Zee goes into overdrive down south as festive season approaches

Its southern cluster head Siju Prabhakaran is confident that revenues will flow in.

MUMBAI: Down south, leading Indian TV network, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (Zeel) is penning a new script in its run-up to the festive season.  When the Indian government announced the lockdown, it slammed the doors tight on the inflow of revenues for the whole economy – with the exception of a few sectors. Television channels, which are reliant on ad revenues from companies mesmerising consumers to go out and buy products through TVCs, in particular, felt the pain immediately. Even as bound-at-home India watched more and more television, advertisers turned off the advertising tap. Result: for nearly four months, and more, anywhere between 50-80 per cent of broadcast revenues disappeared poof into thin air.

Broadcast executives have been working day and night - since the gradual lifting of the lockdown two months back – to get advertisers to spend more and pay more the advertising spots. Most of them are banking on the upcoming festival season to get them out of the hole they are in currently. Yes, they are expecting a spike but they are wise enough to know that it is going to lag behind the massive festive ad bumps they had in 2018 and 2019.

Zeel, which was a very close number two in the viewership sweepstakes nationally (with its share of 21 per cent just behind Star’s 22 per cent) in the four weeks between week 32 and 35, has a very robust southern language business cutting across general entertainment and movie channels in Kannada, Telugu and Tamil. Like other networks, Zeel’s southern cluster  too  saw its revenues getting bashed, and has recently redone the programming for some of its channels and is planning to keep doing it even more in the forthcoming months.

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“Consumer connect is at the heart of our business and every channel did their own understanding of consumers and picked up on viewership trends and emerging habits,” says ZEEL south business EVP & cluster head Siju Prabhakaran. “We used these learnings as insights during our return in each of the markets. Our channels therefore have made a strong comeback in each of our markets `backed with great content.”

While southern viewers gorge on their local heroes and stories in each of their languages, they have also been open to consuming series from other languages and regions as long as they are dubbed. Prabhakaran, therefore, cross dubbed content from the different language networks and put the shows on air. And it worked: cross –pollination of good content with the language being the main facilitator has helped the network to retain its viewers.

Zee Kannada and Keralam were amongst the first ones to start airing fresh episodes and fresh shows in June thanks to the fact that the governments of those states permitted TV productions to commence. With no new movies being released or produced, the new episodes came as a breath of fresh air for Zee Kannada, pole-vaulted it to leadership during prime time and in the non-fiction and fiction categories.

Prabhakaran is looking at further strengthening Zee Kannada’s line up. Says he: “During the upcoming festive season, we have great offerings for our viewers, with our marquee property Zee Kudumba Awards and this weekend we are also launching comedy Kiladigalu. In addition, we launched a new season of SaReGaMaPa on Zee Kannada recently with 9.8 TVR. Zee Kannada has around 36 – 37 per cent market share.”

Assessing the Andhra Pradesh and Telangana market, he points out that Zee Telugu, which was on a recovery path,  has emerged stronger during this time. Zee Telugu is the number one channel in Andhra Pradesh market within the GEC space. The channel launched 14 fiction shows in one single day. To announce its comeback, it  launched a brand campaign called “Vinodaniki Aahvanam” meaning “Welcoming back the entertainment” with brand ambassadors from its prime time shows.

Zee Telugu is itching to launch its marquee property Zee Kutumba awards and bring on the world television premiere of Saaho and two new fiction shows during the upcoming festive season.

Zee Tamil returned with fresh shows during the latter half of June. “In Tamil Nadu, the market was most affected in initial phases. However, post comeback we are a strong number two gaining slot leadership, two shows amongst the top five, and four shows amongst the top 10. It is also the number one channel in the prime-time slot and a leader in the fiction genre,” avers  Prabhakaran.

Zee Tamil has an interesting line-up for the festival season with Zee Kutumba awards, world television premieres of interesting movies like Ennai Nooki Payum Thotta, Saaho. It is also launching two new fiction shows- Suryavamsam and Dr. Ambedkar - in the third week of September.

The less than two-year-old Zee Keralam is also gaining ground, says Prabhakaran, with its 13 per cent share of Kerala market and new non-fiction show are  on the production floors, awaiting a flag off on the channel.

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Its movie channels Zee Thirai in Tamil and Zee Picchar in Kannada were launched prior to lockdown and today occupy the number three (20 per cent share in Chennai; 17 per cent in urban markets) and number two slots. The Telugu movie channel Zee Cinemalu grew organically with the growth in movie watching during the lockdown leading to its market share increasing to 27 per cent from 22 per cent earlier.

Shares Prabhakaran:  “Across southern markets, we have a great cluster story, as a network. Zee has 21 per cent share of the all India viewership and 1/3 of the viewership comes from the south cluster. The south region itself gained prominence. In times to come with the content line-up these would be a strong set of channels. Therefore, in terms of our festive plans- during October and November, all channels are doing three to five launches of their own in their own markets in fiction and non-fiction.”

Prabhakaran expects all this action to translate into a rise of ad revenues. Says he; “We see September with the festival buoyancy push ad revenues up to November. With businesses coming back and retail outlets opening up, it presents a conducive environment for people to go out and shop given the general opinion that we can co-exist with the pandemic in the current situation till a vaccine is found. Therefore, we see the comeback of advertising as a positive sign.” 

He asserts that July onwards ad-rates have been coming back on track and will only improve further in the coming months and possibly reach pre-Covid2019 levels. Post-Diwali he is expecting a steady increase in revenue.

“When Onam came we did not know how it would turn out, but surprisingly in the last week of Onam things did pretty well. I wouldn’t compare it with the previous years, but it did reasonably well. For the past couple of years, Kerala has gone through a lot, but this year at least people could go out and shop,” he shares.

Onam is the starting point of the festive season followed by Ganesh Chaturthi, Diwali, Dussehra, Christmas, and New Year. “Our content pipeline is testimony to the fact that we are looking at a very strong festive season,” he points out. “Also, there are a lot of categories, which did not advertise in Q1 and Q2. These have now postponed their media investments to Q3 and Q4. I think the festival is going to be the bigger recovery because if something gets to a point of inertia it needs a bigger push to bounce back.”

Brands, which would have opted for print advertising or OOH, are now looking at television as a medium, he believes, because it's the fastest and best way to target the masses who are still bogged down at home. Automobile, telecom, e-commerce, real estate, edutech, and retail are the sectors, which are likely to go ballistic in the coming few months, giving a lift to economic activity. And in the process, hopefully, Zeel’s southern cluster.

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