Zee TV: Field being Set

In this, the first of a three-part special series examining the three main channels that now constitute Subhash Chandra‘s Hindi entertainment play, we examine Zee TV...

Is Zee TV happy with the kind of performance it has delivered so far in 2005?

"Absolutely. We are very very bullish about this and the next year."

This answer came from the soft-spoken president of Zee TV, Abhijit Saxena, to a question we posed. And this one-liner reveals the new face of Zee TV. The channel hasn‘t ever got as aggressive as this time.

Apart from an agenda to plot a turnaround in its fortunes, the present efforts are also meant to check the various initiatives competitors are planning. And Zee TV, this time, has kicked off its initiatives from ground up, by having a re-look at the channel positioning, presentation and the marketing strategies.

A post-March 2005 rewind: The rejuvenation process began with a shift in the Target Group (TG): from the 35-plus to the 25-plus. The channel revamped some of its popular shows like Kareena Kareena, Piya ka Ghar and Antakshari by keeping in mind the youth taste. The grandeur of Zee Cine Awards and the presence of Bollywood badshah Shah Rukh Khan were used to unveil brand new logos for the whole Zee network.

"The idea or new thought this year is to make the channel look younger and more vibrant. Research findings showed that Zee had started looking a little jaded and hence the move to change the logo and the look of the channel. And since the change in packaging we have noticed a considerable change in the mind-sets of the viewers as well," says Saxena.

The revamp and trendy new look were meant to change the way Zee TV was sold as well. The head honchos of Zee had found out the flagship channel‘s Achilles heel: marketing. "I think the main problem with Zee is not that its programming is inferior to what is available. I think our marketing (including show strategy and show presentation) was perhaps slightly below the business standards. That is one of the areas that we are looking to improve," Zee Telefilms CEO Pradeep Guha told in a recent interview.

To give a cutting edge to his strategies, Guha brought Hindustan Times hand Suresh Balakrishnan and Star TV‘s Joy Chakraborthy on board to take care of marketing and network ad sales respectively. "Joy looks after sales for two of the biggest buyers namely Group M and Madison. The other accounts are with individual business heads. We have structured ourselves to suit the structure of the buying industry," says Guha.

At that time, the channel was in the process of creating almost eight to ten soaps, apart from the big ticket reality show Business Baazigar, but with a different game plan. Instead of launching many shows simultaneously, the channel chose to do it one at a time.

"Earlier also, the channel has carried out a repackaging exercise. Then it launched almost 21 shows armed with extensive repackaging. But it didn‘t work. This time, instead having one go for everything and then shouting about it from the roof tops, the channel has done things step by step. This is an intelligent move because the strategy will help it to keep the buzz and the novelty alive," offers Lodestar vice president Nandini Dias.

Zee TV even got a facelift on the web

So, in a span of four months - from March 2005 to June 2005 - Zee TV launched four primetime soaps and one afternoon soap. After a gap, Balaji Telefilms is coming back to the Zee stable and this, plus Aruna Irani‘s Rabba Ishq Na Hove and a horror serial Rooh are waiting in the next

lot. Though not clashing in the same time band, Zee‘s innovation Challenge 2005 around its popular music show Sa Re Ga Ma is the reply to Sony‘s new music reality hunt Fame Gurukul.

"It is heartening to notice such thoughtful moves from Zee TV finally. The usual blame has been on the channel‘s inability to build viewers from existing successful shows. Now the Sa Re Ga Ma experiment is signaling a change in strategies," says an industry observer. Sa Re Ga Ma

Challenge 2005 will pave the way for the second season of Zee‘s successful 2004 property India‘s Best

– Cinestar Ki Khoj,
in December.

Apart from attempting new genres like thriller and political drama, Zee this year has also made conscious attempts to get the best talent available into its shows. Apart from Ekta Kapoor and Aruna Irani, we have people like Ketan Mehta (Time Bomb), Ravi Rai (Kasshish) and Manish Goswami (Sarrkkar) working behind the Zee projects. When it comes to star cast as well, this poaching theory has already found many takers. The buzz is that, Zee has deliberately gone for stars like Ronit Roy, Rajeev Khandelwal and Akashdeep Sehgal who came to the limelight mainly through Star Plus soaps.

Zee TV‘s Marketing head Tarun Mehra agrees, but to an extent. "Yes, this is a strategy. But it is not a deliberate attempt. We would like to have the best of the industry in our shows. We look for the best directors and best stars. So, basically, this is a strategy to get the best of the


Zee TV Programming head Ashwini Yardi echoes the same view adding, "These actors were immediately thought of when the script was written. Divya Seth came to our mind when the character of Priyamvada in Sarrkkar was drafted and so did Rajeev for Time Bomb, she explains.

According to market analysts, Zee TV has increased its production and promotion budgets manifold this year. Zee CMD Subhash Chandra himself initiated the moves to get veteran director Ketan Mehta to direct Time Bomb and when things like this happen, obviously we can‘t expect

small-scale projects. So, the Rs 110 million Time Bomb happens to be the channel‘s biggest ever soap till date.

The change in marketing policies is reflected in the kind of promotions the 25-episode one-hour weekly thriller and now Sa Re Ga Ma Challenge have been receiving. According to Mehra, Zee has earmarked its biggest ever promotional budget to Time Bomb. (Call it a stroke of luck or not, when The Rupert Murdoch-controlled Hollywood production house Twentieth Century Fox approached the Delhi High Court alleging that Zee‘s Time Bomb is a plagiarized version of its on-going thriller 24, that also provided a free-of-cost publicity vehicle for the show.)

The efforts also bring Zee TV‘s plans for the 10 pm to 11 pm band into sharp relief. The channel is building this crucial band with one hour weekly properties like Time Bomb and Sa Re Ga Ma Challenge. The upcoming one-hour weeklies Rabba Ishq Na Hove and Rooh are also slotted for 10 pm. This is the first time Zee TV is making a serious attempt to counter the blockbuster Star TV soaps Kahaani Ghar Ghar Kii (10 pm) and Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi (10:30 pm).

On the sales front, Zee TV is waiting and watching. As Guha put it, the channel is currently solving its marketing issues and the programming activities are driving these efforts. According to Mehra, the channel is selling Time Bomb and Sinndoor at premium rates. Market sources say the rates are approximately Rs 40,000 to Rs 50,000 for a 10 second slot.

"This can‘t be called an aggressive pricing when compared to the competitors‘ price range. A lot depends on the performance of the new programmes and the impression made on the advertisers. Zee has to re-think its selling strategies and I think that is what it is doing presently," says an analyst from a leading media planning firm.

Talking about the results so far, Zee hasn‘t come out of this whole exercise empty-handed. Though no significant headway has been made yet, Sinndoor Tere Naam Ka and a consistent Tumhari Disha have helped the channel to strengthen the 7:30 pm - 8 pm band. Sinndoor‘s good performance even forced Star Plus to re-launch its 7:30 pm soap Hello Dolly as Princess Dollie Aur Uska Magic Bag.

Powered by the Zee Cine Awards property and then this surge in the early primetime band, Zee TV‘s market share in March 2005 equaled or crossed that of Sony for the first time since August 2003 in all day parts (TAM CS4+ Hindi speaking markets). Many of Zee‘s soaps are making headway in top programme list, with 40 of its shows making it to the top 150 list in March 2005.

Average TVR
Avg. channel share
Star Plus
Sony Ent.
Zee TV
Sahara One
Source: Tam CS4+ HSM, 5 June - 19 June: 7:30pm - 8:30 pm TVR/Chnl share
Average TVR
Avg. channel share
Star Plus
Sony Ent.
Zee TV
Sahara One
Source: Tam CS4+ HSM, 5 June - 19 June: 8 pm - 11 pm TVR/Chnl share

As per Zee TV, the aMap ratings for Time Bomb‘s two episodes telecast so far stand in the range of 3 to 4 TVRs. The first episode has generated 2.34 TVRs in the Hindi speaking markets as per Tam. This is Zee‘s best performance ever in the 10-11 pm band ruled by Star‘s towering soaps Kahaani Ghar Ghar Ki and Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi.

Time Bomb (week 1) 2.34
Tumhari Disha 1.56
Sinndoor Tere... 1.50
Astitva Ek... 0.92
Kareena Kareena 0.77
Sarrkkar 0.83
Tam CS4+ HSM 5 June - 18 June avg TVR

Sarrkkar, which found the going tough in the initial weeks of launch, has slowly started catching up. Tumhari Disha is fighting it out with Sinndoor for the top slot in the Zee line up. Tam data for the last two weeks projects the following picture.

In June, Zee TV brought a crucial change in its schedule. All dailies between 1:30 pm and 9:00 pm were moved back to the traditional Monday to Friday format.

Television industry analysts opine that it is a clear strategy of disruptive programming from the channel. "Zee is trying to get aggressive on the Friday time band in which competitors Star Plus and Sony mostly air re-runs and non-soap programmes presently. KBC 2 is launching in August and Zee is looking to garner that beginner‘s advantage here. The effort is also to extend strong points like the 3 pm movie band and its fresh afternoon soaps to an extra day," says an industry source.

The five day a week strategy has been adopted by rival networks as well. While Star Plus has decided to extend its top shows Kasautii Zindagi Kay, Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and Kahiin Tho Hoga to five days, Sony has its new reality show Fame Gurukul running Monday to Friday.

Chandra shooting for ‘Business Baazigar‘ at Mumbai‘s Film City

Speaking about the future, the channel‘s focus will now shift to the reality and movie genres. As mentioned earlier, Sa Re Ga Ma Challenge is the channel‘s first move on reality this year and next on the cards is the mega project Business Baazigar which has none other than the Zee group chairman Subshash Chandra hosting.

According to market sources, an episode of Business Baazigar costs the channel approximately Rs 4 million. Zee TV will run Business Baazigar over three seasons, with the first season delivering 39 episodes. Sources close to the channel hint at the possibility of Zee launching this prime property in August-September to compete with Star‘s KBC 2. Another theory is that, Zee is keeping the reality show under wraps and would brandish it in the third quarter of this year to fight Sony‘s Indian Idol 2.

According to unconfirmed reports, the channel is also planning another big reality project which would offer a much bigger prize money than KBC 2‘s Rs 20 million.

Drawing inspiration from the success some of the low-budget movies have drawn on the tube, Zee has initiated a number of movie projects, with each costing the company approximately Rs 10 million. The themes range from thriller, comedy, real life drama and love. "The films are being made

keeping in mind all our TGs. We are attempting all popular themes," says Saxena adding that about ten such films are on the floor presently. The channel will start airing these movies on weekends from August onwards. Another strategy to fight KBC 2.

Sushmita Sen won Zee Astitva Face of the Year award

With Guha at the helm, an area Zee TV is seriously looking to tap is events. The channel has already unveiled a new property, Zee Astitva Awards - honouring women achievers - this year. Instead of plotting a marketing splash with this event, what Zee has done here is a strategic attempt to woo the female segment. Zee has already given its Zee Cine Awards a global positioning.

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