Television

"ZEE SHOULD BE THE HUB OF ALL INFORMATION"

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Almost seven years back when he started India‘s first Hindi-language satellite channel, Zee TV, critics scoffed at him and financial institutions frowned on his requests for loans. But today, Subhash Chandra‘s name is music to everybody‘s ears as the Zee group, face off with Rupert Murdoch, notwithstanding, is charting its path of growth to become a entertainment-to-broadcasting-to-telephony-to-Internet-to-print media behemoth. Financial institutions like IDBI and ICICI and banks like UCO Bank are falling over themselves to give loans to Chandra‘s various ventures as they are assured of their returns. The Haryana lad from a small-time business family, who made his initial money by exporting rice to the erstwhile USSR, has come a long way. In this interview, he gives a sneak preview of his plans and vision to make the EsselZee group a corporate house of the millennium. The Indian Cab&Sat Reporter‘s M. Anuradha spoke to Chandra‘s recent trip to Delhi.

Excerpts:

Q: What is the game plan behind offering equity partnerships in new ventures to senior Zee group executives like V. Jindal and others like Deepak Shourie?

A: In the corporate world there is a perception in professionals‘ minds that only MNCs reward their employees while Indian companies do not treat their employees properly. We (at Essel or Zee) are attempting to correct that perception. We have also realised that performance has to be rewarded. At The Economic Times award function when we were given the award for the best company, I had said ‘take away my capital, take away everything from me. But leave back my people (employees) and I‘ll return (with a new business venture) with them.‘ What is now happening in the company is the implementation of that theory, that thought process.

Q: Would you elaborate what businesses the new media division, which has been spun off as a separate company with ZTL managing director Vijay Jindal as a co-promoter, will be involved in ?

A:
We see new media as multimedia and our aim is to make the Zee group the hub of all information, including news, entertainment and sports, for South AsiA: This may extend also to other parts of Asia also, but at the moment this is our initial target. The new media is challenging and yet competitive. We see it as a potentially big business (opportunity). We want to give the consumer or viewer a choice of products at their convenience and at their price. At the moment, broadcasting, for example, is thrust on them. Zee airs certain serials at certain time and the viewers have to watch them. That has to change. The new media venture will encompass entertainment, information, purchases, banking, e-commerce... In short, everything on line.

Q: When do you plan to launch such a service and what are the financial details ?

A:
I would not like to go into the details, not because I don‘t want to tell, but because lot of things are still emerging and are in the evolutionary stage. But the new media venture will be called E-Connect Ltd and has already been registered as a company. ZTL is one of the promoters, while Vijay (Jindal) is the co-promoter. There is also the option of Vijay‘s stake increasing in the company as the company grows. We are also working on a kind of four-year pay back of investments in hard numbers . (FI sources say Chandra and Jindal are looking at having a company with a capital base of about Rs 500 crore). Our new media initiatives are already underway, but the formal launch will be on 1 October when Zee completes seven years of operation.

Q: Would you be using the Siti Cable infrastructure for delivering the proposed services of E-Connect Ltd ?

A:
Not necessarily. E-Connect Ltd is a stand alone business and its services will not be restrcited to Siti cable. It can also use (the services of) other cable operators and cable companies and phone lines too. We are looking at three mode of delivery: cable, normal telephone lines and directly coming from satellite.(ZTL has already obtained an ISP licence from the government)

Q: Do you see competition in this arena?

A:
I don‘t think we have any competition in the new media venture. There are five types of businesses in this area and we are, at the moment, present in two categories of providing content and access. Slowly, we‘ll graduate to e-commerce. Others, as you say, are operating in just one of the five categories. So, we have an advantage over them.

Q: What are your plans for the print and publication division ?

A:
Zee has plans in this segment of the media too. Here too a new company will be floated as Deepak Shourie (executive president of The Hindustan Times) as the operating partner and publisher. Our existing publications will be transferred to the proposed new company where again ZTL will be the promoter. We are also looking at launching new publications in the print medium.

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