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"We want to change the profile of the Zee English viewer" : Ashvini Yardi Zee English, Zee MGM business head

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She personifies the image and spirit of the two spirited channels from the Zee stable that have, in a short span, asserted their identity and are bringing in the niche eyeballs for the network.

Young, petite and dynamic, Ashvini Yardi nee Pai, business head of Zee English and Zee MGM, is nevertheless a Zee veteran. Having started her career with the network nearly a decade ago after graduating in mass communication, Ashwini has essentially been a programming person, having handled hugely successful shows like the countdown show Top 10, Kya Scene Hai, Sailaab and Banegi Apni Baat. She looked after Music Asia for two years and was one of the key people involved in the conceptualisation of Zee English.

The mantle of nurturing Zee MGM and Zee English fell on her shoulders recently after Ajay Trigunayat, under whose stewardship Zee MGM underwent a revamp in December 2002, was promoted to head all marketing functions at the network recently.

A confident Ashvini is now outlining plans for a revamp of Zee English even as the rejuvenated Zee MGM has started reaping rich dividends. In a conversation with Aparna Joshi of indiantelevision.com, Ashvini detailed the plans she has for both channels.

What are the plans you have chalked up for both Zee English, Zee MGM?

Zee English is in for a total revamp shortly. Basically, we will be changing the look of Zee English, and make it trendier. The profile of the Zee English viewer thus far has been that of an older, mature person. After conducting research in metros in which we have strong viewership, it was decided that the channel would target the younger set. For this, a stronger programming line up has been put in place, as also a series of ground events, promotions in theatres and outdoors as well as several tie ups with teenage hangouts in the cities. This will help us reach out to the younger crowd and establish the channel as a trendy one.

Also, we are strengthening our Singapore base, from where the two channels are uplinked. We are hiring more people to make creative ad films for channel promotion. We are also putting into place high end machines, that will help in better transmission.

As for Zee MGM, Chicago that we acquired recently, will be billed as Zee MGM's Movie of the Year. George Clooney's latest Confessions of a dangerous mind, Steve Soderberg's Full Frontal starring Julia Roberts, Birthday Girl starring Nicole Kidman and Duplex with Drew Barrymore, which is yet to be released are some of the movies we have acquired.

This year, we will focus on a mix of old classics, interspersed with latest films. The channel has capitalised on the MGM library comprising of more than 4,000 titles including legendary series such as James Bond, Rocky, Pink Panther and Woody Allen movies. Some award winning titles, forming a part of the library, are Thelma and Louise, Moonstruck, Silence of the Lambs, RainMan, Fargo, Get Shorty and Dances with the Wolves.

What is the programming with which you expect to hook viewers on to Zee English?

Our existing programmes like Friends, which came onto Zee English earlier than it did on Star World, should continue to bring in the loyal audiences, as also recently launched shows like Will And Grace and The Mind of the Married Man which have been huge successes in their time slots. Since the time band of 8 pm to 10.30 pm is working very well for us, we will continue to pump in our prime shows in this slot.

In fact, we are now concentrating on building up the 8 pm to 9 pm slot. The ninth season of Friends will launch by June, and new shows like Six Feet Under and She Spies are sure to attract viewers. The Sopranos will return with their new season in June, while a NBC sitcom Hidden Hills will debut in May. The point is, we are now sourcing shows from several production companies rather than rely on a chosen few. The same goes for our sourcing strategy for Zee MGM.

Is there any plan in place to improve viewership in other dayparts as well?

We are now strengthening our Sunday mornings with a focus on children's programming. There will be action animated series and sitcoms on Fridays for teenagers. Also planned are some shows that will appeal to housewives during weekday afternoons, but the shows are yet to be finalised.

"For Zee MGM, we have acquired almost 100 movies, at least 25 of which are blockbuster hits abroad"

What is the advertising that you plan to spin around the two channels to increase awareness?

We are majorly stepping up presence in outdoor advertising and in print. We have an existing tie up with Magna and indiatimes that we plan to exploit to the hilt to improve coverage. We will also venture into radio for advertising our new shows. (Ashwini pegs the proposed ad spend around the two channels at around Rs 30 million).

What about Zee MGM? In its recently revamped avatar, has it fetched in the viewers? Is there anything more on the cards?

The revamped Zee MGM has delivered what it set out to achieve. So, while things are proceeding smoothly on that front, we are now focusing on acquiring movies from studios other than MGM. The widened net has yielded almost 100 movie acquisitions, at least 25 of which are blockbuster hits abroad. After the minimum lock in period, we will begin telecasting these movies in the latter half of the year, mostly in the Movie of the Month slot or in the Sunday primetime slot.

You have been involved with Zee English right from the time the channel started? How has it evolved over the last two years?

Zee English started in March 2000. We started off with shows like ABC's All My Children, Friends, Three's Company and Here's Lucy. I believe the Zee English audience has matured over these three years. They are now ready to experiment with genres and ready to sample new fare.

Where is the Zee MGM and Zee English viewership currently concentrated?

Basically, the metros. Though one can never be sure. Last year, for example, the Miss Universe telecast on Zee English drew in a huge viewership from Ludhiana. So, there are pockets which are attracted to the channels no matter their location. A show like She Spies could in fact appeal to viewers in the north, for example.

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