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ZEE5, the over-the-top (OTT) platform owned by Zee Entertainment Enterprises, recently revealed its content lineup comprising 111 original series and films in various languages. However, Punit Misra, president, content and international markets at ZEE, said in an interview that the number of originals is far lower than what it used to make, but even then, it will still be 40% more than the second-largest player. Misra also shared his views on India’s TV and digital market, and the growth prospects of ZEE’s linear channels in South India. Edited excerpts:

You announced a large slate of originals and movies for ZEE5. But where is the video streaming industry heading at the macro level, given that we are increasingly seeing cutbacks in budgets and more emphasis on profitability?

In the early days, everyone was trying to figure out the market. We were also making larger volumes of content. The idea, at the time, came with a belief that the consumer is asking for quantity. Everyone felt there was this hunger for content. Very quickly, we realized that actually, volume is not what is required. It may have been okay in the first year, but in hindsight, it would seem like a more simple mathematical thing, which I keep playing back to people. There are 52 weeks in a year, and you can’t do activation for a product for less than two weeks. So that’s 26 pieces of content, out of which 10-16 will be movies.

We are clear that equity for the platform and longevity of the association will come with web originals. That’s how we’re operating. We make 40% more originals than the next largest player across languages we are present in. As far as what others are doing, it may be strategic or capability, particularly in language markets, which we have invested in, and built for TV.

The meta skill, which underpins all this, is our ability to know the culture. We used and applied it to TV first, and it has seamlessly flown into digital. That is where we bring something to the party. Not just in Hindi, but even in the three regional languages we make originals: Tamil, Telugu and Bengali. We are making anywhere between five and six times more content.

What about pricing?

When we began our journey, there was a wide range of investments. At the lower end, there was a YouTube-plus kind of cost (slightly higher than YouTube user-generated content cost), and on the other end, it was a Hollywood blockbuster minus kind of cost (lower than a big Hollywood budget).

The range is far more balanced: one big blockbuster with all the bells and whistles, and that’s fine. But I don’t call that the norm given that it is the story that sells. There will be some of the razzmatazz that you get, and some conversation, which is important. But that’s one or two. We do business with sanity and not vanity. You see the biggest names working with us. Like TV, they may work with multiple platforms, but with us, they will work according to our rules. I’m not making some kind of a statement, it’s just that we are clear about our model and work damn hard to get the quality to be amazing.

We are seeing a trend where OTT platforms are following TV++ model, more episodes, weekly drop etc. Will you be doing the same?

That is not our belief. We are operating from a very basic premise that there is a bull’s eye target group for TV, essentially women, 30-35-year-olds. On OTT, you have a more broad-based appeal. The bull’s eye target for OTTs is actually thought of as a different, paying user. So smartphones, payment gateway, credit card, ergo men. So, the content design will be a lot broader. When they design this 80-part, 50-part, 40-part shows, the idea might be of building a habit and appointment viewing. But it’s a mistaken notion at this stage of the development of this category. But maybe I’m wrong. We all have to learn and evolve, but if you have not experimented, you will probably not know enough.

Do you see a threat that catch-up content on OTT might cannibalise into TV viewership?

I don’t ever worry my TV ratings will suffer because of OTT. I’m okay with that volume and consumption as it does not compromise the other consumption. It is an AND world, not OR world.

What’s happened post-COVID is that there are fewer people coming in into DTH. And if you club that with the NTO piece, the fact that the minimum entry price also was Rs. 153 and with the rural growth of all FMCG categories, you have a genuine stress of income in a large part of the country.

Hopefully, in the later part of this year, perhaps with a lot more investments in the rural economy with the election coming up, you may see a change.

Coming to the TV side of the business, how are linear channels performing?

We’ve done fabulously well, pretty much in every single language market except Marathi. If we start looking from the South of India, we launched in Kerala in January 2018. As of last week, we are the number two brand in Kerala. We have a 15% market share, and our competitor is at the lowest share that they have ever been — 38% (Asianet). We would like to be 20% in the next six months.

In the Telugu market, five years ago there were four players each playing at roughly 21-22%. As of last week, two players are 73-74% of the market. We are still second but we are just 200 basis points behind. We have moved from 21-22% to 35%.

In Kannada, we are and continue to be for now three years, market leaders with anywhere between 39-42%. In Tamil Nadu, we had lost share, but from October of last year to now, we have gone back to our highest share, which is nearly 20%.

We launched two movie channels in the South just before COVID. Cinemalu was our Telugu movie channel, launched in 2016. And that is the number two player in its third year of existence and is today a 22% share brand. And our Tamil movie channel is at 18.5% share already. If I only take the South market language channels and their market. I’m over-indexed on share versus my all-India share. Nobody would have believed that was possible five years ago, or even three years ago.

Coming to East India, we’re market leaders now by anywhere between 50 to 75 GRPs in Bangla, which is a two-player market. Even in Odisha, which was a two-player market, we were number one with 45-46%, while the other player was at 42%. Star launched last year in June. Today, we are at 50%, the number two player is at 30%, and Star is obviously the new player, so it will take its time. But we’ve grown share and strengthened the lead with the other guy from 400 bps to 2000 bps.

Now coming to North, we launched in Punjab in January of 2020, just before COVID and today we are 60% bigger than the largest Hindi channel in Punjab.

What we’ve not done well is in Marathi where we lost share, and we haven’t managed to gain back share on our Hindi channel, Zee TV.

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Updated: 25 May 2023, 12:08 AM IST
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