Zee TV edges closer to Star Plus

The Indian Hindi general entertainment space is heating up and could possibly be on the brink of a huge change as Subhash Chandra?s flagship channel Zee TV inches closer to Star Plus, Rupert Murdoch?s key revenue driver in Asia.

The difference in GRPs between the two channels now stands at a mere 48, according to Tam?s latest data (C&S 4+, HSM, Week 29 - 15 to 21 July).

With Zee TV at 303.4 GRPs as against Star Plus? 351.6 GRPs, this is the closest the channel has come to the leader since it was dethroned more than six years ago. While it may be premature to say that Zee will regain its top status, it is surely threatening to do so.

Top 3 General Entertainment Channels
Star Plus
Zee TV
Sony Entertainment TV
( Tam Peoplemeter System, C&S 4+, HSM, Week 29, 15-21 July)

There has been nothing sudden in Zee TV?s rise in the reckonings. Rather, it has been a gradual maneuvering of its way up the ladder. In the first week of July, the gap between Star Plus and Zee TV was 60, as Star stood 323.5 and Zee at 263 (Tam C&S 4+, HSM, Week 26, 24 - 30 June).

Star took over the reigns from Zee in 2000 with its landmark show Kaun Banega Crorepati with Amitabh Bachchan as host, a monumental year for Murdoch?s fortunes in the country. Since then, Star has dominated the Hindi GEC terrain.

Star?s decline has been due to a confluence of several factors - from a saturation of its top saas-bahu sagas Kyunki... and Kahaani, to niche channels eating into the share of the genre. "Star?s dipping numbers are due to the gradual decline of its top programmes along with Zee?s steady growth," states an industry observer.

Queried about the threat posed by Zee TV, a senior Star official says, "We would not like to comment on a week?s ratings. We will only have cause to worry if this trend continues for two to three weeks. At the moment our weekly primetime shows continue to be strong and are at the top of the ratings charts."

Zee, of course does not want to jump the gun in uncorking the bubbly just yet. Zee TV business head and Zeel director Punit Goenka tells that the channel?s gradual climb is what they have been working hard on for some time. Goenka also credits the rise and rise of his channel with the success that its long running musical show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2007 has been enjoying. Says Goenka, "Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge has indeed given us a big boost over the last two and a half months."

Adds Zeel CEO Pradeep Guha, "This has been built up over a period of time and has been contributed to by each and every show."

A point of note is that even as the competition intensifies between the two top players, a whole bunch of newcomers are warming up in the wings. These include Viacom 18, the Sameer Nair-helmed NDTV Imagine, Indrani Mukherjee?s 9X and Anuradha Prasad?s Bag Films, among others. What are the implications that this could have on the television entertainment space?

According to Starcom MD India - West and South Manish Porwal, "The general entertainment genre itself is ?de-growing?. In fact, over the last three to four years the space has lost ten per cent every year. This, coupled with the novelty value of new players will give a double blow to the space."

"This phenomena will favour the challenger. It will be a two- horse race for a while," Porwal opines. The second runner up in the GEC space is Sony which is lagging far behind at a GRP of 135.6.

However, Mindshare MD R. Gowthaman points to the diminishing dominance of the GEC cluster. "The capability of the GEC space as a whole to deliver reach is on the decline. The price that the space commands is primarily based on its reach. However, we are witnessing a scenario in which the GEC is losing its reach potential, and this is a major concern from a marketer?s perspective."

"While the reality is that Zee is catching up with Star, we will soon see a level playing field. These numbers, are only the initial trends of audience movement towards different genres. Within about four to five months this will gain critical mass and the configuration of television clusters will start changing," Gowthaman avers.

Currently, Hindi GEC occupies the lion?s share of the television pie advertising at 28-30 per cent in HSM markets, says Porwal. But with news channels in particular gaining in importance, followed by movies, the share is only going to tilt further away. It is also important to note that sports, kids and youth channels are gaining significance in the Indian TV space.

TME president Anupriya Acharya shares her perspective on the "dynamic" quality of the television segment. "We have been closely following the turnaround that Zee TV is witnessing by closing its gap with Star Plus. But at an overall level, it is important to note that other niche channels are also eating away from its pie especially news channels and the growth of the second GECs."

That, of course, is a larger issue that the GEC genre as a whole will have to grapple with sooner rather than later. At the moment, all eyes are on whether the challenger will really be able to dislodge the queen bee channel from her thrown.

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