Regional markets to fuel English entertainment channels' growth: ZEEL's Kartik Mahadev

The Zee English cluster added many shows and brands during lockdown.

MUMBAI: The Covid2019 pandemic has given a boost to indoor activities such as TV viewing but specific genres such as English GECs, lifestyle and infotainment channels have been immensely impacted as their limited audience switched to streaming platforms. ZEEL premium channels business head Kartik Mahadev says that television came across as a trusted medium during the lockdown and the audience finds content on television compelling and comforting.

Mahadev says that the channel saw significant growth in TV viewership, led by more walk-ins as well as more time spent on television. Data shared by the network show that Zee English cluster of channels grew by 93 per cent (Week 12 – week 22 vs week 1 to week 11 as per BARC data). &flix had 56 mins (week 12 – week 22 as per BARC data) average weekly time spent on the channel.

For English GECs, the similarity of content on OTT platforms is a concern. Mahadev says, “There is no doubt that digital video platforms are here to stay. However, today we live in an AND world, not an OR world. Studies reveal that consumption of overlapped content between TV and OTT grew on television from 59 per cent pre-NTO to 82 per cent contribution post-NTO for sitcom, drama, reality genres. It naturally follows that navigation between screens is seamless and consumption on TV and digital is complementary in nature.”

According to Madison Media Sigma CEO Vanita Keswani, English GECs losing their audiences to OTT platforms is not a recent phenomenon. “They have been largely impacted due to the disruptions caused by Covid2019. Apart from that there is profitability pressure. Covid2019 is putting a lot of pressure on broadcasters and English niche is the first under scrutiny for survival,” she says.

Mahadev believes that regional markets will continue to fuel new user growth for English entertainment channels. This also includes a whole set of audience moving from regional to English content as they become more comfortable with English as a professional, conversational language.

He adds, “We have designed unique offerings such as multi-language block on &flix and locally nuanced content on Zee Café, that will stand out as enablers of bringing an aspirational, English-comfortable audience onboard. Recently, for the premiere of Jumanji: The Next Level on &flix and a simulcast in Hindi on Zee Cinema, we successfully reached a wider audience by providing access through language.”

Post lockdown, Zee Café has added 256 hours of content to cater to the growth in walk-ins within the genre, including latest dramas such as Nancy Drew and Evil, popular sitcoms such as Seinfeld and I Dream of Jeannie along with the original airings of the celebrity chat show Starry Nights GEN Y.

“Television provides youth-focused brands and premium brands the opportunity to associate with a premium subscriber base that is defined on the basis of their content choice. This sort of content and platform synergy for brands to associate with is not available on OTT platforms where English content is behind a paywall,” he points out.

Some of the brands that came on board as a partner for the property on &flix were Kia Motors, Ariel, Amazon, Airtel 4G, Xiaomi, Protinex and ITC along with Bingo Potato chips, Hyundai Creta, Behrouz Biryani, Bharat Matrimony and Cinthol. These brands were on board for the Hindi simulcast also. The channel has a new slate of premieres like Bad Boys For Life and Fantasy Island to entertain audiences.

Mahedev finds that while marquee international shows bring the best of the world to Indian viewers, locally-produced content allows adding a new dimension from the Indian point of view. “With India’s first-ever English fiction show Bombay Talking, Zee Café brought in relevance with content that is locally nuanced for the Indian viewer. What followed was the introduction of successful properties such as Look Who’s Talking with Niranjan, Not Just Supper Stars and Starry Nights that truly added a unique flavour to Zee Café’s wide repertoire of content,” he shares.

According to Samsika Marketing Consultants founder chairman and MD Jagdeep Kapoor, family viewing pushes down the priority of English GEC. “English GEC channels will now have to work on their programming. The nature of the show and specialisation will help them to stay in the business. The channels that are currently in the business will not only have to look at original content but also relevant content and solid programming. The ones who were not able to do that have lagged behind.”

In the coming months, Mahadev expects the trend in audience preferences towards light-hearted content, superhero flicks and adventure to pick up. With out-of-home entertainment options being limited in the new normal, he feels television will continue to be the entertainment destination for individuals and families. This immediate context is an opportunity for growth.

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