We see engaging stories and narrate it in the most entertaining way: Zee Studios CEO Shariq Patel

We see engaging stories and narrate it in the most entertaining way: Zee Studios CEO Shariq Patel

This year, it will release 20 films across and about 7-8 web productions.

Shariq Patel

Even as the digital medium is emerging as the most preferred way to consume content, the big box at home or the movie theatres are also finding ways to retain viewers. Hence, striking the right balance between all the verticals is one of the basic premises on which Zee Studios is building itself. An old hand at the content-driven film-making is now also looking at providing content for the streaming services. ZEEL’s content creation arm is also not overlooking producing shows for TV under the head of Essel Vision Productions.

In a recent interview with Indiantelevision.com, Zee Studios CEO Shariq Patel shared the guiding principle of the studio’s overall mandate. He did not play with words but simply said – the philosophy is to see engaging stories in the most entertaining manner. Sitting at his sunny cabin full of books on storytelling, Patel speaks about Zee Studios’ overall content strategy for the year, its partnership within ZEEL, outside the network, regional blueprint.

Edited excerpts:

What is the philosophy of content creation of ZEE Studios?

So I think the philosophy is to see engaging stories, that really is the heart of anything that we are looking at doing, and then saying it in the most entertaining manner possible, that really should be at the heart of any production house.  There'll be certain people who will look at more. So as a film studio or as a content creator, you have to cater to everyone, we are not a specialised content creator in terms of that we will only do a particular kind of movie or a digital original show or TV show, or non-fiction show.  We do everything at different budgets and different skills, for the entire audience, the mass or class. So, it really is making sure that any story that we pick up, especially when we are talking about films, who is the primary audience for it. The smartness comes in is that how do you make sure that it reaches out to the audience that you've made it for in the most cost-effective and efficient way. That really is I would say winning philosophy.

How do you strike the balance between films, TV shows, digital content?

When it comes to films, we choose the ones we want to do. In the case of digital and television, it's all commissioned and so there has to be a broadcaster or a platform which, which has to buy into the idea. It's fairly distinct the different arms that are there. Zee Studios is the flagship brand for the films and Zee Studios Originals, which makes content for ZEE5 and as well as other platforms, which are there so we've got about three shows with ZEE5 which are in the process of pre-production and  going on the floor and then there's, of course, the TV broadcasting which so far predominantly has been with the ZEE network, so whether it's Dance India Dance or Sa Re Ga Ma Pa.

Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Little Champ is going on the floor now. We are doing Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Punjabi and a couple of fiction shows in the newly launched Zee Punjabi channel there are about three fiction shows that we're doing between Zee and &tv. In the TV space, we have done so far, hundred percent work with Zee. There are the broadcasters we started the conversation with but it's all commissioned. So whatever the story idea, there someone has to gratify it as a client and may bring some changes. The channel people also kind of help guide the storyline and things like that wherein films it's all ours so for that there's a separate team. The creative team is more of  collaborative here.

How are you synergising Zee Studio with other segments of the network?

The legal entity is Essel Vision which is 100 per cent subsidy of ZEEL. On the film side, we pretty much are independent. However, having said that the films that we produce, our music most of the time is with the ZEE music and so the synergies are very strong, across different and each of the verticals. Our films go to our network channels, we'll get on to ZEE5 so that is pretty much the basic. In the off chance that the commercial value it derives from an outside platform is of higher value, we go for that. We have in the past done that, for example, Manikarnika has gone to Amazon so because of a higher value realisation. Having said that,  the business is standalone, I mean, the individual project has to recover money. More often the buyer is ZEE for our product that's there, but it does not preclude us, from doing deals that allow us to maximise revenue from an outside. Synergistically, there is an understanding, and we are mandated to, to try and make sure that we are feeding the pipeline for the TV channel and ZEE5 and the music.  So it's actually a fairly arm's length transaction with, of course, synergies and certain understanding which is there but the idea is that on a standalone basis, ZEE studios and whatever we do has to be, as profitable it is, is making sense for the business to run on its own.

Are you looking at working with other OTT platforms than ZEE5?

We are in conversation with all of the other platforms for various shows from the biggest international name to the newest entrant. We are in conversations with everyone, and at different stages of pitching is there are certain cases we've actually agreed on everything and then failed through budget expectations and things like that. So we are engaging with everyone and we are also looking at.  A lot of them are actually asking us for like regional content right both either as a movie or as show as regional is the next big frontier that everyone's looking at.

What are the regional markets you are looking at?

Marathi for sure, we will make shows in Bengali, Punjabi. Lot of the shows we are doing is going to be in partnership with other. As a studio, as a production house, we spread our net wide and we're talking to the talents of different regions. So, we are engaging with the South but not so much in the south languages. Having said that, there are some Telugu shows that we pitched but I think we are a little bit more confident in these other markets that we mentioned now- Punjabi, Bengali, Marathi for sure.

Can you talk about your overall content strategy of 2020?

We will release about almost 20 movies between Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi. Out of these 20 films, our in house productions will be about four or five, which would be like fully produced by us. Now, the six-seven will be co productions with other partners. And then the balance will be, pure distribution just to ensure that, we are distributing to other production houses just on the commission base. On the TV part of it, I think for the ZEE part of itself, we get the big four or five non-fiction shows including DID, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. We've already got three fiction shows which are on air. In the Hindi GEC, there are two more shows. There's a fairly set calendar. We are trying to break through to other broadcasters and conversations are happening with other broadcasters to for us to produce and similarly in the OTT space, apart from whatever we're doing with the ZEE5, we are in conversation with other odd platforms are at different stages and we're hoping that in 2020, we will do original for one of the outside broadcaster or OTT platform. So that's the strategy.

What are the challenges in the ecosystem you are facing currently as a content creator?

Not specifically as such challenges but I think there are opportunities in the overall ecosystem. It's just that anyone with the right scripts and the right set up can make a film. Selling of concepts now has better possibilities because there are so many different avenues. I think it's an extremely exciting time for content creation, we as a studio are partnering with many and are open to multiple different opportunities. We have got a very strong development pipeline as well. So currently the challenge is everyone chasing the same writers, right? So finding the right talent to write the shows, write the films, because everyone's got it after a long time, especially writing talent has got the opportunity. So that's the only real constraint on the supply side. However, I wouldn't call it a challenge, I think these are opportunities. It's just an exciting time for anyone in the content creation space, if you get your development pipeline, if you get your scripts right, there is a market for it, and I think everyone's depending on what stage of evolution your company, your studio or production houses that some of them hit the jackpot earlier, some of them are hitting it later, but it all depends on us getting your raw material has to be in place, right. So I think really the constant self-constraint in terms of how do you make sure that the content that you are curating or creating is amongst the best, so that when you are putting it out there in the market, especially for OTT, it's picked up by the platform, and that really is the immediate challenge.

Will there be any significant change in your capex for next financial year?

We don't really have a CAPEX, our CAPEX is basically investment into acquisition of movies or signing off talent and producing and things like that. So won’t really call it CAPEX. In terms of cash-flow, of-course, as we are going more aggressive this year, we are looking at higher investment this year than what we did last year.