Zee Telefilms chucks out Chakra

It was media baron Subhash Chandra's pet project to set up a channel advocating ancient Indian medicine, holistic healing, culture, meditation etc under the Organic or Chakra brand.

The channel's main audience would be in Europe, America, South Africa, Australia, and some south east Asian nations. The channel would be encrypted and carried on both cable TV and DTH systems as a subscription service and was in the planning stages for more than two years. As recently as June, Chandra was heard cheerleading Chakra employees that they could do pull it off.

No more. Last month, the channel was given a quiet burial, in an unreported move, by, sources indicate, Zee Telefilms broadcasting CEO Sandeep Goyal. Apparently, Goyal took the decision to cut off the oxygen to the channel with the transfer of all broadcasting responsibilities to him. Some 10 employees of Chakra have since reportedly departed; a skeleton staff of three or four employees has been left.

The channel was reportedly talked of as a Rs 200 million project within Zee, but was actually sanctioned with only RS 80 million in funds, of which only RS 30 million was disbursed. Some 150 hours of holistic healing programming were created, with another 100 hours slated to be wrapped up and canned very soon.

With the money situation tight, Goyal reportedly decided to pull the plug on Chakra, and instead consolidate the existing businesses. He has, it is believed, told the programme syndication team within Zee TV to sell the rights to the Chakra shows, which have been produced, to anyone interested in buying them, whatever be the sticker price. Insiders claim it would be better if Zee TV would hold on to the programmes as they have plenty of shelf life and could be used later.

In recent times, other new forays such as the Urdu channel UTN have been handed out the same treatment. In fact, Zee Telefilms' alleged decision not to invest in UTN led to its closure just a month or so ago.

All this at a time, when the company is persisting with an extremely myopic, high-on-cost but very low-on-strategy marketing campaign promoting its gaggle of new shows on mother channel Zee TV. The campaign uses a frail girl mascot Khushi to promote not only Zee TV but also 26 new shows. Basic marketing principles say that it is okay to use an umbrella brand to promote a product range, but sub-brands have to be promoted independently. Analysts have for long been demanding that the company drop its shotgun marketing approach and promote each programme independently. But to no avail. Some RS 120 million has been pumped behind it, which has resulted in just a handful of shows emerging as audience favourites. Among these: Kohi Apna Sa, Nilaamghar, Sarahadein, Baazi Kiski.

Thankfully, the company is doing some rejigging of its programming schedule as far as some of the popular new shows are concerned. It's over to Messrs Chandra, Goyal and marketing head Partha Sinha to pull out Zee Telefilms and Zee TV from the quicksand of sinking ratings, high costs, and a plunging share price, even as rival Star Plus continues to make gains with viewers.

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