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Zee Café ups the ante, creates differentiated content with BBC block
MUMBAI: In an increasingly competitive English GEC environment, genre leader Zee Café is upping the ante. Part of this exercise is to tie up with BBC Worldwide for a BBC First-branded block at 10 pm. Other content is to follow as the channel, which has seen an upsurge for over a year, is looking to increase its investments to fortify its leadership position.
The big driver this year is, of course, the BBC block reserved for British dramas on weeknights at 10 pm. This clear differentiation kicks off on 26 June. Eleven shows are part of the deal. The initiative rolls out with five shows Monday–Friday each with a different theme.
In a television space cluttered with American shows, Zee Café aims to break the norms of the industry with the best from the world of British dramas for its constantly evolving viewers. British dramas are, after all, known for great stories that are unpredictable, thrilling, complex and engaging.
‘War And Peace’ based on Leo Tolstoy’s epic classic novel kicks things off on 26 June. ‘Fleming: The Man Who Would Be Bond’ will debut a day later and tell the story of the man who wrote the James Bond novels.
While ‘Class’ kicks off on 28 June, ‘SS-GB’, which looks at what might have happened had Germany won the Second World War, will start a day later.
Meanwhile, ‘Maigret’, featuring Rowan Atkinson in a serious turn, kicks off on 30 June. After that six more shows will launch.
The initiative will run for 12 weeks. After a break, more shows will come. The Zee Café team carefully curated the shows to ensure that they resonated with the Indian viewer.
Why the BBC block
Zeel CEO domestic broadcast business Punit Misra said that the initiative is in line with the channel’s brand promise of ‘All Eyes On New’.
“We have to be ahead of the curve. BBC as a brand is well known. There is sentimentality attached to it for many of us. Zee is recognised as a pioneer in the broadcast industry for delivering great content to viewers across the world. Similarly, the BBC is known for its world-class entertainment. In an unprecedented age of TV drama, we believe we can connect with audiences who are hungry for nuanced storytelling that will immerse and entertain them. This rich catalogue of unforgettable dramas is in line with our brand promise of ‘All Eyes on New’ and will significantly enhance our channel portfolio. From edgy new perspectives to shows that immortalize classics, we believe that this block of BBC First will be irresistible to the discerning Indian viewer who values premium content.”
Zeel business cluster head premium, FTA GEC channels Aparna Bhosle noted that when one looked at the English entertainment space the dependence on American content was a lot. “There is nothing wrong with that. ‘House Of Cards’ does well for us. But kick-ass content comes from other parts of the world as well. We got in touch with the BBC. The number of hours of content that they have is phenomenal. My team went through it. We needed to keep in mind the fact that Indians have different sensibilities. We have picked up 11 shows.”
Bhosle noted that a deliberate effort was made to see that the first five shows each have a different theme. This will give a definite width to the content sourced from BBC.
Beyond the BBC First initiative, Zee Cafe will later in the year look at testing the waters more with comedy. This will mean shows not just from America but also from the UK and Australia. The challenge is that it is tough for Indian viewers to get British comedy.
The channel has so far enjoyed success with shows like ‘The Big Bang Theory’.
The deal with BBC
The deal with BBC Worldwide for the BBC First block is for two years with the option to extend. The difference between this deal and other deals is that normally a broadcaster takes a show for its entire duration and all the seasons. It has the life of show rights. That will not be the case with the BBC Worldwide deal. Cherry picking of shows will happen. Of course, there will be a certain number of hours of content that Zee has to take.
BBC content has more depth, Bhosle said. “American shows focus on simplistic emotions. The BBC shows have a facet of emotions. You will see yourself in the shows.”
She noted that Zee Café’s brand promise means that keeping introducing new things and finding new stuff is imperative and in this genre that is tough. “The BBC offered content to us but we chose some of it and we did not take everything. For instance, period dramas we did not take apart from ‘War And Peace’ as it would jar. It has been concised brilliantly. Shows in the mystery genre are also there.”
The marketing angle
In terms of marketing, different angles are being used depending on the medium. So, for radio the focus is on the British accent. For OOH and print, it is about striking visuals. For on-air, the focus rests on the quality of storytelling. A lot of marketing focus is also on digital. Zee Café is counting on the fact that having a BBC First block will lead to easier brand recall. The shows will be available exclusively on Zee Café.
While Zee Café’s core TG is 15–34 SEC A, B, the hope is that due to the subject matter of some of the shows like ‘War And Peace’, even older viewers will tune in. Chennai and Hyderabad are among the important markets along with Mumbai and Delhi.
BBC’s take on the shows
BBC Worldwide director, global brands and content marketing Julia Kenyon said, “We are delighted that Zee Café is bringing BBC First to India, which will bring the best of British creativity to an appreciative audience. This is a curation of critically acclaimed and award-winning original British drama that will challenge perceptions though surprising storylines and unforgettable characters.
“BBC First has been very successful in countries where it has already launched across Australia, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. We look forward to connecting with Indian audiences who know and enjoy premium drama.”
She conceded that, while Indians know the BBC for news and factual, not many know that it does dramas, though people do watch shows like ‘Sherlock’. The hope is that a branded BBC First block will change perception. She said that now is the right time to make a bigger push for British drama as millennials feel that they are global citizens. Viewers want to have a personal connection with the shows that they watch no matter where it comes from.
“We are presenting shows that haven’t been seen in India. There are three things that make our content unique. The first thing is writing. It all starts with the writing. Writers are given the freedom to deliver without constraint of format. If someone wants to deliver it in a three-hour format, that is fine. If the person wants to do it in 20 episodes each having a half-hour duration, that is also fine. Our shows take you to places you don’t expect to go. People cannot imagine what will happen next on a show.
“Our second strength is that the characters are unique. They are complex and nuanced. They face challenges and are brought to life by great British actors. The third reason is the focus on craft to deliver the creative vision.”
In terms of the show on Ian Fleming, she noted that not many people know about him, though they may have read his books and seen Bond movies. “He is incredibly dashing and a maverick. The show looks at how he goes into naval intelligence and learns about espionage. He meets beautiful women and leads a life of glamour.”
She also spoke about ‘SS-GB’, saying that it is a scary vision of what might have happened had the allies lost the Second World War. It looks at Nazis being in charge and is based on Len Deighton’s novel. There is crime, thriller elements, global conspiracy and at the same time a love story.
She also said that Rowan Atkinson, who everybody knows of as being the comic character Mr Bean, does something completely different in ‘Maigret’. He solves murders in Paris.
She is also excited about ‘Class’, which is a spin-off of the famous science fiction show ‘Doctor Who’. It is set in East London. The difference about school is that it is full of aliens and time travellers. The doctor tells the students that he has to go somewhere and so they have to take care of things. The students face challenges of things like sexuality, schoolwork, and dealing with their parents, friendship.
Later on, more shows will be introduced. ‘Doctor Foster’ premieres on 14 July at 10 pm. The show is centred around a respected family doctor at the heart of her village—a woman people can trust and a loving mother. But Doctor Foster’s life is about to explode. Suspecting her husband of having an affair, she’s determined to get to the truth. As her investigation throws her life, and the lives of her patients and family, into chaos, she finds herself behaving in ways she could never have imagined.
‘The Kettering Incident’ premieres on 25 July . The thriller follows one woman’s journey to find the truth about her past. ‘New Blood’ premieres on 7 August at 10 pm. It is about two guys in their mid-twenties, stuck at the bottom of the career ladder. One is a trainee police detective, the other a junior investigator at the Serious Fraud Office. Rash’s parents were born in Iran, Stefan’s in Poland. They’re first generation British, but still outsiders. When they’re brought together by two apparently unrelated cases, they find themselves involved in a worldwide conspiracy. They are opposites in almost every way, but as their friendship develops, they realise that they can take on the rich and the powerful. Just as long as they don’t get themselves fired first.
‘Top of the Lake’ premieres on 10 August at 10 pm. A story from Oscar-winning writer/director Jane Campion, ‘Top of the Lake’ begins with a mystery—Tui, a 12-year-old girl, walks chest deep into the freezing waters of a South Island lake in New Zealand. She is five months pregnant and won’t say who the father is. Then she disappears. Robin Griffin is a gutsy but inexperienced detective, who is called in to investigate. But as Robin becomes more and more obsessed with the search for Tui, she slowly begins to realise that finding Tui is tantamount to finding herself—a self she has kept well hidden
‘Thirteen’ premieres on 18 August at 10 pm (Friday). This tense psychological drama follows the story of Ivy Moxam, a 26-year-old woman learning to live again after 13 years in captivity. When Ivy escapes the cellar that’s been her prison since she was abducted, it’s just the start of her story. She’s beginning to pick up the threads of a life half-lived, but they’re about to be pulled apart again. Her captor is on the run, and as cracks appear in Ivy’s account of her ordeal, the police begin to doubt her motives. What happened in that cellar? And can Ivy really be trusted?
‘From Darkness’ premieres on 23 August at 10 pm (Wednesday). In this psychological crime drama, a former detective is drawn back into a case she instigated 15 years ago.
In terms of Zee’s overall English channel business, Misra conceded that work has to be done on Zee Studio to get it back into the leadership position. To achieve this, better and more focused marketing will be needed. After all, the movies aired are known. It is a matter of presenting the movies in refreshing ways to viewers.
“In the English genre, one needs to take a long-term view. There is growth in the genre and English education is only spreading to all parts of the country,” Misra said.