Essel Vision’s game plan to grow the business in FY21

MUMBAI: ZEEL’s content creation arm Essel Vision Productions is looking to up the ante in terms of producing content across the three verticals of film, TV and digital.

Zee Studios, the film production, and distribution division of ZEEL, plans to release around 20 films in the coming fiscal 2020-21. Of the 20 films, 10-12 films will be in Hindi. In Marathi, the plan is to release four to six films.

As far as TV production is concerned, Essel Vision is looking to produce shows, not just for the ZEEL network but also for non-Zee channels and networks. It is talking to major broadcasters and is looking to make an announcement in this regard in the coming weeks.

On the digital side, it is looking at seven to eight content pieces. Some of these will be on ZEE5 and the remaining on outside platforms.

Speaking to TelevisionPost.com, Essel Vision Productions CEO Shariq Patel said Zee Studios is one of the leading studios in giving varied films and big successes including ‘Good Newwz’, ‘Article 15’ and ‘Tashkent Files’ in this financial year. “We have had one really small budget sleeper hit, a mid-budget megahit and then a big-budget hit,” he said.

Zee Studios, he said, is also getting into in-house production very seriously and had its first in-house film go on the floor. The in-house production is titled ‘Suraj Pe Mangal Bhari’. The cost of an in-house production ranges from Rs. 7-25 crore. “We will have another two to three productions which will go on the floor in the next three months itself.”

In terms of co-productions, Zee Studios has partnered with Dharma Productions for ‘Gunjan Saxena’. It has also partnered with Ali Abbas Zafar for a film called ‘Khali Peeli’. “More such partnerships are under discussion,” he added.

For Patel, the aim is to have a profit margin of at least 25-30% in any film. “We chase even higher numbers. If things work the margin can be even higher. ‘Tashkent Files’ delivered a margin of over 100% on our investment. The key though is to reduce a loss to 15-20% if things do not work out. Every studio executive tries to minimise the downside.”

According to him, the key to minimising the loss is first choosing the right project and then ensure that the film reached the right audience and right market without over-extending in terms of marketing.

“The rights prices have to be locked and you have to know the revenue percentage coming in from ancillary rights. You have to make sure that the box office does not collapse. We released a movie called ‘Beyond the Clouds’ a couple of years back and it just did not take off,” he said.

Patel said Zee Studios has a healthy Capex but a lot of it is rolling funds. He further stated that 40-50% of a movie’s revenue comes from the box office while the rest is ancillary revenue. “But it can go out of whack when ancillary rights are pre-sold like ‘Uri’ or ‘Kabir Singh’ where the box office was much bigger than everyone’s expectations. The success rate has been good for us this year. The big point is that you have to make sure that big films do not collapse. We have had more successes than failures this year.”

Besides Marathi, Zee Studios is also seriously looking at Punjabi and Tamil. “We are looking at a pan India regional presence with Hindi, of course, being the focal area. We have our TV network and digital network that needs content.”

Patel also noted that Zee Studios operates in a controlled budget and high concept content-driven film environment. He added that there is some amount of reduced risk from a co-production. But the company has not done too many co-financed films.

In terms of being part of ZEEL, he said that while there is a ready buyer the deal has to be done at the right price whether for TV or digital. This is especially true for a co-production as there is a certain price attached to a media vehicle. The co-producer can look for a better offer it is coming from outside ZEEL.

Monetisation is negotiated on a project to project basis even for our in-house productions. He noted that the price for movie digital rights went through the roof in 2019. For 2020 for the right projects, the pricing is in high demand.

“We have done deals with Amazon and Netflix. We can sell the rights outside of ZEEL’s platforms and it depends on the pricing. If someone outside of ZEEL makes a better offer we can go there. We are a standalone business.”

On the windowing strategy, he said that digital gets the rights first after the theatrical run due to the higher value attached there compared to TV.

In terms of trends, he noted that there has been a huge rise in patriotic-themed movies. “The story matters the most but the star also pulls in eyeballs and puts people in seats.”

On the exhibition front, he noted that multiplex penetration has been growing with the real estate majors knowing the importance of having one in a mall. The challenge is the state bodies imposing their own taxes, which is causing issues. In addition to GST, another tax is added

Regarding piracy, he said that technology is helping reduce it by taking on the issue head-on. Instead of being two steps ahead like in the past a pirate might only be half a step ahead today.

Speaking about the digital business, Patel noted that Zee Studios Originals has a couple of shows in the pipeline for ZEE5 that are in advanced stages of development. “We are also talking with a couple of other platforms and we hope to make an announcement soon.”

He stated that Essel Vision Productions is among the largest non-fiction producers in the industry. The production house is producing ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Punjabi’ for its new GEC Zee Punjabi. “There are two Punjabi fiction shows that we are producing.”

In the Hindi GEC space, Essel Vision is doing one fiction show for Zee TV and two for &TV. For Zee Marathi, it has three to four non-fiction shows. “In the year, we will do 25-30 shows/events like the Zee Cine Awards. We also do 75-100 promos for the ZEEL network.”

He said that a lot of focus moving forward will rest on fiction. While non-fiction so far has been its bread and butter the fiction side of things will see action. “On Zee TV and &TV, the aim is to have two to three fiction shows and these are ideas are things that our creative team has come up with. We are talking to them.”

As far as going to other broadcasters for TV production is concerned, he concedes that there can be some amount of hesitation from other broadcasters when his company takes ideas to them. “We are talking to other networks to try and see how we can start producing for them. We are in advanced conversations. When I approached them the first thing I asked was if they have a problem working with a ZEEL company.”

He, however, noted that in the US companies cooperate in one area like production while competing in another area like viewership. He noted that in terms of genres family dramas work as does a slice of life content. He added that requirements for TV and OTT are different.

“So on television one has to give a broad story for the first 20-30 episodes. But in OTT a lot more documentation is needed as the platforms want to know how the first season ends. That is due to the binge-watching opportunities that OTT offers,” he noted.

He maintains that the company is a separate entity and is not captive. Even when it comes to selling movie rights Zee Studios under which the film business is housed does a deal where it can get the best offer which is important given that it has a separate P&L.

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