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How ZEEL pushed its English channels in 2015

MUMBAI: Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd’s (ZEEL) English-language channels received a strong push in 2015. While it has been a year of major growth for English movie channel Zee Studio, the year also saw the launch of a high-definition version of the English entertainment channel Zee Café.

A year of major growth for Zee Studio

Ali ZaidiFor Zee Studio, 2015 has been a year of major growth. Led by aggressive content acquisitions, brand revamping and improved ratings, the channel posted an ad revenue growth of over 50 per cent.

The move to connect better with younger audiences actually started in November 2014, when the channel changed its tagline from ‘Hollywood on TV’ to ‘See it All’.

“We brought in bright colours. We gave a swankier look to Zee Studio,” said Zee Café, Zee Studio business head Ali Zaidi.

Guided by Argentinean agency Media Luna, the logo, look and feel of the channel underwent a change. The whole process took about three months and got Zee Studio away from the word ‘Hollywood’.

Zee Studio backed this up with content acquisitions for younger audiences. “Younger, fresher content made the channel look better,” said Zaidi.

The channel also moved away from drama, Oscar-winning films and biographies. “This is something that we are not currently catering to. ‘See It All’ encompasses various genres. The right combination of action, fantasy, adventure, young romance and comedy works the best. People need to understand the right destination for movies,” said Zaidi.

The broadcaster also tied up with more studios. “Earlier, we had a deal with one or two studios and some packaged deals. Now we have more output deals for both the channels. We have packaged deals as well as independent film distributor deals. We do not have a first-output deal with anybody, but we do not need it,” Zaidi explained.

Zee Studio has deals with Paramount and Disney. Besides, it takes packages from Sony as well as independent distributors.

“Premieres will not be a game-changer for us. People want action, which we offer. We will show ‘Last Nights’, which released theatrically three months ago. The aim is to have fresher releases. We will do a first-output deal if it makes sense for us, but we don’t see it as a driving force for this genre,” Zaidi averred.

the-godfatherFor him, the driving force is the right selection of films and the right mix of genres. Understanding the right time of slotting films is more important than focusing on premieres. “We put ‘The Godfather’ at 5 pm on the weekend, which got a strong response as we marketed it well. We focus on primetime and on weekends (7 pm onwards). In metros, primetime does get late at 9 pm.”

There has also been a better focus on packaging properties. Zaidi says that the channel packaged ‘The Godfather’ trilogy in a certain manner and brought in cartoon characters. “The aim has been to make films entertaining and market them in such a way that audiences look at them in a different way.”

Mission_ImpossibleFor the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, the channel did an agent hunt initiative. “We got away from ‘Mission Impossible’ and focused on Agent Hunt. We took advantage of the theatrical release of ‘Rogue Nation’. We branded our weekends as ‘Super Weekends’. We also did a Spielberg initiative. The aim was to re-inform viewers about the fascination of films.”

With respect to ad revenue, Zaidi points out to a growth of 50–75 per cent for Zee Studio. “The industry is growing at 10–15 per cent. Our growth has been from a smaller base, but this is the way to go. This has been our first year of major growth. We are in the first consideration set of advertisers,” he said.

However, advertiser perception will take time to change. “In terms of ratings, Zee Studio was No. 7 or 8 for a while. When you come to No. 2, the community will not accept it overnight. It will take some time and we are doing marketing for it. Perception will not be an issue after some time.”

Zee Café’s marathon weekend strategy and HD launch

scandalThe crux of Zee Café’s strategy in 2015 has been putting up shows for marathon viewing while launching a high-definition feed to draw in upscale audiences.

Zee Café was one of the first broadcasters to start the trend of airing an entire season of a fresh show back to back on the weekend. Other channels like Star World soon followed the strategy.

The marathon weekend strategy, according to Zaidi, works more for male-focused shows. It, thus, needs to be done selectively. For a show like ‘Scandal’, which attracts women, one does not need to have a marathon-viewing strategy. Women, after all, are used to watching shows in a stripped format at 9 pm.

For marathons, the basinetflix-house-of-cardsc aim is to capture men and teenagers. “Male viewers can catch up on the weekend. Teenagers also want to see shows on the weekend. We were the first to run a marathon. This is how we got ‘House of Cards’ into the weekend formula. ‘Young & Hungry’ is another show that will go this route again. Males don’t want to lose the thread of one episode to another,” said Zaidi.

Zaidi likens the weekend marathons to the premiere of a movie. “We market it as one does the premiere of a movie. We run the marathon for four to five hours. We get enough ad revenue to justify putting the show at one go.”

Zaidi went on to note that there is a science behind bringing back old shows for complete back-to-back seasons, such as the channel did for ‘Desperate Housewives’.

“It is a question of gettingDesperate Housewives viewers to align with content. It also depends on for how long the show has been off the air. A lot of research goes into this. For example, if a show has been off the air for two years, then it is possible that audiences have matured and are better ready for it,” said Zaidi.

Some shows that are not popular in the US have fared better here and vice versa. He offers the example of ‘Young & Hungry’, which was not a very popular show in the US but worked for Zee Café in the weekend marathon format.

“We will not put a brand new show along with the US. We strip it and allow people to familiarise themselves with it. Once they do that, then we might offer a marathon. They need to get used to the show first,” he said.

Zee Café has done long-term deals with Warner, Disney, CBS and Fox. “We have taken some packages with Sony. We get alternate picks with Warner and Disney for new shows. Studios mostly split content between broadcasters.”

Localisation offers limited scope. For Zee Café, the only local show is a talk show, ‘Look Who’s Talking with Niranjan’.

“Fiction has to come up to the quality Look_Whos_Talkingof Hollywood. We have not come across a production house that can produce content at that level. We have to look at what the viewer wants. Is the viewer ready for it? There are already local shows in Hindi and other Indian languages. Our talk show, though, works. People connect with Bollywood actors. The mood is light-hearted. Actors can feel free and talk about successes and failures.”

Zaidi also feels that having more local shows might be more of a risk. The chances of reward are relatively less. “There is more of a danger than an advantage. You might as well stick to Hollywood which has ample content.”

ZEEL took its time to launch a high-definition feed for Zee Café. That is because it wanted to create a consumer, operator pull rather than push the offering to operators.

“We believe completely in consumer pull. We did a lot of marketing. Then operators came and said that they would place Zee Café HD. We waited for a couple of months. We ran promos for two months that Zee Café was available in HD. The channel is a mirror image of Zee Café,” Zaidi said.

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