Television

'We are looking at a break-even in five years' : ZeeQ Business Head Subhadarshi Tripathy

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The year 2012 saw the entry of Indian media conglomerate Zeel in the kids TV broadcasting with the launch of ZeeQ. The channel with bi-lingual content in English and Hindi has been positioned as India‘s first edutainment channel.

The pay-driven channel priced at Rs 82 has been launched with the intention of filling in the gap in the market. Its USP is the content that it believes will help in developing life skills amongst 4-14 kids at the same time fulfilling their entertainment needs through a mix of animation and live action content.

Subhadarshi Tripathy, the Business Head of ZeeQ, is driving Zeel‘s efforts as it seeks to establish foothold in a genre dominated by foreign networks like Disney, Nickelodeon and Turner. Tripathy is responsible for developing brand strategy, programming and content acquisition strategy.

In a conversation with Indiantelevision.com‘s Javed Farooqui, Tripathy shares his views about the opportunities in the kid‘s genre, ZeeQ‘s content strategy and how it plans to drive the pay-TV business in a market where business model is still loaded heavily in favour of ad sales.

Excerpts:

Q. Why couldn‘t ZeeQ fully be owned and managed by Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (Zeel)? Who has the management of the channel?

The channel is owned by Zeel because it is the home for all the entertainment broadcast business of Zee. The operations of the channel are managed by Zee Learn as this company specifically runs the education business of children. We have an in-house ad sales team while distribution is being managed by Media Pro. So in that sense ZeeQ is a completely different set-up.

Q. Since multinational companies dominate the kids broadcasting business, what has been the initial feedback you have got about the channel since its launch?

The content strategy has been designed in such a way that we get more and more participative content. We believe that people who participate are eventually going to subscribe to the channel.

The content strategy has been designed in such a way that we get more and more participative content. We are already getting good response since the letters that we have received have been very engaging and have gone to the extent of even suggesting us to tweak particular elements of some shows. Teenovation, for example, is a show which has got fantastic response.

But since this is a ‘free view period‘ (till March), we wouldn‘t know how many people would subscribe to us. ZeeQ is a pay channel. We are not chasing TAM ratings because how many people subscribe to the channel will define how many people like it.

Q. Has the distribution of the channel been settled on the digital platforms?

We are currently available on Dish TV and Videocon d2h. Tata Sky should happen soon. We are also on digital cable TV.

We have planned out our distribution strategy. As there are 38 cities that are coming up for digitisation in the second phase (by 31 March according to government mandate), we have selected 20 cities out of them where we run our schools. We see synergy develop between our schools and our television business. So we do this filtering process. We are on about 16 digital headends.

Q. What are your immediate priorities for the channel?

Our priority is to impress the parents. So the programme mix is designed in such a way that they like the channel because they are the ones who will decide whether or not to subscribe the channel. Once they decide, our task is to continuously keep them engaged so that they don‘t keep going back to the Japanese animation that is currently being aired.

‘The channel is priced at Rs 82 on a la carte and I don‘t think it will be a deterrent. If you want a safe environment, if you want content that is developed and tested by childhood experts, you will be willing to pay a price‘

Q. Tell us about your content offering?

The core of the channel is that we provide content which is right for children and which does not provide any incidental learning which will spoil the child. There are academicians in the panel who decide what content goes on the channel.

Q. How do you decide on the content?

Content is broadly divided into categories. For the 4-8-year-olds, we have animated content and for those who are in the 4-9 age group, we have live-action content purely based on the research that we did with IMRB and Taalim. The live-action content is something that we produce over here while animated content is something that we have so far acquired globally.

The international edutainment content is very engaging while the Indian academic content is very instructional. The content that we take pains to produce is the live action content. After the concept comes in, the panel of academicians and programme team look into it before it goes into production. The animated content also goes through the academicians; the filtering is done on the basis of knowledge, life skills and core values. So if the content does not have knowledge, life skills and core values, it becomes kid‘s general entertainment stuff which we are interested in.

Q. Since you have clear distinction for the content that you will offer to the two age-groups, how do you decide on the scheduling?

The scheduling is designed around their school timings and what time they watch what. However India being that vast, school timings are also that different. If you look at preschoolers, there are two times that they tend to watching TV. One is when parents are getting the kids ready and they have to feed them to get them to school; they just plunk the kid in front of the TV and the TV works as a nanny. Second is when the kids come back and have to eat again. These are the times when most channels across the globe use them as prime-time.

The 9-14-year-olds are people who are more of weekend viewers; and during weekday‘s it‘s mostly post school and early evenings till about 7 pm.

Q. Will your content offering undergo change after the freeview period?

Not much. Because when the freeview period ends, what I am telling viewers is that they will be getting the same experience and they better pay for it. So I cannot change the mix drastically there. We are, however, going to keep a very close watch on the geographical skew like who all are watching me, subscribing to the channel, and what they are wanting. So our strategy is going to be based on that.

Q. But kids at the end of the day also want to be entertained?

The fun part is that you have to make it knowledgeable content where they learn something but are also kept engaged. So for a kid, ‘Sid the Science Kid‘ is as engaging as any other animated content. But what goes subtly into it is pure educational or ‘life skill‘ kind of content. They are very smartly made programs where kids actually respond to the questions and do it.

Q. Do you think the pay model will work?

Firstly, I think parents wouldn‘t mind paying for a channel that will help in the holistic development of their child and which is not like a coaching class. Secondly, I am not an ad-free channel, so I will have some money coming from there as well. We are an a la carte channel and carriage is not something that will be an issue for us.

Q. Will you be selective in picking up ads?

We will have ads but the ones which we think are right for the child. The ads will go through a nutritionist if it‘s in the food category. If it is something else, it will go through a child expert. Ad will form a small component of the total revenues. I would rather need subscriber funded programmes wherein they come in as partners and do brand integration. In a fitness programme, I wouldn‘t mind if a Nike comes and works with me. The biggest thing I can give brands is touch points in 330 cities through brick and mortar structures - which no other channel can give.

Q. Don't you think the pricing of the channel will be a deterrent?

The channel is priced at Rs 82 on a la carte and I don‘t think it will be a deterrent. If you want a safe environment, if you want content that is developed and tested by childhood experts, you will be willing to pay a price. ZeeQ is a premium content provider in this space (edutainment); it will deliver what it promises - and we have been doing it for 17-18 years on-ground (through our schools).

Q. How much will the channel invest?

We will be investing Rs 1 billion over a period of three to three and a half years. We are looking at a break-even in five years.

Q. Digital consumption among kids is increasing. What is the plan there?

For the online medium, we have a completely different vertical. ZeeQ for us is not a broadcast channel only; it was conceived as a content platform for a holistic development of the child. We have big online plans and are going to come up with an app and games as well. So we are trying complete 360 degree touch points for content which will be on television.

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