The domestic broadcast business of Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEEL) is undergoing a lot of changes. While the network exit the sports business by selling Ten Sports to Sony Pictures Networks in 2016, it also firmed up its play in Hindi and regional entertainment by acquiring Reliance Broadcast’s Big Magic and Big Ganga, and Sarthak TV in Odisha. In conversation with BrandWagon’s Chandni Mathur, ZEEL’s Punit Misra talks about how each segment of the network is growing. Edited excerpts:
How is the domestic broadcast business shaping up for ZEEL?
One of the big trends currently is regional entertainment, and we have invested in building brands ahead of the curve. We will continue building our regional entertainment brands further in terms of viewership, quality and quantity of content, and also in terms of revenue. There is work happening in the field of subscription and it is an area where transparency would be good for the industry; we just have to see how the execution will happen. Cinema is a big opportunity. Digital is giving some competition to the English genre, but world over it has been complementary, so the job for us is to continue giving great content and experiences.
What opportunities/potential do you see to expand further in regional entertainment?
We keep evaluating opportunities; we are present in most markets. It is finally about the overall maturity of the market, the business case for it and our ability to make a success of it. We recently acquired Big Magic and Big Ganga from Reliance, which is really going hyper local on consumer segmentation. We also acquired Sarthak in Odisha over a year ago, so that journey will continue. It will depend market to market and how the revenue opportunity and viewer segment size is. You will keep seeing action on that front.
Although performing well, Zee TV has a long way to go to climb up the ratings ladder and beat the leaders. Would it need a change in your content strategy?
Zee TV wants to be number one. The overall Hindi GEC space is going through a rediscovery and we are reasonably certain that with the plans that are being put in place, we will manage to get back the prominence that the channel had. We have had our shows rule the top fiction and non-fiction charts. We are working across the end of the value chain to make sure we deliver quality content.
Is Zee TV now aimed only at urban viewers as Zee Anmol laps up rural audiences?
Zee TV has a presence in both segments. For Zee Anmol, rural largely remains the focus but there are urban audiences as well. In our minds it talks to rural consumers, but to say that rural is all the audience it gets is not correct. Zee TV talks to more urban audiences across markets. Our aim is to also get Zee Anmol back to number one.
Why did you shift Zindagi onto the Ozee platform? What potential do you see for a segmented channel on digital?
Viewership and economics help you take the call. We realised that we will still get the viewership on the digital platform that we were getting on TV, and the economics of it also really made sense. We do intend to have a strong play in digital and it fitted beautifully as a unique offering. The challenge is about developing the market a bit more. We certainly believe that there is an audience that likes this content; maybe the market in terms of how advertisers are looking at it needs some time to mature.
With measurement metrics changing, has it impacted niche genres in your bouquet including English and music?
Viewership has certainly been impacted but if you go back in time, it was never about numbers or viewership on these channels. While absolute numbers have dropped, the way advertisers thought about it in advertising plans and even revenue in the genre, wasn’t driven by eyeballs. Fundamentally, it doesn’t change the appeal for the consumer out there. I think we should be more careful about the competition with the availability of that content on digital.
You mentioned about digital being the competition for English channels …what are your plans for Zee Café?
We relaunched Zee Café with All Eyes on New and for us, the quest for new was driven by our belief that our consumers are seeking new experiences. American dramas have ruled the market for the last few years but there is huge content that BBC has. People in the digital world have access to it, but it’s still just a few people if you look at the reach of TV versus digital. Hence if we could get that content curated and presented to our consumers, we believed it would do well for the brand. Thus, we partnered with BBC First to get a range of British content on the channel. Our desire is to build it as a long term deal.
Will ZEEL re-enter the sports business?
It’s difficult to comment on this at the moment. All markets are competitive, but it is a question of choice. For us, entertainment is what we are about, across our businesses.
Once the TRAI tariff order comes in, how do you see the future of smaller channels which may not survive on their own?
Certainly, the business viabilities will force the closure of the channel if you are not consumer relevant. Maybe that’s a good thing because in a competitive world, you must stay relevant to consumers. Channels which have not done well have been shutting anyway; this will be one variable that will make broadcasters relook at their channels and wherever it doesn’t fit in, whether it’s us or any other network, they will take that call. It will impact small channels but not all small channels will become redundant.
What kind of growth in ad revenues are you eyeing? How is the market looking post demonetisation?
The market was growing at a very healthy rate in the first half of the last year, before demonetisation. It was a good double digit growth. It did take a pretty big beating due to demonetisation but it has bounced back; if you look at the last few months, the market growth in the first quarter of this calendar year seems like it has. There will be an impact of the GST flux but finally it will get back in place. In general, we expect the double digit market growth to continue.