Blockbuster movies, Celebrities, Events: The new Zee readies for battle once again

NEW DELHI/MUMBAI: Glamour with a capital G. That appears to be the new audience hook that Zee TV is hoping will work.

Especially considering the new programming strategy that Zee TV CEO Sandeep Goyal recently announced: new blockbuster Hindi movies on Thursdays at prime time (9 pm), celebrity shows on Fridays, and events on Saturday. Hitherto most Hindi entertainment channels have listed Hindi movies for Friday or the weekends while channels such as Star Plus and Sony Entertainment have aired events over the weekends.

Zee TV's announcement has the entire ad industry watching with bated breath. The key question on everyone's lips: will it work?

The new initiative has got the thumbs up from some ad professionals. "Hindi movies, film stars, celebrity chats, events - the page three kind of stuff - Indian audiences cannot get enough of it," says an ad veteran. "They lap up everything that is thrown their way. Look at the success of the Simi Garewal chat show on Star Plus which lifted the status of the channel. Remember Tabassum's Phool Khile Hain Gulshan Gulshan?"

Delhi-based ad agency Equus managing director Suhel Seth believes Zee TV is on the right track. Says he: "They (Zee ) need to create new properties and that is exactly what they are going about doing through this strategy." Incidentally, Seth was host of one of Zee TV's newer game shows, Aap Jo Bole Haan to Haan, Aap Jo Bole Na To Naa, which was aired till some time back.

When Zee group broadcasting CEO Sandeep Goyal joined the company in May 2001, he promised a complete rehaul of Zee TV. He went about doing it with great gusto. He did a total clean up of the inventory on the channel, launched 24 new shows at one go, opted for a channel mascot that he called "Khushi" (joy) - all in the space of just 100 days.

The jury may be still out whether that move was a success or not. But it certainly brought in a wave of freshness into the thinking of the Subhash Chandra-promoted Zee Telefilms.

Goyal, with an advertising and marketing background, has been quoted in the media as saying that Thursday movies will be a "complete paradigm shift," as movies have been telecast normally a year after their theatrical releases. Zee TV promises to air new releases: those that are still running in theatres and are as recent as being just 10-weeks old. The channel will also run its weekday prime time programming like soaps from Sunday to Wednesday. The new initiative is to start from 10 October with the airing of the Ajay Devgun starrer The Legend of Bhagat Singh.

Are media planners and buyers - those guys who decide where the ad rupee goes - buying into the new Zee TV initiative? What do they have to say about the main plank of his programming strategy: Thursday movies?

TBWA vice-president Viren Razdan believes it will create some ripples. Says he: "The strategy is a sign of experimentation and every channel needs to experiment from time to time to be in the news. At least in this direction, the move is good."

But at the same time, Zee is taking a big risk too. At least that's feedback that media planners gave on its initative to flag off the Thursday prime time movie slot.

"The move seems good, but lot will depend on how the company manages to communicate it to the viewers to attract additional viewership," explains Bates India executive vice-president Shovon Chowdhury, pointing out , "If the message is strongly and effectively communicated, viewership is likely to be there. But this cannot be treated as a magic wand."

To ensure that movies are good enough to attract viewers, Goyal has been buying up film properties like a man on a mission. And a good number of his purchases are for films that are still in various stages of production (with some that have yet to go on the floors), industry sources have pointed out. Apparently the telecast rights/licence fees he is coughing for a lot of them are quite reasonable too.

Consider this, from the list of movies that have released since June 2001, there has been one massive blockbuster (Zee's Gadar), one super hit (Lagaan) and one genuine hit this year in Raaz. So there are a whole bunch of movies that have done the range from so-so to absolute disasters at the box office but may still have a TV telecast value if they are aired within a short period of their release. And what may well have spurred Goyal to go the whole hog down this path is that Gadar is the only Zee programme that has managed an entry into the Top 20 TV show list for Zee in a long while.

The novelty factor may well work in Zee TV's favour. As Razdan says, "The first few weeks may do wonders for the channel where movies are concerned and if the movies are good, it may just about spur people to continue watching the film till midnight on a weekday."

In this connection, Razdan also points out that, apart from marketing, Zee TV should take care to develop other content which is good. Citing the example of Zee's runaway hit song-based game show Antakshari, he says, "Look at Antakshari, it was a very good programme and it attracted the kids too who rallied other family members in a household to watch it. So, a channel should first target kids with shows and build properties around those. This is something that Star did well where the strategy initially revolved around KBC."

But Zee is getting seriously into net practice. On the Saturday night front its Saturday Night Live series has been featuring singers and other performers with some measure of success. And on the movie front, the trial run has already been underway on Zee Cinema, which shows its blockbuster movies on Thursday nights.

Industry buzz is that Goyal actually hopes that within a year he will be able to show a good number of films a day before their theatrical release. While the really big films will not fall within this ambit, there are a whole lot of films being made below that scale that can be showcased in this manner. These will be mainly the smaller budget films and the producers will only be too willing because they will get some immediate cash infusion.

For Zee, the whole business paradigm in this is based on the assumption that the big, single-screen theatres will soon become white elephants and get phased out. It will be multiplexes that become the norm as they allow exhibitors to mix and match and maximise revenues out of a clutch of films that are released together. Tied into this will be the effort to integrate satellite television telecast as well as the theatrical release of films. Some films will be telecast just before, some just after and some soon after the official release, seems to be the way it may well go.

And what is the logic of the new FPC? Though Zee is mum on the fact, one explanation for this is that audiences may not be interested in watching a long movie on Sunday night; short series and shows however may be an option that could be considered. The reason: Sunday evening is the time when many urban families are getting ready for the week ahead with kids being prepared for school, and adults for another manic Monday.

And why Thursday prime time for the movie slot? Because Friday being the weekend, many people are likely to go out, while on Thursday night audiences are readying for the weekend and may well take a peek at TV.

If they do, and Zee TV manages to develop programming stripping around the movies and the celebrity fare, Star Plus and Sony may well have a surprise or two in store for them.

According to UK TV programming tracker Mediabullet, the Zee Network has acquired the following blockbusters for UK viewers on Sky TV. Some of these may well be aired in India too, though there is no confirmation from Zee TV on this score..

* Mujhse Dosti Karoge (Hrithik Roshan, Kareena Kapoor, Rani Mukherjee)
* Mere Yaar Ki Shaadi Hai (Uday Chopra, Jimmy Shergill, Sanjhna, Bipasha)
*Road (unreleased) (Vivek Obereoi, Antra Mali)
*Hathyaar (unreleased) (Sanjay Dutt, Shilpa Shetty)
*Kitne Door Kitne Paas (Fardeen Khan, Amrita Arora)
* Little John (Anupum Kher, Bentrly Mitchum)
*Humraaz (Akshaye Khanna, Amisha Patel, Bobby Deol) *Kuch Tum Kaho Kuch Hum Kahein (Fardeen Khan, Richa Pallod)
*The Legend Of Bhagat Singh (Sunny Deol, Aashwariya Rai, Bobby Deol)
*Kya Yehi Pyar Hai (Aftab Shividani, Amisha Patel) *Tumkho Na Bhool Payenge (Salman Khan, Sushmita Sen, Diya Mirza)
*Om Jai Jagdish (Anil Kapoor, Fardeen Khan, Abhishek Bachchan, Waheeda Rehman, Urmila)
*Mujhe Kuch Kenha Hai (Tushar Kapoor, Kareena Kapoor)
*Rehna Hai Tere Dil Mein (Mahadevan, Diya Mirza) *Deewanapan (Arjun Rampal, Diya Mirza)
*Filhaal (Tabu, Sushmita Sen)

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