Perhaps the boldest launch by an Indian broadcaster in the regional sector in recent years has finally been announced: in a discreet notice published last week, the newly-renamed Disney Star has officially revealed information about the launch of its Odia GEC (general entertainment channel) Star Kirano, which will take place on 1 June 2022, in both SD and HD versions. Originally supposed to launch on 24 January 2022, but then delayed indefinitely, this signifies a decision of huge consequence for India’s largest broadcaster, as it expands beyond its comfort zone of the big six regional languages (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Bengali and Marathi) to embark on uncharted territory and bring much-needed competition to the fast-growing but still largely untapped market of Odisha.
Kirano is the Odia form of the Indian word kiran, meaning ray of light, and the launch of Star Kirano will indeed be the sunrise of a new era for the Odia TV industry, which is currently dominated by the likes of Zee Sarthak and Tarang TV but does not have any HD channel so far. This comes a few weeks after the broadcaster’s Marathi movie channel Pravah Picture goes on air on 15 May after several months of delay, and even though the other proposed launches and shutdowns by Disney Star remain on hold, these two launches alone are so important for Indian TV that it is perhaps best that they are occurring well ahead of the others.
Preparations are under way for the new launch, on the ground and on social media
News broke through in January 2022 that shooting has started for some TV serials that will be aired on Star Kirano, involving big Odia production houses and starring major actors. A couple of them have tentatively been named Sata Sure Bandha E Jibana and Tulasi Ei Aganara. It is expected to be only a matter of weeks before more news is revealed about these serials and other shows that will be aired on the new channel.
Meanwhile, Star Kirano has set up a simple Facebook page with a single picture that asks viewers to stay tuned for further updates, without revealing any further information. The page description simply states: Stay calm and keep watching for fun-filled entertainment soon. Over time, more information will be released through the channel’s social media pages and through existing platforms, as has been the case for Pravah Picture earlier this month.
Star Kirano will shake up the Odia TV sector from day one, and give Odisha its first-ever HD channel
Back in October 2021, six months ago to the day from the publication of this article, when news first broke about Disney Star planning the mega-launch of several channels (and the shutdown of many underperforming ones), we featured a detailed analysis about how each of them would disrupt their respective genres. In the case of Star Kirano, we mentioned how Disney Star’s resounding success in the big six regional languages — with Star Maa (Telugu), Star Jalsha (Bengali), Asianet (Malayalam) and Star Pravah (Marathi) the leaders in their respective languages by a huge margin, and Star Vijay (Tamil) not far behind the perennial leader, Sun TV, plus Star Suvarna (Kannada) also doing well — had meant that it did not have to look at expanding in other Indian regional languages. This is unlike Zee, which has launched channels like Zee Punjabi and Zee Ganga (Bhojpuri) — the latter having rebranded from Big Ganga — in the past couple of years, as well as Viacom18, which has been rumoured to be planning new channels in languages like Telugu and Bhojpuri.
Star Kirano will bring the focus of many to the Odia TV market, which has a huge potential that has so far not been harnessed completely. Today, the main players in the Odia GEC sector are as follows: the market leader Tarang TV, which is owned by Ortel Communications, the largest TV broadcaster in Odisha; Zee Sarthak, which rebranded from Sarthak TV in 2017 following its acquisition by Zee two years prior; Colors Odia from Viacom18, the oldest private Odia GEC (launched in 2002 as ETV Odia); the free-to-air Manjari TV from the Sambad newspaper group, launched in 2020; and Sidharth TV, which was launched in May 2021 by Sitaram Agarwal — the original owner of Sarthak TV before Zee acquired it — but was added by Tata Play only last week, on 8 April.
In addition, there are a number of other Odia TV channels, especially news channels, and the non-news, non-GEC channels are all run either by Ortel Communications (Tarang Music, the movie channel Alankar TV and the Hindu devotional channel Prarthana TV) or the newbie Sidharth network (Sidharth Gold and Sidharth Bhakti). None of these channels are available in high definition, though a logo trademark for Tarang HD has been filed with the Government’s Intellectual Property Office. Furthermore, it has applied for a trademark for Tarang Bangla, which, if launched, will mark its foray into the cut-throat Bengali TV sector, which is the largest regional market in eastern India.
Indeed, there is not a single HD channel in any of the regional languages outside the big six, such as Assamese, Gujarati, Punjabi and Bhojpuri, besides Odia. Even though OTT platforms such as Voot and ZEE5 are able to provide episodes and other shows in these languages in HD, the lack of native HD channels in this day and age remains a glaring omission — especially since all the major GECs and several other channels in the big six languages have been available in HD since at least 2017. Given that Star Kirano HD will be the first-ever Odia HD channel, it will be a revolution for Odia television, since it has so far not been able to match up to the big six languages in terms of scale and reach — a big reason being the lack of HD channels.
It is very much possible that Tarang and Zee Sarthak, at least, will speed up the launches of their own HD versions under pressure from Star Kirano HD. While Tarang does intend to launch an HD version in the coming years, there is no such certainty for Zee Sarthak or Colors Odia to do so any time soon. It had been rumoured a few years back that Zee Sarthak might launch an HD feed, but this has not borne fruit so far, and Zee has instead proceeded to launch HD feeds for other regional channels, such as Zee Picchar and Zee Thirai, which come under the big six languages. But we can hope that the management at Tarang and Zee Sarthak will feel the pressure from Star Kirano HD and follow through with their own HD channels, though for Colors Odia it may not be guaranteed since its viewership is far lower than the other two.
All the same, in the history of Indian TV, few networks have taken the lead as much as Star in pioneering new innovations. Even in regional TV, decisions such as its acquisition of the Telugu-language Maa channels in 2015 have reaped massive benefits: today Star Maa is one of the top 3 most popular TV channels in India as per the weekly BARC ratings, beating out even national Hindi GEC Star Plus. It goes without saying that Disney Star has done its homework with the launch of Star Kirano, and it fully intends to turn it into a success story as much as with its other channels, especially since this marks its first foray into a regional language outside the big six — something that we hope to see more of in the coming years in other untapped languages like Assamese, where none of the major national broadcasters are present as of now.
Expect a high-decibel advertising and promotional campaign to be rolled out for Star Kirano in the coming weeks, as is being done for Pravah Picture. This could not come at a better time for the company as it coincides with its official renaming from Star India to Disney Star, marking the start of a new journey for India’s largest broadcaster in many more ways than one.