'Zee TV presently in investment mode' : Punit Goenka - Zee Telefilms director and Zee TV business head

When Zee Telefilms director Punit Goenka was appointed Zee TV business head in September this year, the industry by and large considered it a conscious decision taken by Subhash Chandra to groom his elder son as the successor to the country's largest vertically integrated media company. For the flagship channel Zee TV, getting a new head while going through a crucial phase mattered a lot. Programming-wise, Zee TV had resorted to a lot of experiments and on the marketing and ad-sales front also, there had been some important shifts.

When's Sibabrata Das and Bijoy A K met Goenka on a relaxed Saturday at the Zee Telefilms headquarters in Mumbai's upmarket Worli suburb, the mood was upbeat. Speaking for the first time to the media after taking charge as Zee TV business head, Goenka sounded confident about Zee's plans for 2006. He put the new game plan in perspective when he said the company has stopped subscribing to knee-jerk reactions and any plan put in place will be backed to the hilt and not abandoned mid-way.


How do you look at your new role as the business head of Zee TV? Can we expect any major shifts in the way the channel has been functioning?

It is an interesting position. Zee TV has had so many business heads. Yes, it is a tough job. The pressure is so high. To bring stability in the channel, the company needed someone senior. I find it interesting as well as challenging. Interesting because, I consider it as a major role in my own career path. I am committed to deliver on this challenge.

You can expect one change. We want a planned execution of what we do. We won't resort to any knee-jerk reactions.

So that means, you haven't been executing your strategies in a planned manner?

I wouldn't say that. Here, internal palpitations happen whenever crucial projects come up. This I got to know from my sources. There have been instances when we started a project and left it midway

Can you give us any examples?

Sawal Dus Crore Ka and then the 26-programme launch on a single day are instances. That is what I call knee-jerk reactions. But I can't comment whether the strategy was right or wrong. Yes, even changing the business head is a knee-jerk reaction (laughs).

Can we consider your appointment as the head of Zee Network's flagship channel a conscious move to establish a family hand on top?

I don't think so. It is more like using someone who can handle pressure and bring in stability. I consider myself as one of the Zee professionals, not as a family hand. But, being a family man, I think I can bring in stability.

Zee TV tried to change its positioning this year by adopting a new brand strategy as well as targeting younger audiences? Did it meet the purpose?

Yes. We have started recording better ratings. Though not by miles, we have started going up by inches. I would say, we have started inching our way up while the competition's (Star Plus) ratings are coming down.

But, the Tam data says it was Star One which capitalised on Star Plus' loss.

Star One is a metro market channel while Zee TV is a general entertainment channel for the entire nation. Zee TV is a super mall which offers everything on entertainment. We are not concerned about Star One.

'I consider myself as one of the Zee professionals, not as a family hand'
Zee had brought some major changes this year in its ad sales functioning. How was the 2005 experience in terms of return on investments? Which are the new avenues you are targeting to expand ad revenues?

Our new ad sales set up has started delivering. It has been successful in bringing us good rates and better returns. Ad revenues have definitely gone up this year.

This year saw an increase in programming investments for Zee TV. We are told that it is as high as 25 per cent. How much exactly? How has been the RoI so far? How do you rate the growth of the channel in this calendar year?

Yes, the increase in spends have been in the range of 20 to 25 per cent from last year. We will end up spending about Rs 2.2 billion on this front by the end of this fiscal. This fiscal we launched about six to eight new programmes. It will take at least 18 months to tell whether a show is delivering or not. So I would reserve my comments.

Which are the properties that have stood out in the year for the channel? Which one you would classify as under-performers?

We have established ourselves as the leaders in the 7:30 pm time slot with Sinndoor. This was the first time that a Hindi general entertainment channel had an original series in that time slot.

The music reality show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2005 has also been throwing up impressive ratings over the last six weeks. In fact, it has doubled its ratings compared to that of its earlier version, which is from 0.78 to 1.7 TVR. We have so far conducted about six on-ground concerts based on the show and these kinds of initiatives have helped us to make people reconnect with Zee.

Now we have a new player in Saath Phere which has started delivering. On an average, it has been delivering 1.4 TVR. The opening episode recorded a rating of 3 TVR. Even in its 6:30 pm repeat slot, the ratings are impressive.

Speaking about under-performers, I would say, Time Bomb didn't meet expectations.

Tell us about your primetime and weekend programming strategies.

For us, prime time is Monday to Friday, from 7:30 pm to 11 pm. We would like to take one at a time and hence we are yet to review our weekend strategies.

You recently launched the second season of Hum Paanch in the weekend band. But the initial response has been not so hearty as per the Tam numbers. Isn't strange to see a Balaji product delivering below average on Zee?

As a product, Hum Paanch 2 has nothing wrong about it. I would admit that its launch time was not so well-planned. Cricket and events hit the sitcom on its launch. But we are confident about the show and it will remain in its present slot.

'We will end up spending about Rs 2.2 billion on programming, by the end of this fiscal'

But Zee seems to be suffering from the non-stickiness factor. You are yet to create a tent pole product around which other shows can be strategically positioned.

It is a slow start. It will take time to give results. Presently, we are working together with Tam to know where we are lagging on this front.

If the game show 'Kam Ya Zyaada works out well, definitely it will benefit our other prime time shows also. We are very confident about the show.

The gameshow Kam Ya Zyaada explores the mobile-based interactivity factor. Which are the other initiatives being planned to explore this segment?

Presently, we are digitising 50,000 hours of programming in association with IBM. This would help us to bring out our content on every digital platform available. The whole process of digitisation would be completed by the end of 2006. The total project cost would be $5-6 million. We are seriously looking at launching mobisodes. We are identifying our key programming properties for this.

This year, you had announced Business Baazigar and had even promoted the product with some below-the-line and On Air Promo (OAP) campaigns. What is the story behind the Business Baazigar delay?

The production house 25 FPS has been working on the game show for us. But now, we are producing it in-house. The switch happened two months back. The production house had delivered 2,000 hours of raw content and now we want to refresh and re-package it. There is still a lot of work to be done. The concept is very much the same, but we are trying to give the content a new look and feel.

The first season of Business Baazigar will be packed with 20 episodes. It could be a weekly or a bi-weekly.

But if your present shows start delivering, would it create a situation of slot unavailability for Business Baazigar?

We have an idea about which slot it would occupy. But I don't want to reveal it now. You will see more on Business Baazigar in 2006 and then you will understand why we are protecting this information.

There seems to be a conscious move from Zee now as far as guarding its strategy is concerned. Is this something you have initiated?

I don't know about others. But I believe in this strategy and want to implement it.

Then there was a talk of launching the second season of Cine Stars Ki Khoj. Please elaborate.

We are working on it. First we wanted to fulfill the film commitment we had made with the first season. Mukta Arts is presently working with us on the film. We own the World rights for the film while Mukta owns the India theatrical rights. As soon as the film is completed, we will plan the second season.

What delayed the film project?

I don't exactly know why. We had made a conscious decision to focus on the channel business.

When are you launching the telefilms block?

It will take time. There is a lot of work pending. We haven't finalised anything as yet.

Which are Zee TV's latest initiatives on research?

As I already said, we have got together with Tam to conduct a research. We have done various research studies this year so far. I can't reveal the nature of our research studies for obvious reasons.

Tell us about your efforts on the technology front.

We have been making good investments in technology to stay ahead of competition. The effort is to better our production, post-production and transmission standards.

Please explain your plans for 2006. What will be the key focus areas? Where do you expect the growth to come from?

We have finalised our plans for the next quarter. We are planning three to four programmes for the 2005-2006 fiscal. We have planned a mix-genre strategy which will have soaps, comedies and reality. Presently, we are working on the concepts. We are banking on Kam Ya Zyaada to be a major driver for us.

As I said earlier, Zee TV has the status of a super mall. Hence, we might bring back movies. We will have a select bouquet of movies by the end of this fiscal. However, It won't be a regular feature. That means, we are not looking at movies as a prime property or a revenue-driver feature.

Anyway, it is not an overnight job when it comes to turnarounds or investments. Presently, we can say Zee TV is in an investment mode.

What is your take on the other network channels?

Zee Cinema has been maintaining its number one position since a long time. We are doing well in news. Same is the case with Zee Marathi. ETC is rocking. We have no competition except for Zee TV. Zee Café is another Zee channel which has improved tremendously quality-wise. The channel offers the best line-up today.

Zee Cinema has been staying away from the trend of telecasting Hollywood movies dubbed in Hindi. Any plan to enter this segment?

No. Our focus is primarily Hindi movies. We have a strong Hindi movie library which can drive the channel's growth. This is something the other two Hindi movie channels don't have. Hence, for us, the need to acquire Hollywood movies and dub it doesn't arise at all.

Agrani Satellite Services Ltd (ASSL) is learnt to be in negotiations with Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) for a Ku-band satellite. Are you reviving your satellite plans?

Yes. Isro has sent us a proposal to make a satellite for ASC Enterprises with 12 Ku-band transponders. We are examining their proposal. We are also in talks with two other global satellite providers. We will be finalising in three months whether we want to acquire or build a satellite. We expect to have the satellite by the third quarter of 2007.

How much is the investment planned for the project?

ASSL plans to invest $40-80 million, depending on the capacity of the satellite it wants to purchase. The cost of a satellite would be around $4 million per transponder. When we had earlier planned the Agrani satellite, the cost was working out to $7.5 million per transponder.

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