‘We are well on our way to making ZEE5 a profitable venture’

ZEEL-owned digital entertainment platform ZEE5 has become one of the leading entertainment platforms in the country in just five months of its launch. Having learned its lessons from operating two different over the top (OTT) platforms OZEE and DittoTV, ZEE5 was conceived with a lot of thought and planning.

What sets ZEE5 apart from other platforms is the focus on creating original content for digital natives and a strong regional offering. It plans to launch 90+ originals in multiple Indian languages in FY19. No OTT platform in India creates as much original content as ZEE5 is setting out to do. Backed by a strong original content slate, the company is confident of growing its paid subscriber base in the coming months.

ZEEL has given equal importance to the technology aspect by investing significantly in the technology backend to ensure a seamless user experience. It is working with top-end vendors to create a strong foundation for ZEE5.

Helming ZEE5 in India is media veteran Tarun Katial. In an interview to TelevisionPost.com’s Ashwin Pinto, Katial said that the platform has received a good response and is on its way to becoming a profitable venture. He also spoke about the content strategy for ZEE5, the consumption trend on digital, and the learnings from the erstwhile OZEE and DittoTV platforms.

Excerpts:

What kind of planning went into conceiving ZEE5?

The ZEE Group has had extensive experience of over two decades in producing multi-lingual content for a wide cross-section of the audience. Through our ongoing engagement with viewers across continents, we had anticipated the gradual shift of the new-age audience from by-appointment viewing to video-on-demand. We are not new to OTT space and with the OTT landscape expanding in India, we believed that the time was right to introduce ZEE5.

We understood that the current generation was seeking entertainment/ infotainment options in relatable formats in the language of comfort. Thus, ZEE5 is targeted at catering to the demands of the current generation that is demanding, tech-savvy and is always on the lookout for great content from across the globe. The name itself was arrived at much deliberation – ZEE5 was chosen since the brand has conquered the five major regions across the globe.

The choice to go with multiple languages was a very crucial decision made at the outset – this rode on our key insight that when you watch content in your own language, the feel is different and you are instantly at home. We aim to be the multi-lingual destination for Entertainment all over India and across the world. We believe that there’s huge opportunity to create digital content not only in English or Hindi but in other Indian languages as well.

In fact, we have invested heavily in original content because our in-depth research showed that Indian viewers – here and overseas – are very keen to hear and see interesting stories from across the country. The launch of ZEE5 has been a labour of much perseverance and efforts for the entire team at ZEE.

What kind of investment has been made so far? When do you expect ZEE5 to break-even?

We are five months old in the category, and we have already seen a steep growth in our video views and time consumption pattern. We believe that we are well on our way to making this a profitable venture, like every undertaking of the Group.

What were the learnings from operating OZEE and DittoTV?

Our learnings from OZEE and Ditto have been immense. We tested the waters with these platforms and gained massive insights in terms of content, technology, and marketing that have helped us lay an extremely sound foundation for ZEE5. Our large base of audience and the understanding of their content tastes has given us insights that have helped us create a strong business model, sustainable in the long run.

Could you take us through the technology that has been deployed by ZEE5 to ensure a seamless viewing experience for the users?

ZEE5 is set on an extremely strong technological foundation that is complemented by the seamless viewing experience riding on Voice Search, Progressive Web App experience, Content Download options, Multi-CDN strategy for an optimised video viewing experience, and multi-platform support strategy.

To provide a seamless experience to users, we ensured that we partnered with only the best in the business; whether its Axinom for Content Management System, Think Design that created the design language of UI/UX and Tata Elxsi that breathed life in the design and bought it to users in the form of Web and App. Our CDN, which is managed by three stalwarts in the industry, Akamai, Tata CDN and AWS CloudFront, brings users the best adaptive viewing experience. Our unique feature in this adaptive experience is that Conviva, one of the leading players globally, directs users to one of the best CDN service provider based on the quality of their service in your location at that moment ensuring you never have to compromise on video quality. Our servers are hosted on Microsoft Azure and AWS cloud thereby ensuring scalability and reliability of our service.

What is the expectation of viewers from OTT platforms?

The entire model of OTT is innovation and led by the audience expectation of clearly something never-seen-before in the media space. According to a 2018 PwC report and our own user trends show that consumers are seeking new content on the platform on an ongoing basis – not just on a daily basis, but every few hours. They are seeking that content shown to them be curated, keeping their preferences and viewing history in mind – thus personalisation of content is key and one of the big factors that mark digital apart from TV content.

Viewers are expecting cutting-edge, differentiated content on a digital platform with priority and interactive features being available to them. OTT platforms empower the consumers, giving them the control over content, and social bragging rights. And that’s the reason, we have invested substantially in the original content bouquet where we have brought in web series across seven genres and in six languages including Hindi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, and Marathi.

What is ZEE5’s USP compared to other OTT platforms?

ZEE5, the digital entertainment destination for multilingual content offers consumers content in 12 languages such as English, Hindi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Oriya, Bhojpuri, Gujarati and Punjabi. Along with a strong focus on regional content, we have created a library of originals with shows which are contemporary and progressive, stirring emotions and conversations. We intend to launch 90+ original shows in FY2019.

Also, we like to give our viewers a personal experience via the recommendations that we create for them, the enhanced voice search functionality that we have provided for them so that across languages all they have to do is speak the choice of their show to be able to view it.

While it is early days, what kind of consumption trends have you witnessed in the first five months?
When we set out on this journey of creating the platform of ZEE5, our endeavour was to bring stories that resonate with Indians across the breadth of the country as also the non-resident Indian. And, I believe we have been successful in that. With our offerings of Hollywood Movies, BBC shows, International shows dubbed in Hindi under the sub-brand Zindagi as well as Blockbuster movies across languages and Original shows; we have seen immense traction on the platform.

While shows such as ‘Life Sahi Hai 2’ and ‘The Story’ have garnered good numbers in the North, ‘Utsaha Itihasam’ and ‘America Mapillai’ are doing exceptionally well with the South audience. Our bet on investing in good content has clearly given us goodwill. In fact, our recent release – ‘Zero KMS’ – a show dedicated to the issue of human trafficking has been rated 9.6/10 by IMDB in its launch week itself. Our downloads are from across Metros as well as tier II towns and I think therein lies the moment of truth.

What is ZEE5’s original content strategy?

Since the launch in February, ZEE5 has been focussed on bringing Original Content that is relatable, understated, bold, progressive, introspective, layered and open to interpretation. We have curated 10-20 minutes’ on-the-go and quick-natured content across genres such as Thriller, Drama, Action, Comedy, Satire, Biopics and Reality – in keeping with the preferences of our audience. Thus, we are well on our way to achieving our goal of offering the most cutting-edge differentiated original content in the OTT space.

We have been able to garner a few firsts too – Nasseruddin Shah’s web-series debut with ‘ZERO Kms’, Karenjit Kaur – Sunny Leone untold story autobiopic debut on OTT. Hardcore theatre and big screen personalities choosing ZEE5 to make their OTT platform debut is indeed a testimony to their confidence in ZEE5 being a truly global platform.

ZEE5 is the largest multilingual digital entertainment destination in the country with a bouquet of rich and premium content, tailor-made for specific audiences across the country and globe. We aim to release one original show every month in Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam. Some of these marquee properties include Kallachiruppu, a Tamil Original thriller by the highly acclaimed director of Tamil Cinema, Karthik Subbaraj, who is currently directing Rajinikanth’s next movie.

We also have Liftman, a Marathi Original featuring Bhau Kadam of Chala Hawa Yeu Dya Fame. We will also be releasing a Bengali Original Film, Aranya Deb, featuring the Bengali Superstar Jishu Sengupta and Mir. Apart from these titles, we have an exciting line up of content which we will release soon.

Is regional content a big whitespace when it comes to OTT?

We understand the viewer’s preference and comfort to watch content in their native language. From here itself has germinated the idea of “Apni Bhasha Mein Feel Hai” and staying true to our promise, we have brought shows across languages for our discerning viewers. America Mappillai in Tamil, Utsaha Ithihasam in Malayalam, Nanna Koochi in Telugu and Mehman in Bengali have got us a phenomenal response from viewers who understand the language across the globe.

Also, it’s the regional space that is growing by leaps and bounds across the country. Even Google has stated that every 9 out of 10 New digital Indian logging in is from the language consumption background.

As a broadcaster owned OTT platform, how important are the digital exclusives of TV shows?

There are two ways we build an exclusive experience for our viewers – one is the original content bouquet, and the other being the straight-after-theatre film releases – “theatre ke baad pehli baar”. We have already had a very successful launch of the Akshay Kumar-starrer ‘Padman’ that garnered record views and aided subscriptions in the short time that it has been online. We have big premieres like Parmanu and Veere Di wedding lined up before television for exclusive screenings for our subscribers. We believe, digital exclusives will play a major role in addressing the shift in the consumption pattern as that drives the social bragging rights. Our subscribers can expect many more such exciting offerings in the months to come.

Is ZEE5 looking at branded content?

We are driven by the sole objective of producing content that appeals to our audience. And viewers today are hungry for content in innovative formats. As long as the story is relatable and compellingly told, we will explore such innovative content formats.

What are the distribution tie-ups that you have done for ZEE5?

Since our launch five months back, we have signed up several partnerships in order to make the app easily available for our viewers. Also, we believe our choice of partners have to be exemplary, so we have partnered with companies like Airtel Tv, Amazon Fire Stick and Xiaomi etc. to ensure our application is available to our subscribers through their application.

One challenge in OTT is the lack of standardised measurement. How useful will BARC be in this regard?

Today, the digital industry suffers from a lack of investment and scalability due to a lack of one gold standard measurement. As the industry grows and freemium as well as AVOD formats make a strong case, ratified data on the views, reach, consumption patterns, consumer segmentation, content affinities, markets, and time consumed parameters of OTT players is very crucial.

While it has taken time, I am glad that the majority of the industry understands and acknowledges the need for transparency and inclusivity. BARC’s digital measurement system – EKAM that is under development currently should help us answer the relevant questions on the transparency of data, video views, time per user, minutes watched etc.

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