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As Star News re-brands to ABP News, and Star Ananda and Star Majha become ABP Ananda and ABP Majha, Ashok Venkatramani, CEO of MCCS, talks to Srabana Lahiri about shedding the 'Star' brand affiliation, what it implies for the channels and building Brand ABP in new markets

Come June 1, and all news channels under the Media Content and Communication Services (MCCS), a joint venture between Anandabazar Patrika TV of the ABP Group and STAR News Broadcasting Ltd of the Star Group, will shed the ‘Star’ name and embrace the ‘ABP’ tag. In a re-branding exercise reportedly sans any organizational changes, the three MCCS news channels STAR News (Hindi), Star Ananda (Bengali) and Star Majha (Marathi) will now become ABP News, ABP Ananda and ABP Majha. Apparently, the logic behind the move is Star’s keenness to build their brand around their core business, which is general entertainment, and ABP’s desire to grow in the news space. In a conversation with IMPACT, Ashok Venkatramani, CEO of MCCS, discusses issues at the core of the re-branding exercise. Here are some excerpts:

Q] What will be the immediate implication of the rebranding of MCCS channels Star Ananda, Star Majha and Star News as ABP Ananda, ABP Majha and ABP News? Do you think the channels’ ratings will be affected?

The key challenge of the rebranding exercise is to ensure that all viewers of the MCCS news channels get clear communication that it is only a name change, and that nothing has changed in the way the channels deliver news. Once this is done, I don’t expect anything else to be impacted. Viewers judge news channels by the speed, transparency, honesty and analysis of news content. No drop in news or content quality is expected, nor are the tone and tenor going to change. If these things are the same, then ratings are expected to be steady once the communication task is completed.

Q] What does this mean for MCCS in terms of day-to-day operations - will it embody any other change?

Apart from the name, absolutely nothing changes – the editorial team, anchors, sales team’s way of working - everything will continue as it is. We are a strong and stable company, with a committed and competent editorial team. Our Sales & Marketing teams are competent and customer-oriented. They will continue to perform to the best of their abilities and maintain consistency in the company’s performance.

Q] How have advertisers reacted to the dropping of the ‘Star’ name, which adds immense brand value? Will it not have an impact on business?

Advertisers and media buyers have been very supportive about this transition. We have been quite prompt and transparent in our communication. They understand that it takes more than just a brand name to build and run a bunch of successful news channels. This is a service industry and like in any service industry, its main asset is its people. So advertisers understand that as long as the people who deliver the product and value don’t change, things are expected to be as usual. Mergers and acquisitions are not new to the media industry and they are used to seeing changes around them. What’s important to them is how these changes and transition are being managed and that’s what gives them the confidence. We don’t expect this to have much of an impact on our business. In fact, it is two months since we announced and business has been as good as ever. In all our interactions with our advertisers, they have been very understanding. Let’s also not forget that in the media space , ABP is not a small name and has an awesome reputation of its own in the print space.

Q] MCCS channels are also present in international markets - do you intend to continue with this? How is the distribution going to be managed?

Our channels will continue in the international markets as earlier. Our Hindi channel will continue to be distributed by Star International. Our regional channels are distributed in the US through Gobosat on the Dish Network. Nothing changes in those arrangements except the name.

Q] How do you ensure that viewers in those markets are aware that this is just a name change?

Those markets are captive markets, and we are using our own channels to inform our existing viewers about the name change. That is the simplest way to inform viewers. Other than that, we leave it to our distributor partners to inform the Indian diaspora about the name change through various local communication methods.

Q] Your communication exercises tell viewers that nothing has changed but the name. But what about viewers’ brand connect? Isn’t there danger of alienating a core group of consumers and creating a gap in their sense of continuity?

No, not really. Consumers come to a particular channel for one or more of the following reasons - speed and quality of news, preferred anchor, style of news delivery, quality of news analysis and respect for the channel. Here, the first four factors have not changed at all and consumers would know it the moment they see it on air. The channel itself is a very good forum to communicate the change. The Star brand in India is seen as a strong entertainment and media brand because it cuts across genres, but it does not have core equity in news. The moving away of that brand name does not affect our news equity. However, ‘Star’ does connote a premium quality and that we will bring in, by way of enhanced technical quality of transmission, and the way the look and feel of the channel is managed. In the news genre, the core users of any brand are a small number; there is a large segment of fence-sitters who jump channels depending on the quality of the news running. The continuous viewership of news is about three to seven minutes before the viewer switches channels. A news channel is evaluated by the first four factors I mentioned earlier and those don’t change.

Q] Would it not have made sense to refresh the brands at the same time as the rebranding - change content, use bolder colours and reliable hooks to grab attention, to make people notice the change and hold their interest?

From a marketing viewpoint, it’s better to bring about these changes sequentially – first migrate viewers from the current name to the new name. In the next step, relaunch or refresh the brand, the look and feel of the channel, colours, content improvement, etc. Multi-tasking is not advisable as that would confuse viewers.

Q] ABP is a very credible media brand in some markets, but in two of your key markets in the Hindi and Marathi belt, it is virtually unknown. How do you plan to build Brand ABP in these markets?

We have plans to build ABP as a national news brand. It has strong news equity in one part of the country. We will take that equity forward and build it as a strong national news brand. That’s the task for the future, on which we are working.

Q] What challenges do you foresee in the first few weeks after the re-branding?

The key challenge is to ensure that the name change is communicated to all news viewers as quickly as possible and it registers well, so that the existing equity is migrated to the new brand. We have segmented the audience into three groups: news-makers (people with whom our journalists interact to gather news), trade partners (media buyers, distributors, vendors and suppliers) and viewers of our channels. The communication to the first two segments is relatively easy, as they know about the change and strength of the ABP brand. So, the main challenge and bulk of efforts required would be for the last segment, to build the communication in terms of reach and frequency, and quickly and effectively meet the objectives. We have a good creative campaign put together by a very good team from Lowe, Mumbai and the media plan has been put together by Mindshare. The plans are robust enough to meet the challenge.

Q] What are your plans for MCCS?

We would be looking at new growth opportunities – both organic and inorganic – to make sure that we deliver to the expectations of our shareholders and viewers.

Feedback: srabana@exchange4media.com

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