‘Zee Telugu’s core has always been non-fiction shows’

ZEEL-owned Telugu entertainment channel Zee Telugu recently completed 13 years on 18 May. Despite being a late entrant into the market dominated by Gemini TV and ETV Telugu, the channel has managed to carve a niche for itself. Currently, it is among the top 3 channels in the market.

From introducing reality formats like Gold Rush, Aata to Sa RE GA MA Pa and Drama Juniors, the channel has piggybacked on non-fiction content to tide over the competition in the competitive Telugu GEC market. Having said that, the channel also has a strong line-up of fiction shows such as Mudda Mandaram, America Ammayi and Mutyala Muggu amongst others.

TelevisionPost.com’s Swagata Panjari spoke to Zee Telugu and Zee Cinemalu business head Anuradha Gudur about the channel’s 13-year journey. She also spoke about the content strategy adopted by the company.

Excerpt:

Tell us about the 13-year-old journey of Zee Telugu?

Zee Telugu was a late entrant to the market. When we launched, there were giants like Gemini and ETV who were ruling the market. Gemini was at 1000 GRPs and ETV was at 600 GRPS. We were the fourth channel to enter the market. The journey has been quite interesting. We started off with 54 GRPs and today, we are one of the leading Telugu general entertainment channels in the market.

What are the steps that Zee Telugu took to become a key player?

First and foremost, we had to do clutter breaking content. We took a strategic call to focus on non-fiction format as all other channels were focussing on fiction shows during prime time. We got shows like Gold Rush for female audience to win gold and dance show Aata for youngsters.

What was the biggest challenge for Zee Telugu at the time of launch?

The challenge was to get noticed especially when the audience was used to heavy dramas from Gemini and ETV. So, not only we had to offer the shows that other channels were not offering but we even had to get those shows visible to the audience. The need to get noticed was the main issue that we faced. It was also the most important thing as even if we put out content it had to look totally different and our content reflected that.

Can you take us through Zee Telugu’s content line-up?

The Tamil and Telugu television industries have the most hours of original content than any other region today. We at Zee Telugu, have original content which airs from the morning, be it religious shows or drama. We air original programming throughout the day. Our clock starts ticking at 7 am in the morning. We have very loyal viewers in the 7 am time slot. Strategically, we have two or three repeats for newly launched shows so that the audience can get familiar with it but we don’t have constant repeats like other channels.

Tell us about your morning and afternoon programming?

When we started morning and afternoon programming our target was the urban audience. Hence, we decided to base it on aspirational aspect and not telling regressive stories. So though we had content driven shows there has to be one aspirational aspect that we always tried to reflect strongly through our marketing and promotional activity for the audience to connect.

Our programming changes according to the time band. Our morning is dedicated to religious programming which is followed by non-fiction show Bathuku Jataka Bandi where we give a platform to people who have issues with their family. Then in afternoon, we have fictional drama for our elder audience and our evening our prime time is dedicated to a younger audience, featuring lighthearted shows.

How is the morning and afternoon slots working for you?

Revenue and number wise we get a good response from our primetime programming but we get a steady response in terms of viewership from our afternoon programming. In afternoon, we don’t see fluctuation in viewership pattern and it gives that extra push which is required to get to a certain number. While prime time is the main focus, afternoon slot has also become an important time band for us. Even other channels have started launching the afternoon time band.

Who is Zee Telugu’s core TG?

Our core TG is women 20-25 years of age but we want to be wholesome family entertainment channel so our target audience is across age group. We have content that caters to 4 years old as well as 60 years old. However, the key approach that we take is young at heart.

How is the split between fiction and non-fiction shows?

Our core has always been non-fiction shows. We started with non-fiction format Gold Rush then we had dance reality show Aata which was quite popular and got us almost 100 GRPS then we had Sa Re Ga Ma Pa which is one of Zee’s most popular property and now we got Drama Juniors which is kid talent shows. So our core programming revolves around non-fiction shows it is only from 2010 that we got into fiction programming to hold our channel steady. And we are building the fiction format with some strong shows like Muddha Mandaram.

What is your strategy for weekend programming?

On Saturday’s prime time we have non-fiction like Drama Juniors or Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and On Sunday we generally have a movie premiere in the afternoon and late evening we have non-fiction shows.

On the business front, how has Zee Telugu growth?

Since we are strong in the market we have done very well last year despite GST and demonetisation.

How has been advertiser response to the channel?

In terms of advertisers, FMCG has always been the bread and butter for us but we have also seen traction from e-tailers like Flipkart and Amazon. FMCG continues to occupy significant space in the pie of the channel.

What impact did you see from the inclusion of rural markets in the BARC rating measurement system?

We have better connect with urban whereas with rural it is more drama driven. There is a gap but I feel that if the content is good then it should be able to overcome that gap. In terms of consumption, rural has different viewing pattern as rural sleeps early unlike urban which goes to sleep a little later.

Which are the tentpole shows for Zee Telugu?

From our existing shows Muddha Mandaram is continuous number one since its launch followed by That is Mahalakshmi. These two shows are doing very well for Telugu market.

What is your plan for Zee Telugu in 2018?

Going forward in 2018, we have five fiction shows on the anvil. We have already launched four shows.  We are planning to launch something in non-fiction front as well.We recently released a new show Ganga Manga.

The protagonist is from our non-fiction show Drama Junior. We saw her outstanding performance and hence decided to launch her as a lead through this show. It is shot in the deep forest of Andhra Pradesh and is the story of a tribal girl who gets switched during her birth and ends up in a tribal village.

How is your Telugu movie channel Zee Cinemalu progressing?

There were three players in the market when we launched Zee Cinemalu. When we launched we had a very strong orientation. Having targeted young male, we witnessed great growth over the years, last year we were almost grabbed the second position. We were number one in Hyderabad market and I think it is an added aspect of our strength in the Telugu market.

How is Zee Cinemalu different from the existing movie channels?

Zee Cinemalu’s USP is that it premieres latest movies which aren’t generally done by other existing channels. We launched with movie Kumari 21F which happens to be very youthful movie followed by Akhil. Unlike our competitors, Zee Cinemalu’s movie slate comprises of latest films. For instance, ETV has old movies repertoire whereas Gemini Movies has a library of films’ released between 2005 and 2010. They do premiere new movies in between but we have movies which are premiered exclusively on our channel. I think that is why we have been able to lead Hyderabad market. Our premieres happened on Saturday 8 pm we are also building our primetime band and we have got a pretty good response for the time band.

How do you choose the movie that is to be premiered on Zee Telugu and Zee Cinemalu?

For Zee Telugu, we pick movies that are family entertainers, anything that has a strong family orientation works like ‘Shatamanam Bhavati’ which did extremely well on Television with 20 TVR which is almost similar to Bahubali. For Zee Cinemalu, it is the combination of both and slightly skewed towards the male audience.

What is the criteria for acquiring movies?

We have a strong number of premieres in pipeline for Zee Cinemalu. Our strategy when it comes to select films is to focus and identify good content-driven films, especially those which are made by upcoming production houses and directors. Though we also have a slate of films by popular producers like we have satellite rights of Robot 2 we don’t want to give up on this strategy.

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