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Zee Marathi: Setting roadmap for the Marathi GEC genre

zee marathi logoMUMBAI: For Zee Marathi, the turning point was 2012. Lagging behind Star Pravah, the oldest Marathi general entertainment channel launched back-to-back shows like ‘Unch Maaza Zoka’ and ‘Eka Lagnachi Dusri Goshta’ to come up with a winning recipe. The experimentation with its non-fiction line-up also started working.

Soon, Zee Marathi raced ahead of all its rivals. Now it has a distinct lead in the genre and is almost twice as much as its nearest competitor Star Pravah (as per data provided by Zee Marathi) in terms of weekly gross television viewership in thousands (GVTs).

Zee Marathi is playing a leadership role in terms of investments and revenues. The channel is betting on a new mythological fiction property ‘Jai Malhar’, the costliest Marathi fiction show ever. Scheduled for launch on 18 May, ‘Jai Malhar’ is based on the story of Lord Khandoba.

Deepak rajadhyaksha“Right now, we are doing a mega project called ‘Jai Malhar’. We are spending almost five times more than what we do for a normal fiction show per episode. It is not just Zee Marathi’s but the entire Marathi television industry’s mega project,” said Zee Marathi business head Deepak Rajadhyaksha.

In terms of risks and return on investment, he said that it is always risky to launch a new show. “The next season of ‘Saregamapa’ is as big a risk as its first season. But these are calculated risks which we have to take. We raised the bar for non-fiction with the production of ‘Saragamapa’. We are now doing the same for fiction with ‘Jai Malhar’,” he added.

Rajadhyaksha proudly says that as a leader, the channel has to set the roadmap and give direction so that the whole genre can grow.

How Zee Marathi overtook Star Pravah

Long a leader, Zee Marathi slumped to second position after Star Pravah made quick gains to stay at the top of the Marathi GEC hierarchy.

Remembers Rajadhyaksha, “We were below Star Pravah for almost one and a half years. Then in 2012 we launched back-to-back shows like ‘Unch Maaza Zoka’, ‘Eka Lagnachi Dusri Goshta’, and slowly and steadily we started gaining. Two more shows, ‘Tu Tithe Mi’ and ‘Honar Sun Me Hya Gharchi’, became instant hits and after that there was no looking back.”

tu tithe mi (2)In between, the channel also kept experimenting with its non-fiction line-up which included dance reality shows ‘Eka Peksha Ek – Apsara Aali’ and ‘Dance Maharashtra Dance’, comic non-fiction ‘Fu Bai Fu’, and singing reality show ‘Saregamapa’.

The channel, which already had two big award properties, namely Zee Gaurav Puraskar (for Marathi films and theatre) and Zee Marathi Awards (for TV shows), added one more property called Unch Maaza Zoka to honour women leaders from different walks of life.

The business head claims that the channel is today leading almost all the slots. “On average, we are leading all the slots. Today, we are in the range of 120,000 GVTs while Star Pravah is in 60,000. ETV Marathi is in the range of 50,000. So, we are double our nearest competitor,” he says.

Innovation in programming

Rajadhyaksha’s mantra for success is innovative content. He is completely against dubbed content. “We once remade Zee Kannada show ‘Jogula’ for our audiences and aired it as ‘Anubandh’. So, it is not that we can’t do or won’t do remakes. But there is no point taking anything from Hindi, as there is no language barrier and our viewers may have already seen it.”

honar soon ya gharchiInterestingly, Zee Marathi’s show ‘Kunku’ was remade into Kannada by Zee Kannada for the Karnataka market. Similarly, four ZEEL channels—Zee TV, Zee Bangla, Zee Kannada and Zee Telugu—have made use of the concept of Zee Marathi’s top-rated show ‘Honar Sun Me Hya Gharchi’.

He believes that ‘Jai Malhar’ will help the whole genre as it will give confidence to other channels to invest more in content.

All three players are trying at their respective levels. “ETV Marathi is doing a very innovative show, a completely new concept and format with ‘Zhunj Marathmoli’. Star Pravah had also done ‘Raja Shivchhatrpati’. I keep talking to my friends in ETV Marathi and Star Pravah so that we can maintain a healthy competition among ourselves, but at some stage, we three should come together to compete and limit Hindi channels in Maharashtra,” Rajadhyaksha said.

unch maza zokaWith regard to past innovations, Rajadhyaksha proudly talks about ‘Unch Maazha Zhoka’, which was based on the subject of child marriage that existed during the late 19th century. “It was a period drama with a social message. It was based on the real life of Rama Bai Ranade, one of the first-generation women socialists in Maharashtra. Her husband Justice Mahadeo Govind Ranade made sure she got good education, including training in the English language. Both of them worked for social cause,” he explains.

Rajadhyaksha adds that as Maharashtra is a state with high level of social and political awareness, the channel followed up the show with an awards property of the same name. “This year we will have the second edition of the awards and we plan to continue this,” he adds.

Marathi GEC a tough ad market

The Marathi GEC market is a tough ad market as the dynamics are very different from other regional markets. Rajadhyaksha agrees that unlike Southern or Bengali markets, there is no language barrier with Hindi, which poses a big challenge.

“The ad rates in Marathi are very low and need to be increased. This is one of the issues that all three of us [Zee Marathi, Star Pravah and ETV Marathi] need to work on together. Advertisers are getting reach in the market via Hindi channels also, so the rates are low. There is a big difference in ad rates between Bengal and Maharashtra,” he explains.

Supporting Marathi theatre

The next big thing for the channel is to help the indigenous Marathi theatre industry. Earlier, the channel had joined hands with Marathi film producers and co-produced multiple films, starting with ‘Sade Made Tin’ in 2007.

Later, ZEEL associated itself with multiple films in Marathi, thereby giving the industry a big fillip. Rajadhyaksha is looking forward to a similar success for theatre.

nakshatra“We are now starting to help theatre. We have acquired about 40 Marathi plays and on every Sunday afternoon, starting 4 May, we have started airing these under our new slot ‘Nakshtra’,” he says.

With regard to this affinity for stage plays, he says, “All the talent that is coming to TV and films is from theatre but theatre in itself is not in a very good shape. As an industry, theatre needs a boost, which we are planning to give.”

The channel will integrate with the plays, as it did with movies. “We are looking to get more discipline, better financial aid for research, development, production and talent management for the Marathi stage,” he adds.

The channel has also exhorted theatre directors and producers to associate with the channel for any kind of help.

When asked if other channels will follow suit, resulting in a rise in the prices of play rights, he says, “That is what we want. I am sure if this gets successful, other channels will run to buy the rights and the prices here also will go up like movies, but that will ultimately help the theatre industry.”