DreamDTH Explains: A detailed look at South Indian channels (Part 1: Tamil and Telugu)

The immense size and scale of Tamil and Telugu broadcasters like Sun and ETV, in addition to local ones like Jaya, Raj and Kalaignar, makes these two the biggest regional languages in India by viewership.

Estimated reading time: 37 minutes, 10 seconds

The abundance of small Tamil broadcasters: Raj, Jaya, Kalaignar, Polimer, Mega and others

Sun is far from the only Tamil broadcaster which was launched in the 1990s. Not long after Sun TV, Raj Video Vision, a video-casette lending company founded in 1983 which ventured into Tamil movie rights, launched Raj TV on 14 October 1993 — it celebrated its 30th anniversary recently — with the slogan of ‘The People’s Channel’. Later Raj TV launched supporting Tamil channels like Raj Digital Plus (the first Tamil movie channel, launched in 1998), Raj Musix and Raj News, before venturing into the other three South Indian languages: Vissa TV, a Telugu GEC, and Raj Musix and Raj News channels in Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. It has even operated a Hindi channel, Raj Parivar, but it has so far never been added by major TV platforms. Some of these channels, particularly the Telugu channels and Raj News Malayalam, have now been sold to other broadcasting companies, though they retain the Raj name but with different logos.

However, Raj has no political affiliations, whereas many of the most well-established Tamil channels do. Longtime Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa (1948–2016) of the All Indian Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) political party launched Jaya TV on 22 August 1999. In the 2000s and 2010s Mavis Satcom Pvt. Ltd. — the broadcasting company that runs Jaya TV — similarly evolved as a multi-channel broadcaster by launching Jaya Plus (news), Jaya Max (music) and J Movie. The main Jaya TV permanently transitioned into HD-only broadcasting in June 2016, plus a downscaled SD feed — the only Tamil HD channel outside the four biggest broadcasters — but while the other Jaya channels were also slated to launch HD feeds in due course, this did not come to pass. Tata Play was the only DTH operator to add Jaya HD, while others adopted the downscaled SD feed.

Jayalalithaa’s main political rival, M. Karunanidhi (1924–2018) of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) political party, launched Kalaignar TV on 15 September 2007 after a split from the Sun TV network which has also been closely related to the DMK. It, too, has launched a number of other channels across genres: Kalaignar Seithigal for news; Isai Aruvi for music; Sirippoli TV for comedy clips, like Adithya TV; Murasu TV, originally for classic film songs (like Sun Life) but repositioned as a movie channel in October 2021; and Chithiram TV, originally a kids’ channel but converted as Blacksheep TV in late 2022, before reverting to Chithiram TV — but this time as a movie and music channel — in July 2023. Contrary to the Sun network’s bottom right, the Jaya and Kalaignar channels place their logos in the bottom left corner of the screen, except Chithiram TV which also uses the bottom right.

Several other such Tamil broadcasters abound: Mega TV, also launched in 2007, with Mega Musiq and Mega 24 as its sister channels; Polimer TV, launched in 2009, which also runs Polimer News — now the number one Tamil News channel — and the devotional channel Jothi TV (previously a music channel, Sahana TV); and Captain TV, launched in 2010 by actor-turned-politician Vijayakanth of the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam (DMDK) party in 2010, which later launched Captain News. Moreover, New Generation Media launched the Puthiya Thalaimurai news channel in 2011, followed by Puthuyugam and the closely related Vendhar TV in 2014. In addition, there are many standalone channels, like Makkal TV (launched 2006) of the Pattali Makkal Kazhagam (PMK) party; News 7 Tamil, one of the first Tamil news channels to adopt advanced graphics standards, which was launched in 2013; and Vasanth TV, launched in 2008 by the Vasanth & Co electronics chain, as stated above.

Tamil Channels from Sun Star Zee Viacom18 Jaya Kalaignar

Star and Zee’s channels: Star Vijay, Zee Tamil, Vijay Super, Zee Thirai, Vijay Takkar

But despite the preponderance of so many local Tamil broadcasters, none of them have the viewership that those from the major networks — Sun, Star and Zee — do. (Viacom18’s Colors Tamil, launched in February 2018, is much less successful.) The story of Vijay TV, or Star Vijay, is an interesting one: originally launched in 1994 as Golden Eagle Communication, it was acquired in 1995 by Vijay Mallya’s United Breweries group and renamed to Vijay TV, before being sold to UTV (later acquired by the pre-Star Disney India) in 1999. Star, which was then owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, acquired Vijay TV in 2001 — completely buying out UTV’s shares in 2004 — and introduced its logo scheme, hence making it Star’s first regional-language channel. Star Vijay quickly went on to challenge Sun TV for the leadership spot, but still has not managed to dethrone the numero uno, even though it has amassed a significant viewership of its own and made it to the BARC top 10.

Star similarly acquired the Asianet and Suvarna channels in Malayalam and Kannada, respectively, but it was only in 2008 that it launched its own regional channels from scratch for the first time: Star Jalsha in Bengali and Star Pravah in Marathi. Those two, along with Star Vijay, launched HD feeds in April–May 2016 — but it was only in June 2017 that Star Vijay shed its 16-year-old English logo for a brand new Tamil logo (without the Star wordmark) and graphics package, with another graphics refresh coming in October 2022 that mostly retained the same logo.

On 25 August 2016, Star launched Vijay Super, which was originally a secondary GEC before being converted into a movie channel in March 2019, and subsequently launching an HD feed in March 2023. So far, Vijay Super HD has been added only by Airtel Digital TV — like Zee Thirai HD — but Tata Play is testing them both along with several other HD channels, to be added by November 2023. Moreover, it launched Vijay Music in October 2020, but it struggled to keep its music focus and hence rebranded to a youth channel, Vijay Takkar, in October 2022 — though even this has become a generic channel with a mixed programming schedule. Additionally, Star Sports 1 Tamil started in May 2017 when the Star Sports channels underwent a reshuffling, and launched an HD feed in March 2023 alongside Star Sports 1 Telugu, Vijay Super, Asianet Movies and others.

Zee Tamil, on the other hand, is a newer channel: it was launched on 12 October 2008, some years after Zee Telugu and Zee Kannada, and celebrated its 15th birthday recently. While not as widely viewed as Sun TV and Star Vijay, Zee Tamil is still an established player in the Tamil market with a large penetration and popularity. It launched an HD feed on 15 October 2017, on the same day as the mega-rebrand of the Zee network, in which Zee-branded non-news channels moved their logo to the top left corner — until then very rarely used by Indian channels, apart from some channels like Nat Geo, News Nation, ETV Andhra Pradesh/Telangana and TV5 Telugu — though only Zee TV has returned to the top right. Zee Tamil also adopted the new ‘orange ripples’ graphics package of Zee TV, which was later copied by Zee Telugu, Kannada and Keralam, as well as Zee Bangla in red instead of orange. In 2023 this was replaced by an updated ‘marigold’ graphics package, retaining the orange colour, with Zee Bangla again choosing a red variation with fish scales.

Zee’s Tamil movie channel Zee Thirai was launched on 19 January 2020, a couple of months before its Kannada counterpart Zee Piccharboth of which launched HD feeds in September 2021. Zee Thirai and Zee Picchar use the same red-and-green graphics package as Zee Cinema in Hindi and Zee Cinemalu in Telugu. However, while Zee Tamil HD was added by Tata Play on day one (15 October 2017) and other DTHs thereafter — except Sun Direct, which has refused to do so — Zee Thirai HD and Zee Picchar HD have so far not enjoyed such distribution. The former was added by Airtel Digital TV in June 2023, but the latter is still missing from DTHs — but both, in addition to Zee’s premium Hindi movie channel &xplor HD, are set to be added by Tata Play by Diwali 2023 along with several other HD channels after a years-long delay.

Now we move on to Telugu channels, also among the biggest regional languages in India, as seen with Star Maa’s permanent top-five ranking in the BARC national ratings — and also the vast popularity of Tollywood movies like RRR, Pushpa: The Rise and the Baahubali franchise across every corner of the country, thanks especially to Hindi movie channels like Sony Max and Goldmines which air the latest blockbusters of Allu Arjun, Jr NTR, Ram Charan, Mahesh Babu, Pawan Kalyan and other Telugu stars.

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Avatar of Soham Bhadra
Soham Bhadra

Television Analyst

Soham is a Computer Science graduate from NTU, Singapore, actively interested in the Indian TV and entertainment industry. He publishes articles and shares his insights on the Indian TV industry and DTH operators. He has a passion for words and reflects that through his articles.

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Aside of some odd sentences, it's a very useful guide!

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