How Star Maa and Zee Telugu reached the top — in Telugu and across the country
Star’s ‘golden’ acquisition of the Maa group of channels
Now ETV and the Sun network’s Gemini TV have long had an assortment of Telugu channels across genres. Gemini, for its part, launched the movie channel Teja TV in 2000, which became Gemini Movies in 2010, as well as Gemini Comedy and Gemini Music, in addition to Gemini Life for classic movie songs and Kushi TV for kids. Moreover, it also had Gemini News for a long time, but it and Udaya News closed in 2019 when Sun Bangla was launched. However, ETV and Gemini TV have completely fallen behind in the ratings race, and in fact Gemini TV hardly ever makes it to the top 5 channels in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh as per the weekly BARC ratings — a mighty fall for one of South India’s oldest channels. Instead, it is Star Maa that rules the roost among Telugu channels, with a nationwide top-five ranking equalled only by its Hindi counterpart Star Plus. Zee Telugu is also quite popular, and also appears in the BARC national top 10 — much like Sun TV and Star Vijay in Tamil.
Star Maa is easily one of the biggest success stories for Star in any regional market, overshadowing even its other dominant regional GECs: Asianet, Star Jalsha and Star Pravah. However, unlike the Vijay, Asianet and Suvarna channels, Star did not have any presence in Telugu for the better part of the 2000s. Maa TV was launched in April 2002 by Murali Krishnam Raju, before businessman Nimmagadda Prasad and Tollywood film stars Chiranjeevi and Nagarjuna took over the channel in March 2006. Maa Music were launched in 2008, while in 2011 came Maa Movies and the short-lived Maa Junior (2011–2013), and the secondary GEC Maa Gold followed suit in 2012. The then-Multi Screen Media (operator of the Sony channels) contemplated buying the Maa channels at that time, but it did not materialise.
Star (which was at the time owned by the then-21st Century Fox) struck gold in 2015 with its acquisition of the Maa channels, which filled the last remaining gap in its regional portfolio. While the Asianet and Suvarna channels it previously bought also contained a Telugu channel — Asianet Sitara — it wound up before long, and so this was the best possible entry for Star into the Telugu market. Maa TV launched an HD feed in mid-2016, and rebranded as Star Maa in February 2017 — though the Star wordmark was not part of the logo then — with the other Maa channels adopting the Star prefix in June, along with Star Maa Movies launching an HD feed. Another graphics refresh came in September 2020, which saw Star Maa add the Star wordmark and adopt the Cádiz font that is used by Disney Star at the corporate level, though many of its channels like Star Plus, Star Jalsha, Star Pravah and formerly Star Vijay use the long-standing Kohinoor font instead.
Star Maa Music is the only true music channel from Disney Star other than Bindass, the former Hindi youth channel which is possibly awaiting closure, since Vijay Takkar is effectively a secondary GEC or movie channel despite its apparent youth target audience. Star Maa Gold is now a secondary movie channel, complementing Star Maa Movies, with an almost identical violet-and-pink logo as its Bengali sister channel Jalsha Movies — aside from which there is also Star Sports 1 Telugu, which went on air in December 2018 and launched an HD feed in March 2023 along with Star Sports 1 Tamil and several other Disney Star channels. (The HD wordmark for the Star Maa channels is abnormally small as compared to other Star HD channels!)
Zee Telugu: Zee’s first South Indian channel
Meanwhile, the then-Zee Telefilms launched Alpha TV Telugu on 12 September 2004 — its regional channels all used the Alpha brand since the 1990s — and rebranded it to Zee Telugu (its first South Indian channel) on 18 May 2005, not long after a big rebrand in March of that year that saw the Zee channels adopt a uniform logo scheme with a square rotated 45 degrees. The channel went through another two mega-rebrands of the Zee network, in June 2011 and the latest one in October 2017, by which time it had launched the movie channel Zee Cinemalu, which went on air on 4 September 2016.
But it was only on New Year’s Eve (31 December) 2017 that both channels launched HD feeds, and Zee Telugu adopted the ‘orange ripples’ graphics introduced by Zee TV and Zee Tamil and later used by Zee Kannada and Keralam — plus Zee Bangla in red — while Zee Cinemalu did the same for Zee Cinema’s new red-and-green graphics. In May 2023, Zee Telugu became the first Zee channel to introduce the updated ‘marigold’ graphics, later adopted by Zee TV, Tamil and Bangla (again in red) with Zee Kannada and Keralam set to follow.
While not as large as ETV and Gemini’s big bouquet of channels, Star and Zee nevertheless have plenty of Telugu channels. In fact, Telugu was the first language to have widespread HD feeds for all of its movie channels: Gemini Movies, Star Maa Movies and Zee Cinemalu all went HD in 2017, and ETV Cinema did so in 2018, but it (like other HD channels from ETV, except the main ETV HD) is absent from all DTH platforms. It is only recently that more HD movie channels were launched in other regional languages: Vijay Super HD and Zee Thirai HD in Tamil, as above — as well as Pravah Picture HD in Marathi — plus only one each in Kannada and Malayalam: Zee Picchar HD and Asianet Movies HD, respectively. (KTV HD in Tamil has been around since 2011, while Star’s Jalsha Movies HD in Bengali and Zee Talkies HD in Marathi were launched in 2016.)
This concludes Part 1 of our exploration into South Indian TV channels, with Tamil and Telugu done; in the second instalment we will touch upon Kannada and Malayalam, which do not have as many channels or broadcasters as Tamil and Telugu — or ratings on the national BARC top 10 chart — but nevertheless have a significant presence and popularity.