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After a facelift in January, Star Utsav to turn pay next month

MUMBAI: After running as a free-to-air (FTA) service for more than 11 years, Star India’s Hindi general entertainment channel Star Utsav is finally set to turn pay on 16 August midnight.

Star UtsavEarlier in January, the channel had changed its logo, packaging, programming and scheduling too, giving itself a needed facelift. Prior to that, Star India had elevated its vice president Jyotsna Viriyala to the position of business head of Star Utsav after Pratik Seal’s exit from the organisation.

In a public notice issued on 13 July, Star India intimated that Star Utsav will be converted to a pay channel across India and across all delivery platforms, including cable (analogue as well as digital), direct-to-home (DTH), and headend-in-the-sky (HITS).

Speculations that Star Utsav will turn into a pay channel started making rounds soon after Seal was made the company’s business head. Interestingly, before Seal, the channel never had an independent business head and the business head of Star Plus would handle the additional responsibility.

Star Utsav, which is the most-watched channel on Prasar Bharati’s FTA DTH service DD Freedish, was enjoying a free run sans any competition till 2013. However, later Zee Anmol and Viacom18’s Rishtey also entered the FTA space and Multi Screen Media’s (MSM) Sony Pal also took a Freedish slot, leaving the market cramped but offering audiences more choice.

The channel currently telecasts re-runs of shows from Star Plus and Life OK.

In an earlier interaction, Star India COO Sanjay Gupta had told TelevisionPost.com that as an FTA channel Star Utsav is doing quite well in the Hindi heartland. “Star Utsav requires a lot of focus and attention because a large number of advertisers are keen to talk to those consumers. That’s why we appointed Pratik Seal as the business head of the channel.”

Asked if the channel would offer fresh programming, he had said that repeat would be a very wrong word to describe the content that Star Utsav offers. “I think there is no difference between Star World and Star Utsav. Star World also repeats content. But Star World’s content is new to us Indians and Star Utsav’s is not. For many viewers who do not have access to Star Plus or Life OK, Star Utsav offers fresh content. In a sense, therefore, Star Utsav is the Star World of India,” he had said.

Star Utsav has great reach. Viewers who do not have cable can get the channel via Freedish. It is available on all the DTH platforms as well as most of the digital cable platforms.

When asked as to what may have prompted Star India to take the channel pay, a senior media buyer said, “Over time, Star Utsav has become a strong FTA channel with great recall value. I believe the company is looking to exploit the same by turning it pay.”

He added, however, that once the channel goes pay, the reach will go down and the channel will in most probability add original content. “You cannot be a pay channel and remain on Freedish. So once the channel gets out of Freedish, its reach is going to drop significantly. Moreover, it will have to put in some original content, which will take its input cost higher. But it will get subscription revenue,” he added.

While Star India is yet to disclose its reasons and strategy for the conversion, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd chief sales officer Ashish Sehgal does not think Zee will follow suit. “I am sure they have their strategy, but Zee Anmol remains an FTA channel. The ad pie is big and growing.”

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