Mumbai: Speaking in a conference call, ZEEL managing director & CEO Punit Goenka said during the company's Q2 FY23 earnings call that he remains hopeful of a steady recovery in the advertising environment during the second half of the fiscal given some of the green shoots due to a good monsoon and the onset of the festive season.
"We are utilising this period to further strengthen the resilience and fundamentals of our business across all aspects. Our focused efforts and investments in content and user experience enhancements are displaying positive results. Going forward, we remain cautiously optimistic about the overall advertising sentiment gradually recovering through the second half of the fiscal year, which will further aid revenue growth."
While the underlying impact of the macroeconomic headwind across the industry continued to spill over in the second quarter of the fiscal year, Goenka emphasised, "That said, we have been able to moderately grow our advertising revenues sequentially in the second quarter on the back of our network share gain and focused efforts from our ad sales team."
He noted that the merger with Sony should be completed within this financial year. "As you would know, this is something that we are grappling with on a daily basis because the regulatory approval is required, and we can't give you one final date. The number of days required for delisting or the company's continued delisting, our expectation is it will be about five to six weeks."
Talking about sports being a newer growth opportunity. Goenka mentioned, "In addition to strengthening our current offerings, we are also consistently identifying new growth opportunities for sustained value creation. We took yet another firm step in this direction by sharpening our strategic vision to build the sports business for the company. The strategic licensing agreement with Disney Star makes Zee the exclusive TV destination for all ICC events starting in 2024. Going forward, all our investment decisions to make the sports segment a compelling value proposition for the company will continue to be taken with a prudent approach. Our energies remain focused on enhancing performance across platforms through compelling content offerings and delivering a robust user experience."
"For instance, our linear viewership share has increased QoQ, and our key markets like Hindi and Tamil are showcasing an improvement in their performance." He explained that both in Tamil and Hindi, it is basically implementation and picking the right shows that have worked for it. "In Hindi, particularly, both fiction and non-fiction have done well for us. Tamil is still largely fiction-driven, and we are pretty confident that these will now continue to grow from here. They are stabilised at this level, and now we should see more growth coming. In Marathi, as I mentioned in previous calls to Abneesh, it was an implementation and team issue. A new team was formed about a quarter of a year ago. They are working on plans for getting the turnaround to happen in Marathi, too. I'm quite hopeful that in the next couple of quarters we'll see something turn around there."
When asked about the reason for the NTO 2.0 delay, Goenka stated, "I don't know what Trai was planning to do, but as I understand it from informal sources, they were trying to build consensus amongst all the stakeholders. As you will understand, building consensus in this industry among broadcasters, cable operators, and DPOs is not easy. I think that is largely the reason for the delay."
"My view is that they are finished with all the discussions and everything. We should see the NTO guidelines come out anytime now. As Rohit (ZEEL CFO Rohit Gupta) mentioned, the 28 of February is the deadline they have kept, but I'm quite confident that they will not miss this deadline," he added further.
Gupta noted that in the absence of a clear path ahead for NTO 2.0, the near-term outlook for subscription growth remains uncertain and muted. "We will continue to monitor NTO 2.0 guidelines and will be prepared to implement the same for improved long-term revenue outcomes."
When asked about the possibility of rethinking capital allocation towards movies given the disappointing performance of Hindi cinema, Goenka said that the company is rethinking or re-studying its movie portfolio strategy and maybe rejigging the capital allocation within that. "So, instead of spending a lot more on, let’s say, Hindi, for example, do we want to spend a little bit more on the regional languages, which are doing much better than the Hindi side, but will we completely look at reducing capital allocation to movies. No, that's not in the thought process."
When asked if it makes sense to buy movie rights after their theatrical release, Goenka responded that, unfortunately, the industry does not work that way because these films are sold even during production. "If we were to wait for the film to be released in theatres and then take the chance of buying the film, there is a risk to that as well. So therefore, the industry is behaving in the manner that it does. Therefore, we have to participate and play the game as per the industry, and our view is that we would also like to continue to build and buy as little as possible. At times that's not possible, but we are working on that strategy," he concluded.