Television

"Competition? What competition ? I don't fret about what others are doing or not doing" : Laxmi N Goel Zee Telefilms' Director of news group

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Zee folklore has it that when Zee Telefilms was riding the crest of success a few years ago, a journalist came to do a cover story on Zee for a Singapore-based newsmagazine. In the process, he also met a gentleman called Laxmi N Goel, one of the four brothers of Zee Tele-promoter Subhash Chandra.

The journalist asked Laxmiji, as he is popularly known, whose brainchild was Zee TV?

The reply came `Subhash's'.

Next question: who thought of starting the Essel group?

The answer from Laxmi Goel: Subhash.

Another question followed from the annoyed journalist: whose idea was it to have theme parks like Essel World ?

Pat came the same answer: Subhash.

The journalist - now highly irritated - followed up with another question which he thought was his coup de grace: "So, it seems that Subhash beat you to everything. Did you ever do anything to best him?"

Now came the irritated reply, "Haan bhai, kusti mein haraya tha (yes, I beat Subhash at Indian style wrestling).

But when Essel group chairman Chandra, the public face of Zee Telefilms, India's largest vertically integrated media and entertainment company with revenues of US$0.22 billion (according to Morgan Stanley) and a presence in film, music and education, decided to revive the sagging fortunes of Zee Tele earlier this year, he brought back two of his brothers into the direct activities of the company, Laxmi and Jawahar Goel.

Laxmi Goel today looks after Zee News as director of the news group of Zee Telefilms. And to hand it to him, he hasn't done too badly in this short time at Zee News which despite being a pioneer in the Hindi language news channel sector in India was eased off the top slot by Aaj Tak a year back because of the new idiom of language the latter adopted.

Still, Zee News is slowly inching its way up, critics point out. It is going in for more news breaks (though in certain circles this `news breaks' routine amongst various news channels has become a sort of joke), more stories are being filed per day, advertisers have once again started looking at the channel positively and it is sporting a new look and attitude.

In this interview with indiantelevision.com's Anjan Mitra, done at Zee's studios at Noida on the outskirts of Delhi, Laxmi Goel tries to be frank, yet is cautious so as not to reveal much which can be used by the competition.

What are the changes that you are trying to bring about in Zee News or have already brought in ?

At Zee News, what we are trying to do is to work in the national interest and that is our single point agenda. It is our endeavour not to project India which others want to see, specially those abroad, but to project the country's true picture and what our viewers want to know and are interested in.

What, according to you, would be the difference between Zee News now and of the recent past ?

I'll let the viewers decide the difference that has come about in Zee News. We are giving a lot of importance to viewer feedback that is monitored these days almost on a daily basis. But the difference is that we are trying to bring viewers more news that is relevant to them and is in the national interest. Our motto: truth based on national interest.

On an average, I personally get between 2,000-2,500 e-mails from people commenting on Zee News. These e-mails are collated and we try to see what people are saying and what they want to see. I also try to see that most mails are replied to.

But you still haven't answered what are the actual changes being brought about in Zee News ?

What do people want more? News about their immediate surroundings, issues which affect them on a daily basis. For example, if the issue of safety of women in metros (sparked off by a spate of incidents of rape in Delhi in recent times) is worrying average people and our viewers are talking about it, discussing it, we'll highlight such issues. Look at it from every possible angle. But we don't want to sit in judgment and we'll let our viewers decide for themselves on issues.

If I can give another example, we did a story on poaching in Hardwar recently. It's an issue which was bothering people of Hardwar as it also affects the environment.

The idea is to go beyond the metros, into the tehsils, into the districts and smaller places where issues are aplenty, but no platform to voice them. Zee News will bring such issues on to the national platform through the channel. I want Zee News to show everyday problems and issues that affect the daily lives of people.

"We are trying to give Zee News a new look, including the presentation of news. Some of it has already has been effected and some more is in the offing"

How are the changes that you referred to are being effected ?

More stories are being filed from various regions. Some such stories we use on Zee News, while some get pride of place in our regional language channels' news bulletins that are put out on various Alpha channels.

The reporters are being encouraged to file more. One day, as per a log kept and monitored, some 103 stories were filed. On an average, these days about 80 stories are being filed. It is not necessary that all are used, but the point is that they are being filed.

We also want to go out of the studio more. So there are lesser studio-based discussions, which anyway don't serve much purpose, it is deliberate and done with some purpose. The focus is to become more reporter-led.

"I have my own style of functioning. My goal is to give viewers what they want, which will give the channel viewership that will translate into advertising potential"

Are the changes that have been brought about been made possible because you are part of the promoter's family and it is easier for you to make changes compared to other executives who had been at senior positions in Zee News ?

Every channel head had all the freedom and power to do things as he or she wanted to. Nobody can accuse the chairman (Subhash Chandra) of interfering in their functioning at Zee News. I can bet on that.

In the same way, I have my own style of functioning. My goal is to give viewers what they want. That in turn will give the channel viewership which is likely to translate into advertising potential. But you cannot accuse us of being interfering. The fact is that the chairman actually has always given more than enough time to everybody to show results. And I am glad to say that the recent changes are showing some results.

Do you have revenue figures to back your claims ?

Of course, I cannot give you all the figures but revenue has improved substantially in recent times and our effort is to increase it more. Rather, we are trying to make Zee News an independent profit centre. These days on an average revenue worth over Rs 4 crore is coming in on a monthly basis.

For example, from April to May the revenue increase was about 6 per cent, from April to June the increase was 23 per cent, from April to July the increase 42 per cent and from April to August the revenue increase was almost 70 per cent.

"The difference is that we are trying to bring viewers more news that is relevant to them and is in the national interest"

What are likely changes that are expected more in the look of the channel ?

We are trying to give Zee News a new look, including the presentation of news. Some of it has already has been effected and some more is in the offing. We have also started streaming news on the Zee news portal and the hits are increasing every day.

With more news channels in the offing over the next three to five months, what does Zee News think of competition and how is it going to take on the existing and new rivals?

Competition? What competition ? I really don't fret about what others are doing or not doing. My job is to look after Zee News and see that it does well. That's exactly what I am doing.a

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