DreamDTH Explains: A detailed look at South Indian channels (Part 2: Kannada and Malayalam)

While not as big as Tamil and Telugu, and despite having fewer local broadcasters, these two are still among the largest regional languages in India by viewership.

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By Soham Bhadra

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In Part 1 of our analysis of South Indian channels, we discussed Tamil and Telugu channels, which are the two biggest Indian languages after Hindi in terms of TV viewership — with Sun TV and Star Maa a permanent part of the national top 5 channels in the weekly BARC ratings chart, and Star Vijay and Zee Telugu featuring in the top 10. Now we come to Kannada and Malayalam channels, which do not have as much viewership as the Tamil and Telugu channels — nor do they have as many channels or local broadcasters — but still have a large share of regional TV viewership in the country. All four South Indian languages have channels from Sun, Star and Zee, with Viacom18 present in Tamil and Kannada, and large local broadcasters including Writemen Media (Public) in Kannada and Manorama in Malayalam.

Next up are Kannada channels, a language which has thus far been a sleeping giant — not making too many waves in spite of a large population and having the tech hub of Bengaluru (Bangalore) as its capital — but has slowly started to enter the national conscience with blockbusters like the KGF franchise and Kantara. On the next page we look into Malayalam channels, where publishing groups like Manorama and Mathrubhumi operate a small number of well-established channels in addition to major broadcasters. Both languages are comparatively lacking in terms of music channels — compared to the dozen-plus that Tamil has — and Malayalam has only two satellite movie channels, but they make up for it in other genres.

Kannada channels

Kannada, along with Malayalam, has far fewer channels than Tamil and Telugu, in part because of the lack of large local broadcasters like Raj, Jaya and Kalaignar in Tamil and ETV in Telugu — with music channels sparse and non-Hindu devotional channels absent — though news channels remain numerous, unlike in Kerala. This is the only regional market where Viacom18 was historically dominant with Colors Kannada, Colors Super and Colors Kannada Cinema, as it has struggled in other languages, but even that crown has been ceded to Zee Kannada. Also, unusually, Disney Star’s Star Suvarna has never dominated here the way Star Maa, Asianet, Star Jalsha and Star Pravah do. Like its Telugu counterpart Gemini TV, the Sun network’s Udaya TV has suffered badly as a result. As one may expect, most Kannada channels have their base in Bengaluru or Bangalore, the Karnataka state capital.

In comparison to Tamil and Malayalam with their large numbers of independent broadcasters, and Telugu where ETV is the predominant locally owned broadcaster, Kannada has very few independent entertainment channels, with Kasthuri TV being around for nearly two decades and Siri Kannada being launched much more recently. Moreover, unlike the other three South Indian languages, Kannada channels are virtually absent outside Indian shores, since there is not much of a Kannada diaspora like Tamil in Singapore and Malaysia, Telugu in several US states and Malayalam in Gulf countries.

Table of major Kannada broadcasters

Broadcaster↓
Genre→
GECMoviesMusic/YouthComedyKidsNewsSportsTotal
SunUdaya TV (HD)Udaya MoviesUdaya MusicUdaya ComedyChintu TV6
StarStar Suvarna (HD)Star Suvarna PlusStar Sports 1 Kannada4
Zee1Zee Kannada (HD)Zee Picchar (HD)Zee Kannada News15
Viacom18/
Network18
Colors Kannada (HD), Colors SuperColors Kannada CinemaNews18 Kannada5
Writemen MediaPublic MoviesPublic MusicPublic TV3

Small national and local multi-channel Kannada broadcasters

Broadcaster↓
Genre→
Music/YouthKidsNewsTotal
TV9 NetworkTV9 Kannada1
Asianet News NetworkSuvarna News1
Raj NetworkRaj Musix KannadaRaj News Kannada2
Republic Media NetworkRepublic Kannada21
ETV (kids only)ETV Bal Bharat Kannada1

Independent Kannada channels and other channels from national broadcasters

  • GEC: Kasthuri TV, Siri Kannada
    • Government: DD Chandana
  • News: Btv News, TV5 Kannada (sister of TV5 Telugu), Kasthuri News 24, News 1st Kannada, Vistara News, Power TV and others
  • Devotional (Hinduism): Sri Sankara TV, Sri Basava TV, SVBC 3
  • Lifestyle/Health: Ayush TV

Notes:

1Including Zee Kannada News, which was initially launched only on digital platforms in January 2022 before launching a satellite version in 2023.

2Originally launched in 2017 as Dighvijay News 24×7 and acquired by Republic Media Network in 2023, hence renamed to Republic Kannada.

Kannada, unlike the other three South Indian languages, does not have any channels for Christianity — the opposite of Malayalam, which is overwhelmingly biased towards Christianity with little to no channels for Hinduism. Tamil and Telugu are equally balanced between the two religions, with several channels for each. Also, Kannada does not have many music channels, like Malayalam and unlike Tamil, which has over a dozen.

Comparatively fewer channels outside entertainment and news in Karnataka

The earlier Kannada broadcasters in the 1990s and 2000s

Much like in the other Southern states, Sun had the first-mover advantage in Karnataka by launching Udaya TV on 1 June 1994, which launched an HD feed in March 2017. Interestingly, many of Udaya’s channels had different names in the past: Udaya Movies was originally launched as Ushe TV in 2000; Udaya Music was originally called U2 at the time of its launch in 2006; and the erstwhile Udaya News was initially Udaya Varthegalu, named after the Kannada word for news. However, Udaya Comedy and the kids’ channel Chintu TV (both launched 2009) have kept the same name since their inception.

Meanwhile, the then-ETV Kannada was launched in December 2000, and after it changed hands to Reliance-owned Viacom18, it was renamed to Colors Kannada in 2015 — which went HD in May 2016 along with Colors Marathi and Bangla, thereby becoming the first Kannada HD channel. A secondary GEC, Colors Super, was launched in July 2016, followed by Colors Kannada Cinema in September 2018 — both of which, strangely, use the top left corner (typically used by Zee channels) instead of the usual top right.

Zee and Star entered the Kannada market later: Zee Kannada was launched in 2006, a year after Alpha TV Telugu became Zee Telugu, and two years before Zee Tamil hit the airwaves in 2008. It is currently the leader of the Kannada sector, overthrowing Colors Kannada, and launched an HD feed on 3 November 2018 — weeks before the launch of Zee Keralam on 26 November in both SD and HD — along with adopting the ‘orange ripple’ graphics, with the new ‘marigold’ graphics set to replace them shortly. Its movie channel, Zee Picchar, was launched in March 2020, a couple of months after Zee Thirai and the relaunched Zee Punjabi. Zee Picchar and Thirai’s HD feeds went on air in September 2021 — with Zee Picchar HD being the first and, so far, only Kannada HD movie channel — but for two years it was not added by any DTH, unlike Zee Thirai HD which was added by Airtel Digital TV. However, Tata Play broke the drought with a big-bang addition of 7 HD channels from both Zee (also including &xplor HD) and Star in October 2023.

The Suvarna channels: acquired by Star in the mid-2010s

On the other hand, Asianet Suvarna (or simply Suvarna) launched in June 2007, a year after Suvarna News 24×7, by Asianet Communications. In 2008, Star acquired a 51% stake in Asianet Communications, which increased over the years and eventually reached 100% in 2013. Hence the Asianet- and Suvarna-branded non-news channels changed hands, with Asianet News and Suvarna News unaffected and remaining with the independent Asianet News Network. By that time, Suvarna Plus had also been launched, initially as a secondary GEC like Colors Super before turning into a full-time movie channel like Vijay Super in Tamil. Consequently, the channels were renamed to Star Suvarna and Star Suvarna Plus on 25 July 2016, and the former launched an HD feed on 15 July 2017.

However, Star Suvarna Plus remains Disney Star’s only major regional movie channel (not counting Star Maa Gold) not to have an HD feed. This dubious distinction is held by Zee Bangla Cinema within Zee, since all other Zee regional pay movie channels are available in HD — even though Zee Thirai HD and Zee Picchar HD had no presence on DTH platforms until 2023 — not counting the free-to-air Zee Chitramandir in Marathi (exclusive to DD Free Dish) and Zee Biskope in Bhojpuri. Additionally, there is also Star Sports 1 Kannada, which was launched in December 2018, some weeks before its Telugu counterpart — but its reach is too small to warrant an HD feed like Star Sports 1 Tamil and Telugu.

Since then, Star Suvarna went through two graphics revamps in quick succession: in November 2020 (soon after Star Maa in September) where light blue became the chief colour, only to be replaced later by yellow and red; and then in March 2023, days after the launch and shutdown of many Disney Star channels, where a different shade of red compared to what is used by Star Plus and Star Maa became dominant. In both cases, traditional motifs, patterns and cultural elements of Karnataka make an appearance, similar to Star Pravah, Star Kiran, Pravah Picture and many other Disney Star channels. Star Suvarna Plus, on the other hand, has not changed its logo since 2016, and it was only very recently in late October 2023 that it finally updated its on-air graphics — similar to the now-defunct premium English movie channel Sony Le Plex HD but in violet and yellow — with the quirky slogan of ‘Class + Mass’.

Above: Graphics packages of the two Suvarna channels: Star Suvarna in November 2020 (top row, first two pictures)/December 2021 (top row, last two pictures), Star Suvarna in March 2023 (middle row) and Star Suvarna Plus in October 2023 (bottom row).

Local broadcasters: Public, Kasthuri, Siri Kannada and others

There are very few multi-channel broadcasters in Karnataka compared to the other South Indian states, but they nevertheless do exist. The news channel Public TV was launched in 2012 by Writemen Media Pvt. Ltd., which later launched Public Music in 2014 and Public Movies in 2018 — a rare example of a local multi-channel broadcaster without a GEC. There are, however, two entertainment channels from local companies: Kasthuri TV was launched on 26 September 2007 — shortly after Kalaignar TV in Tamil — by Anitha Kumaraswamy, wife of former Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, and later expanded to news via Kasthuri News 24 in 2011.

Siri Kannada is much more recent, being launched on 29 November 2018, and initially struggled to be added on DTH platforms before it managed to get a good distribution, with its programming schedule consisting of a number of low-profile serials and movies. (There was also Dangal Kannada from the Enterr10 Network, a major free-to-air broadcaster whose Dangal channel is one of the top five across India, thanks to its presence on DD Free Dish in northern Hindi-speaking states. However, it could not replicate Dangal’s success and, after a brief renaming to Dum TV Kannada, eventually shut down.)

Moreover, there are a handful of channels in niche genres like devotional and lifestyle. Kannada remains the only South Indian language not to have any channel for Christianity, since all of its devotional channels are for Hinduism: Sri Sankara TV was launched as far back as 2008, while Sri Basava TV is a more recent launch, and SVBC 3 — a Kannada version of the Telugu SVBC (Sri Venkateswara Bhakti Channel) — was launched in 2017. For health and lifestyle, there is Ayush TV, which is owned by the same company (Kamadhenu Telefilms Pvt. Ltd.) as Sri Sankara TV. It focuses on traditional remedies and wellness regimes — similar to ETV Life in Telugu before that was repositioned as a Hindu devotional channel in October 2023, keeping the same name but with a new dharmic logo.

Kannada news channels: increasingly numerous

In terms of news channels, while Kannada did not have as many of them as Tamil and Telugu until the early 2010s, it has long since caught up with them in terms of the number of news channels, with new names like News 1st Kannada and Vistara News cropping up every now and then. Regardless, only a handful of names dominate the scene: TV9 Kannada (launched 2006; formerly Karnataka TV9); Suvarna News (launched 2008) which, along with its Malayalam counterpart Asianet News, has absolutely no relation with the Suvarna- and Asianet-branded channels of Disney Star; and Public TV (launched 2012), a strong independent news channel which later launched music and movie channels, but not a main GEC. In addition, TV5 Telugu, one of the oldest Telugu news channels, launched TV5 Kannada in 2017, while VRL Media’s Dighvijay News 24×7 was acquired by Arnab Goswami’s Republic Media Network and rebranded to Republic Kannada in 2023. The ITV Network — which operates the India News group of news channels in several states, plus NewsX in English — briefly had NewsX Kannada from 2018 to 2019, which flopped and was quickly discontinued.


The fourth and final South Indian language is Malayalam, which is far less popular on a national level in terms of its film output than the other three, with Minnal Murali (2021) being the only one being released on a pan-Indian scale. However, it would be dangerous to ignore the small but crucial state of Kerala — popularly called ‘God’s Own Country’ — since it is known for its high educational level and gender equality, and its progressiveness is reflected in the range of channels from broadcasters both national (Asianet, Zee Keralam, Surya) and regional (Manorama, Mathrubhumi, Kairali, Amrita, Flowers).

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Soham Bhadra

Television Analyst

77 articles published
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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Nice article. Please exclude Mangalam TV from the list as it is defunct now.

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