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With new channel, ZEE’s trio ready for rivals

If the last couple of years were about launching second Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) for leading broadcasters, it seems it is already time for them to talk about a third GEC.

ZEE Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEE) is ready with its third Hindi GEC after ZEE TV and Zindagi (launched in 2014), called &TV. Extending its second channel brand, the new GEC is expected to have more mass appeal than Zindagi, say top officials.

“With Zindagi, we have a premium content proposition. In case of &TV, it is a mass channel with more focus on non-fiction than our other GECs. While we have, as a network, acquired such formats in the past, with &TV, the scale is much bigger. We have acquired formats for our regional channels and some of these have been used on the new channel. Others are newly-acquired formats from around the world,” says Punit Goenka, the group’s MD and CEO.

ZEE has pinned high hopes on the new channel. In the first month of launch, ie. March, the channel will aim to reach 50 per cent of the TV-viewing audience. However, the attempt is to make it available to as many platforms (DTH, digital cables) as Zee TV is available. It will also be launched in international markets such as the US and West Asia, followed by UK.

Given that the channel wants to differentiate on the basis of its non-fiction content, one of the flagship shows would be India Poochega – Sabse Shaana Kaun? which has been adapted from an international format, Who’s Asking, by the Israel-based Armoza, a global content distributor. It will be hosted by Bollywood superstar, Shah Rukh Khan, who is expected to bring in his own brand of wit into the show.

India Poochega… intends to challenge conventional intelligence, and bring to the fore, the importance of street smarts. Produced by Siddhartha Basu of Big Synergy (responsible for Sony’s KBC, as well), the show will have the common man don the role of the ‘asker’, as well as that of the ‘contestant’. While the askers will pose the questions, the contestants will be seen demonstrating their street smarts to win the prize money.

Goenka says that the investment in the new GEC was “what any mainstream GEC would need” and that he expects the channel to “break even in three years if we do exceptionally well and five years if we do reasonably well”.

The multi-GEC logic
The ZEE trio will increase the network’s market share in the high-stakes GEC space. Goenka says, “While &TV may compete with ZEE TV at times, when needed, they’ll team up and play doubles against the other networks.” A second Hindi GEC has been tried by all the four leading networks. Star India was second-time lucky with Life OK, rebranding and overhauling its previous avatar, Star One, in 2011. Life OK has become a consistent number four on the GEC ratings chart and has allowed Star India to command an estimated share of 39 per cent among GECs, according to a media research report by Edelweiss.

Multi Screen Media (MSM, Sony’ network), in 2014, was the first to launch a third GEC – Sony Pal – targeted at the contemporary Indian woman, though it is yet to find its footing. Its second GEC, SAB TV, was acquired in 2010 from Shri Adhikari Brothers. Over the years, SAB TV has come to focus on comedy content, meant for the entire family. Viacom18 also launched its second GEC, Rishtey, last year.

“In our view, the combined market share of Star Plus and Life OK at 39 per cent in the Hindi GEC space vis-à-vis the 18 per cent of ZEE TV, is the reason why ZEE is launching &TV. However, the competition in the space remains intense, with the success of Life OK and the launch of Sony Pal. In this backdrop, ZEE seems to be better prepared, having learnt from past failures, the success of new channels in other genres, superior distribution network owing to digitisation, lower carriage fees and its expected recovery in ad-spends in FY-16,” says Abneesh Roy, associate director (institutional equities), research.

ZEE had tried a second GEC way back in 2007, calling it ZEE Next, but withdrew it in 2009. “The mistake we made with ZEE Next was that we did not take distribution seriously, especially in the analogue market. I also feel the content was ahead of its time. We see a lot of GECs offer that sort of content today and it is doing well. So the idea was not wrong, the timing was wrong. But we realised our mistake and decided to cut our losses by shutting it down,” says Goenka.

Brand ‘&’
In 2013, ZEE first launched a channel under ‘&’ – &pictures. &TV will have 3.5 hours of fresh content daily between 7.30 and 11 pm, the prime time, on weekdays. The weekend plans are yet to be finalised. Apart from the game show, it will have fiction shows like Razia Sultan produced by Swastik Productions (which recently made Star Plus’ Mahabharat). There will also be acclaimed feature film director, Tigmanshu Dhulia’s (of Paan Singh Tomar fame) Begusarai, set in Bihar’s heartland. ZEE’s expansive film library, too, would be tapped into for the new channel.

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