Striking the right chord Zee Music gets ready for the battle

The battle is on in real earnest. Music channels, which over the last one year had laid low while news channels slugged it out for eyeballs, are jostling again for prime slot - with Zee Music having thrown its hat in the ring in a big way.

The channel that revamped quietly last month has managed to eat into the channel shares of current giants MTV and Channel [V]. Zee Music even claimed that it garnered a channel share of 24 per cent against MTV?s 22 per cent in the week ended 30 August.

TAM figures for the week ended 6 September indicate that the share fell to 22 per cent, the fact remains that the thus far low key channel has managed to shake reigning MTV out of its complacency.

If the TAM statistics are followed, although samplers to the new Zee Music may not have returned diligently the following week, the slight drop in MTV figures indicate that the Zee Music has indeed weaned away certain segments of viewers. "The war is just beginning," says a confident business head Yogesh Radhakrishnan, who had a success story of a revamp earlier with Zee Cinema last year.

The outer circle represents channel shares for week ended 6 September while the inner circle represents channel shares for week ended 30 August 2003.

Yet, the war does not seem to have affected Channel [V], B4U Music or even Siti Music, all of whose shares have gone up marginally between the two weeks in question.

The real fight then, seems to be with MTV. And an aggressive Zee Music is apparently togging up a similar strategy it adopted while turning around Zee Cinema. The movie channel systematically identified time bands earlier neglected by movie programming heads and succeeded in creating fresh viewership. The same ploy is being deployed at Zee Music

"There is viewership in all time bands, you just have to tap it," maintains Radhakrishnan. The channel?s new show Daud, a countdown, hosted by VJs Karan and Rajlaxmi was the number two show across all music channels in the week ended 30 August. The back-to-back songs show, Radio Bandh featured seven times in the list of the top 25 shows across music channels that week, claims the channel.

The twin channels Radhakrishnan is handling are incidentally hitting it off with overseas viewers too. Audiences in the US, UK, UAE, Singapore and Hong Kong have latched on to shows like the daily news from Bollywood, which is unique to Zee Cinema. Zee Music has already spawned clubs and in the UK, and Radhakrishnan is now trying to build a global brand around Zee Music, one which will sport the same look in the UK from 1 October.

The new veejay lineup on Zee Music

While the exercise to boost distribution within the country is still on, he says, the content is all in place and targeted at making the viewer stay once he tunes in. "The idea is to give people more than what they expect," he divulges with a confidence born out of years of strategy that spawned the first cable network in the country and the first ever popular music channel that has survived, ETC.

The USP of the revamped Zee Music is the the playing of entire songs from the vast Zee library, instead of the short snippets aired on most music channels. Radhakrishnan even claims that MTV too often buys software from Zee.

All of which is now leading to phase two of the revamp of Zee Music, which will make the channel more interactive with phone-in music request shows, planned to launch within the next fortnight. Interestingly, though, while Radhakrishnan claims the advertiser had bitten the bait and is cautiously coming in to Zee Music (20 odd brands are already visible and a couple of major deals are in the offing, says the channel head), the channel has refrained from an all-out publicity campaign to raise awareness about the changed look of the channel.

Says Radhakrishnan, "I don?t believe in using print for television. TV itself is a strong medium and my content should speak for itself." The other reason is also that the channel did not want to build expectations to a higher level by building on the hype. Consequently, when the channel changed, with new veejays, fresh programming and a new logo, the audience sat up to notice.

But Radhakrishnan is aware that audience taste will not change overnight. For a channel that has been somnolent for a long while, going from red to black is not going to happen in a jiffy. But the phased programming changes that helped Zee Cinema slowly climb in the ratings stakes to be a serious contender for number one movie channel, is also in place to help build Zee Music into a brand to be reckoned with.

"It will be a frequency channel", admits Radhakrishnan. "VJs as a concept has worked in India to a certain extent, so we will exploit that concept too, as also other programming experiments." But he is clear that Zee Music will not go the MTV and [V] way of toying with other genres like reality programming and youth shows. "The TG is definitely youth, but the focus will concentrate on music, which will be the mainstay of the channel."

etc, which is also overseen by Radhakrishnan after the departure of CEO Pradeep Dixit, on the other hand, has expanded from being a mere music channel some years ago. With different genres and shows tried out on the channel, Radhakrishnan now believes etc is a hardcore trade channel, much removed from the slew of music channels currently on the Indian horizon. "It?s a unique model," he says.

As for Zee Music, the story is just beginning. And under Radhakrishnan?s wing, it could well have a fairy tale ending.

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