Living Foodz is for the food obsessed: Living CEO Piyush Sharma

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February 14, 2017 2:41 AM

We are investing in building an integrated food ecosystem. Content, community, commerce and technology are all at an inflection point. We are amply suited to make the most of this opportunity.

Piyush Sharma CEO, India and APAC, LivingPiyush Sharma, CEO, India and APAC, Living

With more than 40 channels in its kitty, Essel Group leaped into the world of lifestyle and infotainment in 2015 with the Living Entertainment brand of channels, which is owned by the group and distributed locally in India by Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL). Now, nearing two years of completion, Living Foodz, the first channel to launch under the Living umbrella, is present across India, Africa, the US and APAC. It aims to emerge as a one-stop, premium lifestyle destination through its multi-platform approach. In an interview with BrandWagon’s Meghna Sharma, Living’s Piyush Sharma talks about how the food and lifestyle genre is still under-penetrated but holds tremendous growth potential.

It will soon be two years since the channel’s launch. How has Living Foodz shaped up? The channel has been an undisputed leader since its launch and has been successful in establishing food as a metaphor of lifestyle. Hence, positioning the channel as a premium lifestyle one. Living Foodz’s innovative show formats have resonated strongly with our viewers. It has redefined the way people learn about food, travel and culture through innovative shows, including Ganga, The Soul of India, Food Tripping, Taste Down Under, Spices & Secrets with Zarine Khan and Pickle Nation, among others. We have constantly created innovative, locally curated original content in unique formats that explore the evolving status of food, moving from the confines of the kitchen to highways, palaces and even international locales. The lifestyle genre sees as low as 0.9% of the viewership pie, as per the FICCI KPMG 2016 report.

How do you see the genre coping up with this slow growth/adoption? Do you see the genre establishing itself?
While the genre is currently under-penetrated and under-leveraged in India as compared to the international scenario, we believe that this space holds tremendous growth potential. The genre is poised to evolve as consumers become more discerning and tastes become more evolved. We will definitely witness more state-of-the-art programming in this space going forward.

What sets Living Foodz apart in the lifestyle and wellness genre?
That would be our focus on creating a brand-centric, multi-platform business model and approaching food as an ecosystem in which the brand manifests itself across various platforms, TV being the prime one. The others are digital, on-ground, etc. LFz has thus emerged as a complete, one-stop lifestyle destination and has created a distinct identity for the brand in this space.

Various consumer touchpoints have been created through on-ground activations and successful brand franchise such as Living Foodz Powerlist Awards, Food Fiesta and the upcoming Living Foodz Gourmet Awards. We have partnered with Baleno Wicked Weekends to celebrate the nightlife in India. Through these initiatives, Living Foodz offers a premium lifestyle experience to audiences in India. Our IPs, including properties like Baleno Wicked Weekends or the Mumbai Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, establish us as a destination for everyone who is food-obsessed.

Do you see a shift to devices other than television for the genre? How important is a digital presence for the channel?
Digital engagement is an integral part of our existential strategy. We attempt to aggregate, engage and monetise the largest digital food enthusiast community. is already emerging as a one-stop premium lifestyle destination with multi-format content. We engage with our fans constantly on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Furthermore, we are present on dittoTV, a live TV platform from Zee Digital Convergence, which allows viewers to catch their favourite shows on Living Foodz live and on-the-go. We have seen a healthy traction for our channel on this platform.

Digital and TV are two sides of the same coin. Both are entertainment drivers for viewers. Social media and digital both help in two-way interaction and measuring the sentiments of the audiences towards the brand. It has become as important as ratings that are reviewed by channels on a regular basis.

The channel marked the foray of ZEEL into the lifestyle genre. What and how has it added to the Zee family?
Living marks the foray of Zee into the factual entertainment space. ZEEL has been a very successful business group providing entertainment to millions of viewers across various genres — GEC, movies, English entertainment, regional channels, etc. With LFz, its first lifestyle channel, the bouquet is now strengthened. Living Foodz has been a successful channel, with undisputed leadership in its genre and reaching out to 44% of the NCCS A1 (source: BARC Alpha Report) audiences.

What are the current challenges in infotainment broadcasting?
The time spent and appointment viewing for infotainment channels can actually be looked at as an opportunity to create formats and content windows that could be shorter and more engaging. It is in the hands of content developers to be storytellers even in smaller windows.

How important is it for lifestyle channels to depend on native advertising/branded content? Are advertisers spending the right amount of money on the genre?
To be able to offer engaging content to viewers remains the cornerstone philosophy of our existence. We do collaborate on some initiatives where we find the brand editorial integrity strengthened while providing integrated brand solutions to the advertiser. Recently, the MIB handed licences for four new channels to Essel Group.

What are the future plans for these?
We have no concrete immediate plans.  The details can be shared at an appropriate point in time.

Living Entertainment Enterprises has launched an online food delivery service called Gorb. With an already crowded food-tech space, how do such initiatives survive?
We are investing in building an integrated food ecosystem. Content, community, commerce and technology are all at an inflection point. We realise that we are amply suited to make the most of this opportunity by rightful investments
in all spheres where the audience
communities engage.

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