Zee’s Ali Zaidi sheds light on the English entertainment genre

MUMBAI: The English entertainment genre is passing through a wave of evolution with more entrants, digitization, home-grown content, with acquisition of rights of more international shows and has shaped effectively due to key factors such as literacy, change in lifestyle, etc. The entire genre, both in terms of the share and viewership has grown exceptionally since its inception, by providing a great space for advertisers to target larger audiences and get effective results.

According to the FICCI-KPMG M&E report 2015, the entire genre enjoys a viewership share of 0.9 per cent  of the total share, higher than 0.1 per cent of English News while the genre’s AdEx share stands at 4.6 per cent of the Rs 17,500 crore ad spends for 2014.

There is no exclusivity in the TV shows screened on these channels. A majority of the English entertainment channels are just acquiring rights for international shows; hence the need for channels to differentiate exists more than ever. Despite the diverse range of content available on the channels, the genre hasn’t seen a rise in viewership. However, things are expected to change after BARC (Broadcast Audience Research Audience India) stabilizes its data. got in touch with Zee Studio and Zee Café’s business head English cluster Ali Zaidi to throw some light on the genre, the challenges that it faces, about original content production in India, and the bouquet’s future plans.

The genre has seen a decline this year by 0.2 per cent from last year as per the FICCI-KPMG M&E report 2015, while the AdEx share has remained constant. “The genre as a whole is growing day by the day as we have more English literate people in India. English language is getting more common in India which is a plus point for us. The genre will see a positive growth in the coming calendar”, says Zaidi.

Zee Cafe and its foray into HD

Zee Cafe has grown from 21-22 per cent to 42per cent while Zee Studio has seen a growth from 7-8 per cent to 13 per cent this year. Zee Cafe has recently been converted to a HD channel. Zaidi says out that the over the years, the demand for English entertainment content has just increased and the audiences are willing to invest their time and money to watch the best and the latest. With this new step, the bouquet is taking TV viewing experience a notch higher. The channel is home to popular shows and is a trendsetter in the industry. There was a demand for a high definition experience of the shows that are aired on Zee Cafe. Due to the technological advancements and with the advance of 4K television in the metro cities, the audience wants a detailed viewing experience. Zaidi says that this conversion is a natural progression for the premium channel.

Commenting about the response the HD channel has received so far, Zaidi asserts “The response for Zee Café HD has been great. It was a pull strategy rather than push approach. We always want to give the audience a better viewing experience." The channel will also see a 4K conversion once the market gets digitalised with better availability of infrastructure.

Original content production in India and simulcast

Zaidi says, “India has seen the launch of a new channel with home-grown content on it. Successful English entertainment channels are just acquiring rights for international content to be broadcasted in India. Even though our motherland has a huge talent pool, the channels have yet not resorted to use the resources available”. Zaidi backs up this fact by mentioning the immense content available in India, while also pointing out that such decisions lay with the channel heads and it was their call on what kind of content was to be shown to its viewers. 

Channels have to follow certain ethics and have to be careful about not hurting any person’s or community’s sentiments. Talking about the idea of producing original home-grown content, Zaidi says, “The quality that Hollywood studios are providing right now is something that is far for India to reach for now. A simple fact behind this is that Hollywood studios have a worldwide market to recover the cost, whereas in India, the market is limited and only caters to a niche audience”. He strongly believes that shows would get traction only when the channels provided some different content to which the audience could relate to. Linear English shows should strongly be dependent on their concept and had to be stand out of the box to compete with the existing standard quality of production in the world.

Zaidi also mentions the quality that is being provided by international studios.  “Quality plays a vital role as you want to retain your audience by giving the best to them. India is not in that position as yet to give that quality, says Zaidi, though he thinks that providing home-grown content and making it popular in US as well as in India at the same time through strategic marketing is a goal that is not too far.

Zaidi points out that for a simultaneous release, it was important for the production house to ensure that it had a worldwide reach. “It cannot just be Hollywood and India as studios recover costs from various markets. We don’t have that right now and therefore if we get into producing a high budget show, we are unlikely to recover costs”, he adds.

Perception or Ratings

According to Zaidi, both the elements are important, because the genre is small in size and caters to a limited audience. Ratings are the indicators of what people are watching as trends, and the genre is represented by a small number when it comes to ratings and that is why perception also plays an important role when it comes to trading.

“People already know what is airing in the US and that is followed to India. We are talking about an audience that’s well informed. We pick our shows with lot of research and the shows which will work for our viewers in India. One needs to buy the right content and have a programming strategy in place to air the shows at the right time”, mentions Zaidi.

At the same time he also points out that it all depended on the strategies that a channel followed. Channels have to decide on various factors like how they wanted to acquire the show, how they wanted to place it what timeline were they strategizing for the show, etc.

Challenges for the genre

Zaidi says that the biggest challenge for the English entertainment industry is the way it is being represented in the ratings system. He believes that once the rating gets steady, there would be no other major challenge that would affect the genre as a whole. “We are waiting for BARC to stabilize its data and give the right kind of representation. We are sure that it will happen in the assured time period of three months”, Zaidi hopes.

With Indian audiences getting more television oriented and with everything available on the internet, piracy has been one of the threats to the genre since a long time. Every show and movie faces piracy issues in today’s era. Zaidi strongly believes that the entire industry, be it the studios, content providers, content aggregators or the broadcasters, everyone has to come together and understand that piracy needs to be fought.

According to Zaidi, though this threat has been around for many years, it does not affect the viewership, as the audience, even after downloading the content, is interested and curious to watch it again on television sets. “There is enough audience that will watch content on the television box and I don’t think piracy will make that kind of a big dent, as people pirate also watch shows on TV”, adds Zaidi.

The way forward

Channels need to observe the viewing pattern that is followed in India before broadcasting a show. They need to strategize based on what viewers are expecting, when they will consume most of the content, what time will be convenient for them, which content is followed and viewed for a longer period of time? When they follow these pointers, the channels will naturally get viewers.

Channels should opt for content acquisition for longer periods of time. “The channels are not in the ecosystem for a short period of time; they are and want to be in the business for years to come. It makes more sense to block content for a longer period of time”, explains Zaidi.

Talking about the Ad spends on HD channels Zaidi informs that they were growing at 100 per cent year on year, but the base was low. The English genre is expected to grow by 25 per cent in 2016.

He also points out the Ad spends are not a major problem, because more and more people watch this genre and know that HD definitely gives an opportunity to brand managers to watch this channel. The discussions between advertisers about the content shown on different channels is always helpful to decide which shows are popular and where should they invest in.

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