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Colors Kannada: The journey to the top

MUMBAI: From a No. 5 position two years back, Colors Kannada (then ETV Kannada) has come a long way to reach the top position in its market.

The regional GEC from TV18 commenced the journey to the top in March 2013 after the launch of the Kannada-language version of ‘Bigg Boss’, with actor Kiccha Sudeep as host. Thereafter, it has been like a dream run for the channel that sprinted to the second spot in less than a year in a genre that was dominated by Sun TV Network’s Udaya TV.

Deciding to be independent of movies, the channel started building on weekday non-fiction properties (‘Bigg Boss’, ‘Indian’), and followed it up with a strong fiction line-up.

Color Color

In April this year, two years after a major programming overhaul, there was another big change in the offing. ETV Kannada was rebranded as Colors Kannada, shedding its 14-year-old ETV branding and assuming a younger and more colourful Colors brand.

Incidentally, with BARC India ratings, the channel also hopped on to the No. 1 position, breaking the dominance of Southern major Sun TV Network in a market pegged at around Rs 500 crore (Rs 5 billion).

Kannada pieViacom18 EVP and project head of regional channels (Colors Kannada, Colors Bangla and Colors Odiya) Ravish Kumar says that the channel has grown on the back of pure programming, events, innovation and most importantly hard work of the team.

Media buyers also acknowledge the change in the market. Madison Media COO Karthik Lakshminarayan states, “While Kannada is a Rs 500-crore advertising market, Colors Kannada is the new leader and they are doing pretty well.  The market has seen a change in leadership from Udaya TV to Colors Kannada.”

A big boost of non-fiction

A media observer comments that ETV Kannada was an old brand that needed steroids for growth, which could be either big films or bigger reality shows. The channel went for the latter.

Colors Kannada_non fiction

“When we took over ETV Kannada, the equity was very strong and it was the foundation for us to build on. That’s when we introduced ‘Bigg Boss’ in Kannada market with Sudeep as anchor. That worked very well for us and also signalled a change in the market,” Kumar says.

Indeed, it was a big change for viewers too, as ETV Kannada became the first regional channel to host the international format show ‘Bigg Boss Kannada 1’. The show brought in a younger, newer group of audience.

Just after it was over, the channel launched a new homegrown reality format show ‘Indian’, which featured youngsters travelling across the country and engaging in challenging tasks.

In quick successions, the channel got more reality formats like ‘Dancing Stars’, game show ‘Super Minute’ (‘Minute to Win It’) and ‘Maja Talkies’ (with inspiration from Colors’ ‘Comedy Nights With Kapil’).

Incidentally, the cost of ‘Bigg Boss 1’ proved a deterrent for the channel. As a result, it decided to let go of the format, which was pocketed by rival Suvarna TV for a second season. However, Colors Kannada, now at the leadership position, has once again acquired the format and will soon launch the third season of the reality show.

Ravish Kumar“We are launching the next season of ‘Bigg Boss’,” Kumar tells. “Over time, the channel has become stronger, so our ability to monetise has definitely improved and we are looking forward to creating franchisees of all these properties.”

He adds that unlike the Hindi version of the reality show, the Kannada ‘Bigg Boss’ is completely different. “Ours is a family entertainer which everyone can watch at the primetime. In the first season, we had a number of celebrities to attract audiences, which worked brilliantly. We will soon announce what we plan to do in the next season,” he adds.

The channel is already airing the second season of ‘Dancing Stars’ and, upon its culmination, will launch ‘Dancing Star Junior’, building on the popularity of the format.

The channel currently airs two non-fiction shows between 8 and 10 pm on the weekends.

A staple diet of fiction

While non-fiction was doing wonders for the channel, it alone could not be a model for success and the channel needed a staple diet of fiction to sustain. Hence, it launched a slew of fictions shows, shifting non-fiction from weekdays to the weekends.

The channel went for adaptations of Colors’ shows like ‘Balika Vadhu’ (‘Puttagowri Maduve’) and ‘Madhubala’ (‘Ashwini Nakshatra’), as well as locally produced strong stories like ‘Lakshmi Baramma’, ‘Agnisakshi’, ‘Akka’ and ‘Kulavadhu’.

Colors Kannada_fiction

“We look for good stories around the globe, which we believe can be successfully adapted for the Kannada market. We don’t blindly copy, nor do we limit ourselves just because we are a regional channel,” avers Kumar.

Talking about innovation in fiction, he says that ‘Agnisakshi’ resulted from an amalgamation of two hit serials, where the boy, best friend of the protagonist of ‘Lakshmi Baramma’ and the girl, sister of the lead in ‘Ashwini Nakshatra’, come together in a wedlock.

“We were shooting for all three shows simultaneously. So while it may sound easy, it was extremely difficult to pull off as we had to look into every little detail,” Kumar explains.

Similarly, blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction, Priya Sudeep, the real-life wife of superstar K Sudeep, came onto ‘Ashwini Nakshatra’ to patch up the lead couple in reel life, offering them advice.

“Our team has been pushing the envelope constantly, blurring the lines between fiction and non-fiction,” Kumar says.

Today, the channel boasts the maximum number of fiction shows, 13, in a week. It has a primetime from 6 to 11 pm, while in the afternoon it has three original shows.

Serial ‘Sante’ or village fairs

While the channel has hosted various events across the state over the last two years, including Shiva puja as part of its show ‘Charanadaasi’ as well as Ganeshotsava, it has also invested in the concept of ‘Serial Sante’, where each serial team travels to various parts of the state to meet and greet their fans.

Sante“We take our popular actors to cities and towns across the state where they play their respective characters and connect with fans. Initially, when we started ‘Serial Sante’, we used to get 1,000–2,000 fans. The number kept growing. Now the number is about 10,000+ and crowd management has become a task,” laughs Kumar. “But this is just an indication of how much viewers love us.”

The channel airs these monthly events on the weekends.

Another property the channel has created is ‘Anubandha Awards’, a novel family celebration where every artist in the house is honoured for their performance.

The voting for ‘Anubandha Awards’ happens through an in-house system. Artists within the Colors Kannada family vote for their peers, within their respective categories. Their vote and reason for it are recorded and aired on the channel.

“Our events are large and are shot like movies. They are generally five hours of duration. We make sure that they become a fantastic on-ground experience for live audiences, even though they are shot for TV,” Kumar says.

A sporadic movie strategy

The channel has lined up an array of fiction and reality programmes. It hardly invests in movies, and its library is old and extensively used.

“We hardly use movies anymore,” accepts Kumar. “Our library was old and used up. We didn’t see any value in putting those titles in the afternoon or weekends.”

Therefore, the question is if the channel is against buying new movies. Kumar says, “We tend to buy new movies opportunistically. Our movie airing is sporadic as we air them strategically to drive viewership before the launch of key properties.”

He feels that movies pull in very large audience and are good audience aggregators. At the same time, however, the channel has to be mindful of financials. “We tend to buy four to eight titles in a year, which are never the biggest titles in the market,” he adds.

Considering the channel’s current share in viewership is almost 39 per cent, Kumar states that the success has involved a lot of hard work, innovation and focus on the ground details. “Viewers have really loved and appreciated what we have put out on the channel in terms of content,” he sums up.