Zee Keralam delivers content that Malayali viewers aspire for: Santosh Nair

He speaks about the channel’s two year journey, challenges faced, & plans going forward.

MUMBAI: Neithedukkam Jeevitha Vismayangal, which means ‘Let’s weave wonders in life’ is the brand promise of Zee Keralam, one of the most recent additions to ZeeL’s stable of channels. Since its launch in November 2018, the general entertainment channel (GEC) has been swiftly growing, achieving 13 per cent market share, along with 300+ GRPs in the Kerala urban market, more than 65 per cent of the total TV population. Speaking to its success with the Malayalam audience is its second-highest TSV of 146 minutes per week.

Zee Keralam business head Santosh Nair remarked that the biggest takeaway he’s had in these two years is that good content is always well received and accepted. Said he: “Currently, our audience is looking for relatable stories with aspirational values. We try to mirror the heart and soul of every Malayali family. We did not consider ourselves at a disadvantage just because we were a brand-new channel, we looked into filling the gaps in the market for storylines that were different from existing ones, storylines that featured the true new Malayali family.” This approach worked well for the brand and helped it gain acceptance with its audiences.

Kerala as a market is home to legacy channels that have been around for 25+ years with a strong and consistent viewership. The market is currently dominated by Star India's Asianet followed by Flowers TV, Mazhavil Manorama, Zee Keralam is at fourth spot followed by Surya, according to the BARC data for week 47 (Saturday 21 November, Friday 27 November 2020). 

Zee Keralam’s initial challenge was to create a shift in the viewing patterns of the Malayali audience with differentiated content, positive storylines and a mixture of original and dubbed fictions, novel non-fiction shows on weekends and a decent movie library. The channel wanted to provide the audience with extraordinary content they hadn’t seen before.

Within the span of two years, Zee Keralam is among the top five Malayalam channels. Nair shared that the channel’s focus on creating extremely solid storylines for its fiction shows has been a main contributing factor for its growth. The channel tries to make them as realistic, fresh and relatable as possible; and this has been well received by the audience. In addition to this, its non-fiction shows have generated a lot of hype and buzz in the market. The channel also has a decent movie library that completes the entertainment package. He mentioned, “Our original content hours are at par with our competitors. That has been one of the key factors behind the growth of Zee Keralam as a brand.” 

Another major challenge, just like any other sector, has been the Covid2019 pandemic and lockdown. Nair detailed, “Even as we resumed shoots, we placed the safety of our cast and crew first which led to slower production timelines and output. But it was worth the risk since we wanted to ensure that we provided quality entertainment as well as adhere to all the safety protocols set by the government. Now as the world is slowly recovering, it’s heartening to see how we have pulled through this difficult phase together.” As of now, the channel has managed to conduct all its shoots without much delay while adhering to all safety protocols set by the government.

From PT 19.30 hours, the original programming line-up starts, and it goes up to 22:00 hours. The weekends feature entertaining non-fiction content in a variety of genres like comedy, reality and game show formats. Nair highlighted that the team constantly listens to feedback from its viewers and tailors the content in accordance with their tastes and preferences. Zee Keralam actively creates campaigns for all its launches and concentrates aggressively on the sustenance phase as well. The current sponsors on the channel include Cutee, BSY, myG, Swayamvara Silks, spices and condiments brand Eastern, Herbal Baby Kajal, and more.

Mplan Media CEO Parag Masteh revealed that post Onam there has been a good momentum, market sentiment is relatively positive in Kerala, ad-rates and inventory fill-in rates are almost at 70-80 per cent. He explained that all south states are a complete independent ecosystem all together, so the GEC space in each state is pretty huge by itself and therefore advertisers pay premium prices only. Said he, “Regional channels are performing better than national channels because you reach out to a precise audience and they are aware about the consumer behaviour pattern. When you do the national campaigns there is no primary trend that arises, it is just a large sample size but when you go through regional route, you are aware of how a Keralite will buy a product and what their brand affinity is.”

Masteh further revealed that at the entry-level there are many big brands that advertise regionally. Pharmaceutical brands are actively advertising in the south market. There are a lot of brands that have their supply chain only in a particular state. He’s of the view that while these brands have big pockets, they will not put their money on big channels because the supply chain is limited.

Kerala is the land of spices; hence, food brands would naturally come on board. Jewellery brands are not far behind. According to Masteh, the state is a very important market for jewellery majors like Abharan, Kalyan Jewellers, and Bheema, to name a few. Retail sector businesses are also active. Apart from this a lot of standalone individual companies also advertise. Also, a lot of national brands prefer to do hyper-local marketing. However, compared to last year ad rates have declined by 20-30 percent.

One of the highlights of Zee Keralam is that all shows in the primetime slots are equally well received and have a steady viewership, said Nair. In fact, he shared, in the last week three shows have crossed the 4+ average weekly TVR – Chembarathi at 19:00 hours, Neeyum Njanum at 19:30 hours and Karthikadeepam at 20:30 HRS. The channel’s latest non-fiction launches like Mr. & Mrs. and Let’s Rock N Roll are fast garnering a steady family audience base.

The channel’s immediate plan of action to engage audiences doesn’t end here – two more new shows are in the pipeline. The channel’s fiction shows feature prominent faces from the Malayalam industry like Vaishnavi Saikumar featuring in her debut serial Kaiyyethum Doorath and Swasika, one of the most popular artistes in the Malayalam industry, as the lead in upcoming serial Manampole Maangalyam. It has also roped in some of its popular SaReGaMaPa finalists like Aswin Vijayan and Swetha Ashok to sing the title songs of shows which further engages the audience who are familiar with the Zee Keralam family, while also pulling in new viewership. Nair added, “When shows reach peak points in their respective storylines, we feature a maha episode for uninterrupted viewership, which helps us build a larger audience base. We are looking forward to amping up our content line up with original content in all genres.”

Zee Keralam’s current content strategy is fiction driven, the primary objective is to concentrate on fiction shows and take them to the next level in terms of the storyline as well as production quality. The channel aims to provide “extraordinary entertainment” that is both progressive and rooted in the Malayali culture.

According to Nair, the channel currently has a good programming strategy, but it is looking to build it even further to make it an extraordinary one.

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