The television landscape in India has really changed over the past decade. It is also no secret that it has become very competitive as well. Hence, it did not come as any surprise when India’s Star network announced that it would be shutting down its youth channel, Star One, on December 15, 2011 and replacing it with a new television channel called Life OK. The name itself suggested two things. First, by dropping the ‘Star’ prefix, the channel intended to carve out an independent identity for itself. Second, the name was indicative of a philosophy a contentment, one that is based on the premise that life is okay. The launch was marketed extremely well from December 12th onwards, using hoardings as well as digital media and the Star network.

Life OK targets the Indian middle class as opposed to simply catering to the youth based in metros as did its predecessor. Hence, the intended audience is certainly wider. In the words of Mr. Ajit Thakur, General Manager, Life OK, “We have defined ourselves as the channel which tells you to cherish all that one has and once we do that, we believe we are targeting just about everybody. We are more mass than any GEC can get. We are reaching out to all families in middle class India based in the heartland of the country.” While Life OK touts that its programming centers around a philosophy of imparting values, the target audience is essentially the same as Star Plus. Hence, there is real danger of cannibalization regardless of “addressing the ‘other’ India where there is a balance between aspiration and the values.”

Life OK does offer some unique features such as three stories every hour that are aired all seven days of the week along with shorter ad breaks. The channel has also roped in Madhuri Dixit to be its face. She serves as the narrator or ‘sutradhar’, something that is a first for Indian television. Some of the shows that are airing on Life OK are ‘Meri Maa,’ a tribute to the mother and child bond, ‘Mahadev,’ an epic about Shiva, ‘Saubhagyavati Bhava’, a story about a woman whose parents are enamored by external appearances, ‘Smile Please’, a show about values, ‘Tum Dena Saath Mera’, which highlights the simple joys of life, and ‘Hum Ne Li Hai…Shapath,’ a show about two cops against a flawed system.

So let’s analyze whether Life is really OK? Let’s start with the name. The decision to stop Star One was sound. Its ratings were low, and its target audience wasn’t that well defined. But was it wise to drop the ‘Star’ prefix? The Star brand is very well established and building a new identity takes time. However, I feel that it was the right decision since it had to move out of the shadow of its more illustrious parent and carve out a niche of its own (I love the friendly logo). However, the target audience (notwithstanding the touted differences in name, logo, slogan and positioning) overlap greatly. This is one area where I felt that Life OK fails. To be fair though, Star has tried to create differentiation through a different format and bringing in Madhuri Dixit.

However, while the format suits the audience, I’m not quite convinced that it makes business sense. The loss in ad revenues given the shorter ad breaks would be hard to compensate through higher ratings given that other channels are also upping the ante. But my biggest issue with Life OK is ultimately the programming. While the channel says its philosophy revolves around “cherishing what you have”, I find the programming not much different from the other channels in general. Some of the shows sound preachy which means they are urging the audience to “strive for better” (Star Plus anyone?) or are quite depressing which is completely against the feel good positioning that the channel aspires for. While ratings have been generally high, I wonder whether this phenomenon is a temporary one.

All in all, I find the launch of Life OK to be a sound decision on the part of Star. However, I hope to see the philosophy reflected in the programming before it gets tagged as just another general entertainment channel.