'There is no major differentiation among the top 3 players' - Mohan Gopinath

Zee Cinema, the Hindi movie channel from the Zee stable, has seen it all since its inception in 1995. Right from being the uninterrupted ruler to seeing its territory being eaten into by new players like Star Gold and Max, the channel has weathered all kinds of climate. And it continues to be a cash cow within the Zee network of entertainment channels.

According to Zee Cinema business head Mohan Gopinath, there is no major differentiation among the top three players. "We are all battling for the same share of the slice and there is no huge lead to say that this channel is number one as that keeps oscillating," he says.

Gopinath also believes that digitisation would throw open a lot of growth opportunities for the genre. Segmentation of movie channels would be one such area. He also believes that movie acquisitions would have to be in line with the business economics and strategies of the channel. In a conversation with‘s Javed Farooqui, Gopinath talks about how Zee Cinema has managed to remain steady and relevant all these years despite the rise in competition and the changing consumption pattern.Excerpts:


What are the key takeaways for Zee Cinema from 2012?

The key takeaways were the premieres that we did. We did a premiere of Agneepath, English Vinglish, Agent Vinod and Joker. So those were the kind of refreshed content that was displayed on Zee Cinema. Then we had ‘Bollywood’s Most Wanted‘ festival during Dussehra which was a take on glorifying the villains. This has been a good year in terms of imagery and mileage that was displayed on Zee Cinema.

How was the content different from what was offered in 2011?

Refreshing content, that was the difference. We had heavyweight content which had superstars; and we also had English Vinglish which was so strong on content that people didn’t mind that it lacked a hero. Besides, we had Agent Vinod and Joker which also had stars which we as a channel could boast about.

Zee Cinema used to rule the roost as numero uno Hindi movie channel but now it is at the second spot on the ratings table?

In a scenario where you have very little to choose from, it is wrong to say that one is at number one or two because there is no major differentiation among the top three players. We are all battling for the same share of the slice and there is no huge lead to say that this channel is number one as that keeps oscillating. So I would like to believe that all three are on an even par and that is where the content resides at this point of time. The important fact is have you been able to maintain a steady base at the level that you were operating on and are you in the game right now because of so many environmental changes where certain channels have taken a huge lead and certain channels have gone off the boil. So a lot of things have happened in the last 45-50 days. It has been heartening to note that Zee Cinema has been rock steady and continues to do so.

Have you seen any drastic changes in the ratings post digitisation?

Not much. In fact competitor channels have fallen by certain points but nothing to suggest that any great upheaval has taken place. So all three are on the same even play. The averages for across the year and the past 13 weeks would seem to suggest so.

How do you think  digitization will  help Hindi movie channels?

The opportunity for broadcasters is the level playing field. In fact if I am not seen at all, then what is the incentive for me to say that whether I am good or bad. So I think digital (cable) will help cure that ailment in the sense that I will at least be seen. Then you can shout about the uniqueness that you bring to the table. Secondly, it becomes a completely viewer medium. All this while we were catering to a certain type of viewers who was interested in certain kind of movies but who also wanted to see something different. A case in point being classic: it is a very premium category that watches the the Bharat Bhushan’s and Dilip Kumar’s of the world. The newer generation may not know about them but they have always heard from their parents or grandparents that used to exist. So the quality of song will attract movie watching also. If per se I were to name an Awaara or an Arzoo, it will not ring a bell. But if I sing or hymn a particular song, you will say ‘let’s see that movie’ just to know what is in it that makes my parents rave about them. So that is a huge opportunity of how we can go about things.

You have already segmented the genre with channels like Premier, Action and Classic. Are these channels getting any traction and how do you see them faring in digital era?

We have to wait before we pass judgments on these channels because digital offers good scope. We are on the threshold of something that is about to explode, so in three-four months time we will be able to tell what has happened and what hasn’t. We are just waiting on the edge to appreciate it. The availability of these channels have increased. Zee Classic is getting carried across all the DTH operators. So I think that leads to a greater consumption of the channel.

Zee Cinema was not very aggressive in acquiring big-ticket acquisitions but last year you changed gears?

See, it depends on where you are and where you want to be in terms of taking the channel forward. Acquisition for the sake of acquisition will never work as you have to take into account the economics, the kind of strategy that the company has in place and the strategy that you (as a channel) have in place. It was a very informed call that this is the year we are going to make our presence felt in the market. You wouldn’t want to be counted out of the race of airing new movies, so that was clear decision and I am happy that it bore fruit.

But viewers also want more of new content on movie channels?

New and fresh content always appeals to the viewer but they do not let go the old content. There is this huge fallacy that viewers only like to watch new content. What is also important is do you have enough back-up content and plans in your kitty that once you are done with your premieres and once you are done with three-four telecasts (of new movies) do you have the library to sustain viewership and that is where the history and pedigree of the channel comes and that is where Zee Cinema is on a good footing at this point. We have a huge library to back-up the newer lot. It is so easy to say that I will buy everything in town but it doesn’t work even our competitors would agree it’s just a matter of what you have as a back-up plan.

What is the brand philosophy of Zee Cinema?

It carries along the company ethos with it which is that of being a family entertainment channel. We don’t want to be counted as a channel that does bizarre stuff and goes beserk with the kind of movies that we air. We have always been a rock steady channel keeping in mind the consumption pattern of the viewer. We believe that what appeals to us at a certain basic primal level will also appeal to viewers. The numbers (ratings) and the kind of response we have generated seems to suggest so.

Have movie consumption habits been changing particularly due to the emergence of new platforms?

It has impacted consumption habits a little bit, but to attribute everything to external factors will also not be right. People initially thought that DVDs would lead to the demise of movie consumption in theatres, but actually you have seen the theatre business grow multi-fold. I think they will co-exist because they are all appealing to a different set of TG.

How do you decide on the scheduling of content?

There is a lot of thought that goes into the scheduling because movie consumption can happen at any time. So am I at any given point satisfying the need of my viewer at that particular point in that particular mood? That is the kind of study that goes into deciding the schedule and acquisition of movies for that particular slot. There are lots of packages that are being done.

Like the branded slots that you have?

A case in point being ‘Dopahar Zee Cinema Par’ in the month of May. So those kind of things or if there have been new acquisitions that we will have to put into it to give it a different flavour and a different positioning. If I keep on scheduling movies, then not everyone will come to know about it by just running a promo. Here I am giving a different flavour, I am tapping into that aspect of a never before scene or a great content that helps you understand the ethos of the movie or what goes into the making of it.


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