a very strong name in the newspaper and magazine industry. It’s been there for long and ABP has very strong news credentials. The third segment which is the trade and media buyers, feedback has been positive… virtually no problem with the large houses. There again, ABP is not a new name, everyone buys print so they know. So it has been positive, and it’s best manifested in the sales that have happened in the last couple of months. I am fairly confident that we will be able to pull this through comfortably.


But the biggest component is the viewer, which is untested yet and that’s where the ratings come in.

Frankly, unlike the entertainment media where your ratings are linked to some big property and the fate of the channel is linked to that property, in a news channel, where even before the name change there is a fair degree of clutter and poor differentiation. Over a period of time, each channel has established rating levels based on consistency of its content. And that consistency is driven by the way we report, the speed of reporting, the honesty, the faces or the anchors who come on our channel, the kind of programmes we have. Now those things don’t change, the reporting and the people are the same. To my mind, just a logo change in the corner doesn’t dramatically change impact of the news channel. And if you take the two regional channels, Ananda and Majha, they are clear market leaders, and there again nothing changes- the anchors are the same, reporting is the same, and the position of the channel in the EPG is the same.


Any attempts to retain viewership… like contests et al? And any specific measures to retain advertisers? And for the distribution trade?

No, we are not resorting to any short-term activity to garner quick eyeballs because our genre doesn’t subscribe to that. What we can potentially do is break big stories but there is already so much action happening. What we are doing is engaging with our trade, media buyers and distributors. We are having a series of meetings with them, small personalized interactions where we can chat and exchange views with them. It’s more of a personalized engagement with the constituents rather than any on-air activity for the viewer.


Given that there is a change, are there any specific areas that you are changing in the new channels?

It would be exactly the same and deliberately so. We just want to do one measure at a time, so at this point there is no change other than the name change. But as we progress into the new name and once the new name gets fully established, people start recognizing it, and then we will look at other measures like relaunching the channel, changing the look and feel etc.


When is that likely to happen?

Too early to say.


Our columnists Anil Thakraney had commented that this is possibly a good occasion for changing some of the typical things that are common on Hindi channels, like over-sensationalizing etc. Are you thinking of doing that now?

No, actually if you watch the channel, we have done that for the last one-and-a-half years now. This is a common misconception most people have because they don’t see Hindi news channels on a regular basis. This is a genre problem where we have a lingering perception. For example, I have got out of astrology for a year now, I don’t have a single programme on the channel which talks about astrology. It’s been more than a year-and-a-half since we got out of religion. Now we have not gone out on the rooftops and shouted about it but all these things we’ve already done. We have only hard-hitting news on our channel from 5pm to 10pm. And we’ve done this because we felt this is the right thing to do for a genre not because our name is changing. To my mind, in a news channel, these changes take time to notice.


A programme like ‘Asar’ with Aamir Khan would’ve obviously started on Star News because it was a Star Plus show. Will the preferred partner status continue to exist even after June 1?

Yes, in fact they are still our shareholders. Secondly, all such deals are purely on a commercial basis but obviously relationships were strong. In fact not many people know that Satyamev Jayate used to be a programme on Star News started by Uday Shankar when he used to be here. And we didn’t have a problem in them doing Satyamev Jayate, so the relationship continues. They continue to be our distribution partners, they continue to distribute our channels internationally.


There is this news that Star might also exit the JV because they say it is not really worth their while to have a stake when they don’t have any say. Is that something that you have factored in?

Actually I don’t want to comment on it because it’s a JV issue which only the JV partners can address. And I think it is best addressed by Star and ABP. But I guess any commercial investment by any investor has to be based on commercial returns. Now how an investor evaluates investment in the news business depends entirely on the investor.


Have you done any brand studies or surveys on the acceptability levels of the new names?

Yes, we have done research. A name change always has to be a combination of some research and some amount of strategy. One can’t entirely depend on research, it’s like naming a baby, where you look at the ‘granth sahib’ and pick up the alphabet and choose your name. So I think for us, given the fact that ABP is a serious player in the news business and they have long-term ambitions to be in news, including broadcast news, it did make sense to have a master brand which can be built going forward. So it was a combination of strategy and research.


How active will ABP be, or will it be the same with you running the enterprise and ABP being on the board level?

Nothing changes even on that front. Even now both the shareholders, Star and ABP continue to be the parents allowing MCCS to do its own thing. They were always available to be tapped, whenever we needed inputs. Any dealing with them is also at commercial terms. I don’t see any change in that.


The campaign of the name change kicked off rather early, from the time you made the announcement… was it part of the original design or was it something which changed later?

Obviously we saw it coming and we had a headstart of a month or so. A couple of months were good enough for us to churn out a campaign, so that’s how it was.


Will see a more robust online presence of the MCCS channels now, including an English news website?

If you look at our entire strategy, not just online, it is driven by a simple definition of who we are and what we are. We believe that we are not a television news company, we are a news content company. If we are a news content company, we should be platform-agnostic and we should be available on all platforms where a viewer might like to consume news. So we developed all these websites and developed 3G platforms, mobile downloads etc. so that we are available in all platforms. For us the allied platforms were not like profit centres, we were happy to get the revenue but at the same time we wanted to be present in all the platforms. The problem is that the online rights of Star News were international, which is why we didn’t get .in at that point of time. So we had to go with another name. Now going forward, our strategy remains the same.


Any new channels coming up in the immediate future?

We are working on newer options… frankly, it’s a question of the right timing. It is not related to this name change or the JV, it is an independent aspect which we in MCCS have been exploring and continue to explore. I would probably wait and watch because next six months are going to be a huge turning point. For example, if the entire digitization process goes on well as planned, it has a big impact on news channels and also our own company in terms of how we project the next five years. If the digitization process gets postponed or deferred then I will be a little more cautious. We do have plans but whether I press the button or not, I’ll probably wait and watch.


Will it be organic or inorganic or both?

It could be both, it’s a question of a right opportunity.


Say, for instance, if a NewsX is available, would that be an option?

I wouldn’t rule out anything but I would evaluate everything for the value it brings and how much it costs. If it makes business sense, why not. But it’s not as if we would be chasing any particular company or a set of channels or anything like that.


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