Television

'For the Zee Network, regional channels will be strong pillars' : Nitin Vaidya - Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. director regional channels

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As localized channels are gaining momentum on television, the Zee Network has been quick to grab untapped genres in regional markets. Spearheading four regional channels from the Zee bouquet, including Zee Marathi, Zee Bangla, Zee Gujarati and now Zee Talkies, is Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd director regional channels Nitin Vaidya.

In a free flowing conversation with Indiantelevision.com's Renelle Snelleksz, the Zee veteran outlines the growth trajectory of each region and the targets set for "regional channels to become the pillars of the Zee Network."

Excerpts:

Zee has strengthened its position in Maharashtra with three channels - general entertainment, news and now movies. How has this market evolved and what is the growth story for Zee?

In 1999 when we entered Maharasthra, there was a widespread belief that though Marathi audiences were bilingual, the market was largely Hindi skewed. It was expected that few viewers would be attracted to a Marathi channel.

Till 2003, it was a real struggle but we were determined to provide value for the investors, for advertisers and for consumers.

In 2003, the share of the Marathi television market was 8.3 per cent. Currently, the share of the market stands at 16.8 per cent (Tam data; January till Week 35, C&S 4+). Though Maharastra was believed to be Hindi dominated, the share of Hindi general entertainment channels dropped from 34.9 per cent in 2003 to 24.4 in 2007.

Over the last four years, Zee Marathi has driven viewers to the genre through a very aggressive programming and marketing push.

Evidence of that is seen in the channel share of Zee Marathi. In 2003, it stood at 40 per cent while ETV Marathi was at 35 and DD Sahyadri at 25. Although there was a decline in 2005, Zee Marathi has regained its leadership position in 2007 with a channel share of 45 per cent while ETV Marathi is at 36 and DD Sahyadri at 11.

Can you identify the factors that contributed to Zee Marathi's growth?

We achieved two things in this market. Firstly, we were able to divert viewers from Hindi entertainment channels. In doing this we also changed the existing perception of the Marathi market being Hindi skewed. Secondly, the television universe as a whole has also grown considerably.

This picture tells a story of how audiences are embracing local channels which they first try and then stick to. This gave us encouragement to invest monies behind this proposition.

What is the growth that the Bengali market has witnessed?

Bengal is far ahead of Maharasthra in terms of what has been accomplished as it consistently stayed ahead of Hindi GECs. In 2003, the Bangla market occupied a share of 28.6 as opposed to Hindi GEC which was at 22.9. The average for this year is 33.6 per cent share and Hindi GEC is 20.

What were the differentiators used to combat competition and pull audiences from Hindi channels to Zee Marathi and Zee Bangla?

We did not follow the set formula that is commonly used on Hindi GECs and replicate it for our regional audiences. We decided to take a different route and deliberately resisted the 'saas-bahu' dramas. Instead, we chose to focus on the interpersonal relationships that reflect the ethos of that particular region.

These family dramas along with our popular musical format Sa Re Ga Ma Pa have been the major drivers of audiences for both these channels.

Besides, we have not compromised on the production values for these channels and have attempted to extensively involve our viewers in daily programming through a host of interactive shows.

This strategy even attracted urban viewers from Mumbai and Kolkata, areas considered too cosmopolitan for a regional channel. Both channels have surpassed Star Plus in C&S 15+ female SEC-A,B&C and while in C&S 4+ market Zee Bangla is far ahead of Star in Bengal, Zee Marathi is just 20 GRPs away from Star Plus in Maharashtra.

But the growth witnessed by Marathi and Bengali has not been seen with Zee Gujarati - Why so? What was the setbacks that the channel encountered in this market?

With Zee Gujarati we did have a problem. This too is a market strongly dominated by Hindi. With only three players in the game ETV, Zee and DD, the market has seen marginal growth over the last couple of years.

Zee Gujarati requires the push that was given to Marathi and Bengali and going forward this is our plan. We will pump in more investments into the Gujarati market as well as rope in good talent and push our content more aggressively. One can expect to see a turnaround of Zee Gujarati.

'Zee Gujarati will see a turnaround in the next two years'

What is the time line that Zee has set for revamping Zee Gujarati?

Within the next two years, Zee Gujarati will witness a complete turn around. In fact, the potential of this market is more than that of Marathi and Bangla due to the mere consumption of the State. Therefore, we are putting serious monies behind the channel.

How much will you pumping into Zee Gujarati?

I would not like on that at the moment.

What is the current ad pie for each of the three markets and what growth is expected in these regions?

The ad revenue of the Bangla language channels in the Bengali TV market is expected to touch Rs 280 crore (Rs 2.8 billion) in 2007 and grow to a category share of 35 per cent. Meanwhile, Marathi language channels will cross Rs 225 crores to occupy 25 per cent share of the Maharashtra TV market this year. However, the Gujarati market is presently a mere Rs 50 crores.

The network recently made its foray into the Marathi movie segment with the launch of Zee Talkies in August, what has been the response thus far?

Although, we were aware of the untapped Marathi movie genre, the response to Zee Talkies has been phenomenal as it touched 70 GRPs in its first week of launch. The was far beyond our expectations.

This was supported by an extensive marketing push of Rs 80 million dedicated to the launch campaign. We consciously decided that for the first 20 days the channel will not have a single advertiser. We wanted them to first see the response before they put money on the table. The numbers speak for themselves!

As part of the network's attempt to boost Marathi cinema, you tied up with three production houses for a slate of 15 films across two years. When will these movies be released and what is the investment outlay for these films?

The first film will be released by the end of this year in theatres, following which it will be telecast on Zee Talkies. Close to Rs 10 million will be spent on each film.

Do you have plans to enter Bengali film production as well?

We are currently in talks with a few production companies for Bengali movies. We plan to get into Bengali film production very soon.

Which production companies are you in talks with and what is the budget allocation for Bengali films?

We have not yet zeroed in on the production houses yet, so it would be premature to talk about it now. But we will definitely be spending more than Rs 10 million on each film.

So, are you looking to launch a Bengali movie channel as well?

(Laughs) No! Not at the moment.

Going forward what are the growth opportunities that you foresee in the three regions?

The addressable television environment will definitely provide a huge thrust in pushing these channels ahead. For the Zee Network, the regional channels will be strong pillars. This will help grow both subscription and ad revenues for the network.

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