"Sports to be a key focus area," says Punit Goenka as talks move ahead on Zeel-Sony merger

"Sports to be a key focus area," says Punit Goenka as talks move ahead on Zeel-Sony merger

Goenka was speaking on the future of content and platforms at the Apos India summit.

Punit Goenka

Mumbai: Sports will be a key focus area for the Zeel-Sony merged entity, said Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (Zeel) MD and CEO Punit Goenka, as the two media companies move forward in building one of the largest entertainment networks in the country. The mega merger announced in September is currently underway.

“Certainly the merged entity will focus on sports. Zee on a standalone basis will not. We have just finished our non-compete with Sony on the sports side. While we will reconsider sports on a standalone basis, right now, my focus is to look at it from a joint consolidated basis with Sony,” said Goenka, elaborating on the merger. “A lot has changed since we exited the sports business and we sold it to Sony right. So, it is coming full circle. The opportunity is great because the digital landscape has opened up a new opportunity for monetisation which did not exist five years ago. The sector itself will see a lot more happening going forward.”

The Zeel MD said the TV broadcasting industry has witnessed intense competition since Zee’s inception three decades ago and any consolidation will benefit the overall M&E industry. However, he highlighted that the decision on any kind of bidding will be taken by the board of the new merged company.

Goenka was addressing the Apos India summit organised by Media Partners Asia, which began virtually on Tuesday. In a conversation with Media Partners Asia executive partner and co-founder Vivek Couto, Goenka also spoke about the role of technology in content creation, broadcasting and streaming, the scope of SVOD business and strategy for TV in a new regulatory environment.

The Zeel MD said the vision is to create a media powerhouse, but reiterated that the content company thus formed, will remain ‘Indian’ and the focus will be on Indian content, language and culture. Speaking about the synergies with Sony, he said, “The reason I chose Sony is because the two businesses are complementary with minimal overlap. Across linear and digital platforms and genres, we will encompass an entertainment suite that the whole family can watch.”

According to Goenka, Zeel’s strategy of being SVOD-first will give it the leverage to fight going forward. Even though India has more advertising video on demand users there are 45-50 million paid subscribers that will grow to 200 million in the coming years, he said. The company’s streaming platform Zee5 has also recently announced a content slate of 17-18 originals in H2 2021.

"The audience watching content on streaming platforms in India are clearly a mobile-first audience looking at the sheer numbers from mobile platforms," he said. "These audiences are spending 148 minutes watching on SVOD platforms whereas on AVOD it is less than 30 minutes on average."

He added, "Before the pandemic people didn’t think 40-50 million people would pay for content but that is the case today. They are not paying a great deal but they are paying. The Zee DNA is to nurture the best minds in the creative ecosystem, be language first, build national scale and we will replicate that on the digital platform,” he said.

On entering new language markets like Odisha, Bhojpuri and Punjab with their TV channels, Goenka said, “Nobody thought these markets were relevant. We thought even though it is not a big market we can build it into one.”

Goenka said that data will have a critical role in creation of content in the future. “We have upgraded a technology and innovation centre in Bengaluru which will transform the company’s content offering. At Zee, we are embracing technology. We are a bit late compared to global players but will catch up quickly,” he added.