Smaller pay GECs
Besides the above five main pay Hindi GECs, there are also a couple of smaller pay GECs, namely Star Bharat from Disney Star and &TV from Zee, which have a much smaller viewership mostly concentrated in urban areas. Until its rebrand in July 2022, Star Bharat was rather confused regarding its direction and strategy, with a mishmash of serials across genres, ranging from the crime series Saavdhan India to fiction series that failed to garner ratings or last for a long time. However, the rebrand has completely repositioned it as a romance-focused channel, with a range of love stories. Still, these shows are not likely to gain a large viewership and make Star Bharat a real challenger to the big players.
&TV, however, has failed to carve a niche for itself in the seven years of its existence. Its most famous show is the sitcom Bhabi Ji Ghar Par Hai!, which has been running since &TV was launched in 2015, and it also aired the singing reality show The Voice India for a few years before it moved to Star Plus in 2019 and was cancelled thereafter. Other than that, &TV has not had any show that viewers are able to identify with, and several in the TV industry have felt that it should shut down as it has failed to achieve its purpose: to be an alternative destination for progressive urban content, similar to Life OK, the previous avatar of Star Bharat that existed from 2011 to 2017. A brand refresh in September 2018 did nothing to change its fortunes. Nevertheless, the channel continues to exist, but other &-branded channels like &pictures (Hindi movies) and &flix (English movies) are far more popular.
Besides, there are a number of rural-focused channels — Star Utsav, Zee Anmol, Sony Pal and Colors Rishtey, as well as Big Magic that has been owned by Zee since 2016 — that air repeat telecasts of several of the current and former serials that are shown on the corresponding flagship GECs. They were originally intended to be available on DD Free Dish for the benefit of those viewers, since they have no way to access the shows of Star Plus or Zee TV otherwise, other than watching them on Disney+ Hotstar, ZEE5, SonyLIV, etc. (Many DDFD viewers in rural areas are still untouched by the OTT revolution, despite the vast inroads made by such streaming services in these markets.)
However, due to pressure from pay TV platforms such as Tata Play and Airtel Digital TV, broadcasters were forced to remove the first four channels from DDFD in April 2022, though are now reconsidering readding them. This is not the first time this has happened: these channels were also removed back in 2019, but were readded the next year — though Star Bharat was also removed along with them, but it was never added back.
Big Magic, on the other hand, has been unaffected by these changes and remains available on DDFD. It is different from the other aforementioned channels in that it airs a number of children’s cartoon shows in the morning hours, some of which are originally Bengali cartoons that aired on Zee Bangla. There is, however, a chance that it may discard the Big brand (originally introduced by Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group before Zee’s acquisition) like its Bhojpuri sibling Zee Ganga did last year.
What about movie premieres?
Hindi GECs today show very limited movies, which is a stark departure from the years leading up to the mid-2010s when big Bollywood movies were premiered first on the flagship GECs. Nowadays movie premieres are always done on the main movie channels, namely Star Gold, Zee Cinema, Sony Max and Colors Cineplex; the GECs air only repeat telecasts after the premiere, if at all. It used to be that Star Plus aired a large number of major premieres after its rebrand in 2018, but nowadays its serials are so successful that it does not have time for movies. The exact opposite is true for South Indian channels: GECs always show the big premieres first, and movie channels come later.
While Sony TV completely gave up on movie premieres after Sony Max launched its HD feed in Christmas 2015, Star Plus, Zee TV and Colors continued to premiere movies regularly until some years back. Star Plus’ final premiere was Dil Bechara in August 2020, and Colors has hardly aired any movies since 2018 — with the exception of Shershaah recently, which was given multiple repeat telecasts. Zee TV, meanwhile, airs only big-budget action movies, such as Radhe and Sooryavanshi, though until 2020 it aired many more movies shortly after their premiere on Zee Cinema.
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