Television

''We have created a basket of Marathi channels to dominate our position in this market' : Nikhil Sane - Zee Marathi and Zee Talkies business head

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Subhash Chandra realised as early as 1999 that the next wave of Zee network's growth would be in the regional broadcasting space. Up came a clutch of channels including Zee Marathi, Zee Bangla, Zee Punjabi and Zee Gujarati.

Chandra has cemented his leadership position in the Marathi market with the launch of a news channel, Zee 24 Taas, and a movie channel, Zee Talkies.

Following the vertical integration model, Zee has also got into the Marathi film production business.

Starting as the first private Marathi channel on 15 August 1999, the initial years were slow. With the launch of ETV Marathi in 2001, Zee Marathi, in fact, even lost its leadership position. But it was in 2005 that things paced up as Zee Marathi scaled up its distribution and programming. Reality content through shows like Saregamapa, Eka Peksha Ek and Hasya Samrat gave the channel a big boost in ratings.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com's Gaurav Laghate, Zee Marathi and Zee Talkies business head Nikhil Sane talks about the 10-year journey of Zee Marathi.

Excerpts:

Zee launched its Marathi general entertainment channel on 15 August 1999. How has the 10-year journey been?

Everyone was skeptical at that time about Zee's decision to launch a Marathi channel. In Maharashtra, Hindi channels - Zee TV, Sony Entertainment TV and Star Plus - were dominating television viewership. The only available Marathi content then was on Doordarshan - that also for four hours. So launching the channel way back in 1999 was a big, big step.

But wasn't it a big advantage to be the first private Marathi channel?

In 1999, the Marathi TV industry was non-existent. So you can say that we created the Marathi TV viewing audience. What we got was a lot of talent. Maharashtra has produced ace directors, writers and actors, who supported us in this endeavour passionately. And we offered them a robust platform. So, Zee Marathi played a pivotal role in shaping the Marathi entertainment industry.

What was the programming mix for the channel then?

As I said earlier, there was no scarcity of talent, but it was scattered. With our launch, people from Marathi theatre and cinema joined us. That time we were experimenting a lot. We were the first channel to launch a daily show, Abhaalmaya, at 8.30 pm. The competition was against Amaanat on Zee TV, Heena on Sony TV and Saas on Star Plus.

We got a humongous response for the show. Soon after, we launched the afternoon slot with Maansi, which again got a good response from viewers.

Step by step, we increased our prime time, which at present is from 6 pm till 11 pm. We launched weekend programming, reality shows, events and even entered into film production business.

Meanwhile, we launched the news channel (Zee 24 Taas) and the Marathi movie channel (Zee Talkies) to create a basket of channels and dominate our position in this market.

When did you extend your prime time?

We had a prime time from 7.30 to 10 pm till 2006. We extended this to a four-hour band starting 7 pm. We also had hourly news bulletin, which were very popular. Later, as we launched our own news channel, we shifted news from Zee Marathi.

Earlier we used to air weekend movies on Zee Marathi. But as we launched Zee Talkies, the movies were shifted and we started daily soaps from Monday-Saturday.

'It was in 2005 really when Zee Marathi scaled up its production, distribution and programming'

You said initial years were experimental. So when did you manage to strike the right formula for growth?

We launched some very good shows in our first five years. But it was in 2005 really when Zee Marathi scaled up its production, distribution and programming. It was like a channel revamp.

We created reality shows like Saregamapa (singing talent hunt), Eka Peksha Ek (dance reality show) and Hasya Samrat (comic reality show). Recently, we launched Hapta Band, a quiz-based show.

Also, we organised grand scale events like finale of reality shows, Zee Gaurav Puraskaar (awards for films and theatres) and Zee Marathi awards (viewer's choice awards for Zee Marathi shows).

What were the milestones in programming?

We experimented with different genres. Our comedy show Hasa Chakatful saw performances from the best performers of the industry. Shriyut Gangadhar Tipre was also one hugely popular comic fiction.

Among fictions, Abhaalmaya, Avantika, Asambhav, Vaadalwaat and recently launched Kulvadhu got us good viewership. Our reality shows and events also are some of the most popular properties on Marathi television.

Apart from these, we had shows devoted to literature (Pimpalpaan), poets and musicians (Nakshatranche Dene) and horror (Gahire Paani).

ETV, which launched in July 2001, emerged as a strong competitor and even surged ahead of Zee Marathi at one stage. What were the reasons?

After a fabulous three-year ride, we had a tough patch for two years. ETV Marathi launched with a very strong distribution and this impacted us. We were popular in towns, though. But after 2005, we focused on every aspect of the business.

Now there is new competition from Star Pravah. While other channels like Mi Marathi and Saam Marathi have launched, they haven't really been able to shake things up. So do you see a three-player fight in the Marathi GEC landscape?

If you see our current ratings in Maharashtra, we are only below Zee TV while outnumbering Star Plus, Colors and other national GECs. That is what our competition is. Today, Hindi viewership amounts to 26 per cent while Marathi is 20 per cent in the state. We have a lot of space to grow here. Also, competition gives advantage to viewers ultimately as they get variety. And it grows the market.

You talked about entering into the film production business and have so far released six movies. How are you scaling this up?

After establishing Zee Marathi, the natural progression was to launch a movie channel. So we launched Zee Talkies. The next logical step was to enter into the film production business ourselves.

We have, in a big way, led the revival of the Marathi cinema industry. So far, our movies have done good business.

We have released Saade Maade Teen, followed By De Dhakka, Galgale Nighale, Dudgus, Ek Dav Dhobi Pachaad and Gallit Gondal Dillit Mujra.

The next movie we are ready with is Hai Kai Nai Kai. We have signed five directors for three films each.

So how do you see the Marathi broadcasting space evolving?

The time ahead is surely challenging. We have to be open to change and need to continuously evolve to stay ahead of competition. And by competition I do not mean Marathi or even Hindi GEC channels. The main competition is with new media. With so much available on different platforms, attracting viewers to TV will be a challenge.

From now on, the biggest question to ask ourselves would be 'what next'. Hindi GECs will survive as their base HSM (Hindi speaking market) is very big. Innovation is the only way to keep ahead in this Marathi TV broadcasting space.

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