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Zee Bangla: Looking at fiction to break Star Jalsha’s dominance
MUMBAI: For Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL), West Bengal and Maharashtra have many similarities. For instance, both are big regional markets for the broadcaster, its channels have seen rise and fall in both, and leading the channels in both the markets is Sharada Sunder, EVP of regional channels at ZEEL.
However, there is one big difference: While Zee Marathi has become the dominant player in Maharashtra, West Bengal is a duopoly market where Zee Bangla lags behind Star Jalsha with a considerable gap.
And even though Zee Bangla, a channel completing 16 years this September, has made a strong name in the non-fiction space, it is fiction where Sunder’s focus is concentrated. Her aim is clear—to take the channel to the numero uno position, which it once enjoyed before the advent of Star Jalsha.
“Our USP in Bengal was our non-fiction. So we focused on it first and built that piece. We started building a lot of brand value through great non-fiction shows like ‘Dadagiri’, ‘Mirakkel, ‘Saregamapa’ and ‘Dance Bangla Dance’,” says Sunder.
“For the past few years, I have been trying to build fiction as well. It’s not easy to change viewers’ fiction habits and it takes a lot of effort.”
With over 50 per cent share, Star Jalsha is undoubtedly the dominant player, but Sunder says that after two years of hard work, Zee Bangla is witnessing success and breakthroughs in the fiction programming also. Zee Bangla’s share is about 38–40 per cent, while the remaining 10 per cent is with Colors Bangla.
“’Raage Anuraage’ and ‘Kojagori’ have started looking up. I am confident that the recently launched ‘Deep Jwele Jai’, which is a differential story of a badminton player, and the upcoming show ‘Goinda Gini’, are also going to work well,” Sunder says.
Zee Bangla’s arsenal
West Bengal is a bit odd in terms of regional GECs. Leader Star Jalsha is a copy of Star Plus in many ways with its popular daily shows being remakes of popular Star Plus shows like ‘Saath Nibhana Saathiya’ and ‘Diya Aur Baati Hum’. It does not have many non-fiction properties, while Colors Bangla is trying to make inroads into the market with both fiction and non-fiction.
Zee Bangla, on the other hand, has dominant non-fiction programming. It is the only channel that starts original programming from as early as 5 pm with a cookery show. Called ‘Rannaghar’, this cookery show has completed 10 years with over 2,900 episodes.
Zee Bangla’s fiction line-up starts from 6.30 pm with ‘Rajjotok’, followed by ‘Dweep Jwele Jaai’ at 7 pm; ‘Raage Anuraage’ at 7.30 pm; ‘Kojagori’ at 8 pm; ‘Tumi Robe Nirobe’ at 8.30 pm; ‘Dwiragamon’ at 9 pm; and ‘Chokher Bali’ at 9.30 pm.
Between 10 and 11 pm, the channel again airs non-fiction content. From Monday to Wednesday, it telecasts ‘Saregamapa’, while from Thursday to Saturday it has ‘Detective 2015’.
The channel also has a Sunday morning slot from 9.30 to 11 am for kids where it airs three animated shows—‘Gini Zindabad’, ‘Batul The Great’ and ‘Chander Buri O Magicman’. All three are locally made shows.
The channel usually airs two movies in a month.
Current market size and challenges
Sunder says that the two channels under her (Zee Bangla and Zee Bangla Cinema) are growing: “If you ask me, our brands are growing. We see decent growth. Last year we grew and this year also we are growing over last year.”
According to Sunder, Bengal is a difficult market. “In a market like this, growing and maintaining share is also a challenge. I think there will be interesting innovations from all three players,” she says.
Zee Bangla Cinema
As in the Marathi market, where ZEEL operates a GEC and a separate movie channel, in West Bengal the company launched Zee Bangla Cinema on 23 September 2012 to complement its Bangla GEC.
Sunder claims that Zee Bangla Cinema is the only pure-play movie channel in the market. Star Jalsha Movies also airs sports and other non-movie content (ISL, Pro Kabaddi League, etc), while Sony Aath has football as well as dubbed content (‘C.I.D.’) on its platform.
“In the movie genre, we are the only 24X7 channel in the market. The challenge is how to grow Bangla movies as a whole,” Sunder says.
Incidentally, the channel has started producing movies for television. On 18 January this year, the channel launched a new initiative called ‘Zee Bangla Cinema Originals’.
“West Bengal is very fertile in terms of creative minds, intellectual ability and is brimming with talent—be it actors, singers, storytellers, writers or directors. To tap into this wealth of talent, we initiated ‘Zee Bangla Cinema Originals’. Some good stories are never going to make it to the big screens, as commercially they will not be viable and people will not be able to see them. So we started telling these stories on TV. These are proper films and we premiere them on Zee Bangla Cinema,” Sunder explains.
Given this kind of response, the channel is so excited that it has started airing two original movies each month from August onwards.