The rising star of Asian language programming

As terrestrial broadcasters abandoned multicultural programmes, their satellite rivals filled the void and created a rich new schedule for British Asians.

Something rather radical has happened to the Mandalia family's sitting room in the past year. When Pharti Mandalia and her family first came to Britain from East Africa in the early 1970s and settled in a small Victorian townhouse in north London, the only entertainment at their disposal was a small television set broadcasting the three channels available to them at the time – BBC 1, BBC 2 and ITV.

As Kenyan Asians, growing up in a country once ruled by Britain's colonial administrators, they spoke English confidently. Watching terrestrial TV helped them learn more about their newly adopted homeland but they longed to occasionally sit down as a family and watch the kind of films that had once been so readily available to them in East Africa. They were the Bollywood epics of their ancestral homeland either in Hindi, India's most widely spoken language, or dubbed in their mother tongue, Gujarati.

Over time the local Asian community grew and specialist video stores opened up, allowing them to rent the occasional Bollywood blockbuster for the weekend, but the idea of accessing Hindi language television in Britain at the time seemed unthinkable.

Nowadays things could hardly be more different. The Mandalia household constantly reverberates with the sounds of Hindi bouncing out of their television sets. It is a phenomenon that is fundamentally changing the way British Asians watch television and is primarily down to Star TV – a company owned by Rupert Murdoch, the same man who brought mass satellite television to British viewers.

"To be honest, we hardly watch BBC or ITV anymore," says 25-year-old Neeta Mandalia, Pharti's daughter-in-law. "It's something about the sheer variety on offer that means there's always something on we want to watch."

Attached to the sitting room wall in front of her is the family's enormous flat-screen monitor, currently showing a soap opera on Star's main entertainment channel, Star Plus. The show is a riot of colour, shot with high production values and featuring the ubiquitous family arguments and tragedy that are essential to any popular Indian soap. Playing with her toys on the sitting room floor is Diya, Neeta's two-year-old daughter. "You'd be amazed how much she picks up," says Neeta. "It's a brilliant way to learn Hindi. We just learnt from our parents and the odd film but she'll grow up so much more fluent than we did."

The Star network's global reach is virtually unprecedented – it now reaches an estimated 300 million viewers across 53 Asian countries and broadcasts in nine languages. But few are aware of how pervasive Asian language satellite channels are becoming in Western nations, where Asian communities are forgoing terrestrial TV and flocking to sign up to satellite services offering the type of specific programming other networks are simply unable to compete with.

Murdoch's News Corporation acquired the newly formed Hong Kong-based Satellite Television for the Asian Region company in 1993 and has hardly looked back since. Consolidating its presence in India with Hindi language programming and winning over subscribers in Hong Kong and Taiwan through its Mandarin channels, the corporation's next major coup, spearheaded by James Murdoch, was to secure cable broadcasting rights to China in 2001. They were now able to reach a potential 1.3 billion audience and an ever growing middle class of Chinese with the money and desire to pay for satellite television.

That year, Star also began its first foray into the UK, exclusively targeting Britain's 2.3 million strong Asian population. The timing was perfect. Following a period of debate in the mid-1990s about whether, in the interest of social cohesion, terrestrial channels should make programming for individual communities, most networks largely gave up on multicultural programming in favour of a more inclusive approach that made shows for the largest common denominator.

As late night programming for British Asians disappeared on mainstream channels Star and its main rivals – Zee TV and Sony – stepped in to fill the gap. The effect was dramatic. By June 2003, Star had an estimated 90,000 customers on their Star package, which is accessed through Sky's Culture Mix and gives viewers four channels: Star Plus – the general entertainment channel, Star One – which caters to a younger demographic, Star Gold – Bollywood movies and Star News.

Five years on, Star UK are surprisingly cagey about giving out details of how many customers have now signed up to their package – a possible indication that their rivals may indeed be catching up. But they are nonetheless confident that they alone have the largest number of subscribers in Britain.

"We have a clear idea," says Star UK's vice-president Patrick Corr, speaking from their headquarters in an otherwise non-descript office block in Brentford, west London. "We're confident that we're reaching more eyeballs and homes than any of our competitors and that is backed up by our research." Pushed for a more precise number the nearest he will go to is "in the hundreds of thousands."

His marketing manager Ajay Ochani puts on a DVD showcasing some of Star's newer material and it's easy to see why young British Asians in particular are attracted to the Star ideal. There are music programmes, Bollywood gossip shows, lifestyle classes, dramas and a whole host of game shows including the highly popular Kya Aap Paanchvi Paas Se Tez Hain – a sort of Hindi equivalent of Are You Smarter than a 10 Year Old? hosted by India's Brad Pitt; Shah Rukh Khan.

India has also taken to reality television like no other and talent contests feature prominently in the scheduling. One show, The Great India Laughter Challenge, which is billed as a search for the next great comedian, even involved British contestants getting involved in their own local version and the winner then flying out to Mumbai in order to take part.

Mr Ochani believes the attraction of Asian satellite TV to British Asians is that it allows them to reconnect to their ancestral roots like never before.

"Clearly this particular phenomenon has been helped by India's economic miracle, but I think it's more than that," he says. "There's a reason why British Asians want to reconnect to India and that's because they're proud of its success. And it's not just pride in India, there's a real sense among our viewers that they're proud to be British Asian."

With smaller satellite stations introducing Tamil and Bengali programming to the UK and new channels starting up in India virtually every month, the likelihood is that the variety of channels available to British Asians will continue to grow. How many stations little Diya will be watching when she grows up is anyone's guess, but they probably won't be being broadcast by the BBC.

Suggested Topics
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
life“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Sales Engineer - Cowes - £30K-£40K

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Engineer - Cow...

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice