Television

'Zee's largest bouquet makes it the best prepared network for digitalisation'

 
Zee‘s largest bouquet makes it the best prepared network for digitalisation

Zee is on an upsurge, driven by its flagship Hindi general entertainment channel. Kicking in ad revenues for the fiscal has not just been Zee TV but also the two regional channels - Zee Marathi and Zee Bangla - who together will make Rs 2 billion. And despite less aggressive movie buying, Zee Cinema will see a 25 per cent jump to rake in Rs 2 billion.

As revenue head for Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd, Joy Chakraborthy takes credit for it. His role extends to the regional general entertainment channels (except south) which reside in sister company Zee News Ltd. The sports side of ZEEL‘s business, however, doesn‘t fall under his supervision.

"I handle the power brands where effort to returns are high," he says.

Joy also takes pride in continuously doing price-correction deals. Even then Zee is under-priced and there is scope for growth, he says.

In an exclusive interview with Indiantelevision.com‘s Sibabrata Das, Joy talks of how Star Plus‘ loss in GRPs has been pocketed largely by Zee TV and its regional channels. He also elaborates on Zee‘s plans to pile up a huge bouquet so that it stays as the best network prepared for the digital era.

Excerpts:

 

How much of an ad revenue growth will ZEEL see in the current fiscal and is this still disproportionate to the rise in GRPs of the network?

There will be a 65 per cent robust ad sales growth for the channels that are handled by me. Advertisers like to invest in channels which are growing. Zee TV, Zee Marathi and Zee Bangla particularly gained, as the leader channels in these segments (Star Plus, ETV Marathi and ETV Bangla) were falling sharply.

The overall revenue growth, however, is still disproportionate to the GRPs. The pricing needs correction. We feel we are under-priced. With every new deal, we have corrected the price upwards.

 

Are the channels that fall under you (ZEEL channels except sports, and the regional GECs barring the south languages) going to post a revenue of Rs 12.5 billion during the fiscal?

Since we are a listed company, I can‘t reveal the figures of the specific channels.

 

As Zee TV is the predominant revenue earner, isn‘t ZEEL in as risky a position as Star India is with the dominance of Star Plus?

Zee TV accounts for 65 per cent of ad revenues that the channels under me generate. But that is how the network business will look like in India. Hindi general entertainment channels (GECs) make bulk of the ad revenue business.

 

Zee Next was launched as a flanking channel in the GEC space, but it doesn‘t seem to have worked at all?

Zee Next has a problem. We are doing introspection on what went right or wrong. We will be ready with a plan within 5-7 weeks. Besides, distribution is an issue. But we feel it is not right to pay this kind of carriage fee and spoil the market.

 

What is the purpose of launching a flanking channel without aggressively distributing it when in the marketplace there is a scramble for space on choked cable networks?

Strategically, it is important to have a second GEC as a de-risk business model. The GECs are sitting on Rs 20 billion of ad revenues. In as large a size as this, we can‘t put all our eggs in one basket. If viewers want something outside Zee TV, we are offering a different kind of programming in Zee Next. With fragmentation happening, our plan also is to try and grab whatever audiences we can with the concept of a family channel for all age groups.

But we still have to be realistic on the carriage fees. Otherwise, it will affect the business model of the whole network; we are, after all, not a single channel company. We have to take a business rather than an emotional call.

The channel will take time to build. Any GEC with less than 130 GRPs will continue to bleed - and we have been seeing that. But with a new plan in place, we will sort out the distribution and other issues that need to be corrected.

 
The loss of GRPs by Star Plus has been made up by Zee TV and its regional channels. Zee Marathi and Zee Bangla are doubling their previous year‘s revenues to touch Rs 1 billion each
 

Isn‘t growth of GEC as a category slowing down?

The GRPs of GEC channels as a category have grown by 6 per cent. Revenue from GECs, on the other hand, have jumped 22 per cent. What is happening is that the GRPs of GECs are getting reorganised. Star Plus, for instance, has seen a fall in GRPs while we have gained.

 

Could you elaborate?

The loss of GRPs by Star Plus has been made up by Zee TV and the regional channels. Our regional channels are operating in the most important primary markets. Zee Marathi and Zee Bangla have particularly grown.

 

One reason for the growth of these two channels, according to you, is because the leader ETV is falling. But what sort of ad growth are both of them going to post this fiscal?

Zee Marathi and Zee Bangla are doubling their previous year‘s ad revenues. They will end up making around Rs 1 billion each. The ad rates of regional channels, though getting corrected, are still very low.

 

After rolling out Zee Talkies to addess the Marathi market, are you planning to launch a Bengali movie channel?

We will be launching a Bengali movie channel as it will help us create a wider bouquet in that local market. We have created a GEC, a news and a movie channel in the Marathi market. We will be repeating this combination in the Bengali market. Regional movie channels work for sales as well as help boost distribution.

 

Like Kalanithi Maran‘s Sun network, are you looking at packing in regional music channels as well?

We don‘t see music channels being viable in these markets.

 

Doesn‘t Zee have such plans for Gujarat?

Zee Gujarati didn‘t see much growth. Almost 99 per cent of the Gujarati viewership is covered by Hindi GECs and movies. It is not a viable market for india, but has an international distribution story.

Though Zee Cinema is the second biggest channel in the network, it has been less aggressive in movie buying this fiscal. Will this hurt the revenues?

For the movie channel category as a whole, GRPs have fallen. But Zee Cinema‘s revenue for the fiscal would be Rs 2 billion, up 25 per cent. We are selling better, using all time bands.

 
As revenue head, why haven‘t the sports, news and southern language channels come to you?

I am handling the power brands where effort to returns are high. The sports business is cricket-centric and needs dedicated attention. So Ten Sports is handling the ad sales. I already have too much on my plate as the network revenue head.
 
Will subscription revenues be sluggish, driven by slowdown in international business and foreign exchange loss?

Domestic subscription will grow by 30 per cent - and we see the situation improving in next fiscal. The Star bouquet is strong, but we have been catching up this year. We have more pull channels than anybody else - Zee TV, Zee Cinema, Zee Cafe, Zee Marathi, Zee Bangla, Zee Talkies and Zee Studio. International distribution is outside my ambit and I can‘t comment on that.
 
There is a buzz in the market that the TV18 group channels including CNBC TV18 will soon move to Star DEN?

There is still time for some channels to move out, if at all. We will soon be making an announcement of more channels in our bouquet to make it stronger.
 

Are you referring to Ten Sports moving out from SET Discovery (now MSM Discovery) to Zee Turner?

I can‘t comment on this.

 

Zee has the largest bouquet of channels. With carriage fee on the up, how does it impact the business at the net level?

Since we have a large bouquet, this at one level affects us in carriage deals. But on subscription ground, it helps make our bouquet stronger. We have presence in all genres except kids. The net effect in the long term is beneficial once digitalisation happens. We are the best prepared network for digitalisation.

 

What is being done to beef up Zee‘s English genre channels?

Zee Cafe is airing new American shows and has a very loyal viewership. It will grow in ad revenues by 45 per cent this fiscal. Zee Studio‘s perception as a repeat channel is changing. The sub-titling has helped us, we will be seeing 37 per cent growth, and it completes our bouquet.

 

What is your revenue forecast for the next fiscal?

Keeping in mind the fragmentation scenario, our target will be to post 30 per cent growth in both ad sales and domestic subscription. It will be a challenging year and we hope that the newcomers don‘t spoil the ad sales and distribution market with price cutting and high carriage deals.

 

Do you see BARC (Broadcast Audio Research Council) taking off any time now?

It is a good initiative as it represents an association of broadcasters and advertisers. TV as a medium is very research-focused. The sector is also grossly under-priced. BARC is at an initial stage of progress but the intention is there to set it rolling.

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