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News is not about cacophony and stirring controversies: ZMCL's Rajiv Singh

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The Zee Group has completed a quarter of a century of its existence in India. Not only has it spread its wing far beyond television, since its first product launched was the channel Zee TV, but has tapped into almost all categories in the broadcast space. With a solid presence in entertainment and news already, the last puzzle was fixed when it dived into the tough waters of English news space.

World is One News (WION) was first aired on 15 August 2016. Independence Day was the perfect occasion to launch India’s first global English news channel with a south Asian tinge. Ex-editor in chief Rohit Gandhi announced during the launch that the channel would meet the aspirations of two billion south Asians by delivering a global news network reflecting a south Asian world perspective, which has been missing.

The channel was to be a destination for not just news but also some lifestyle, human stories, animals, food and environment related information. Its target is to capture the upcoming tech-savvy and visual Gen Z, the earliest of whom are just venturing into the corporate world.

Indiantelevision.com’s Santosh Jangid got talking with Zee Media Corp’s group COO Rajiv Singh where he opens up about the ‘year old baby' WION for the first time. Excerpts:

How has the journey been for ZMCL?

From then to now, we’ve established 13 channels with 220 million viewers. We are largest television news network in Hindi speaking markets. Television is core to our business and the last 25 years have helped us to become a large content media conglomerate. The future looks extremely bright, as we have built a strong efficiency over the years.

Enlighten us about WION and its progress.

When we entered the English news segment, we clearly knew that there is hardly an international player. India is a global economy and anything and everything that India does impacts the globe. We wanted to give global Indians a global voice and India never had that. WION complements our existing footprint in 171 countries and so we know we can quickly ramp up this business to scale new heights and make India stand out globally. We started that journey by giving the channel a very global look and feel. We have built it up as an aspirational channel and we are not interested in the number one game in India. We want to create a channel that is a content differentiator. WION is just a year old but it has managed to carve a niche for itself.

What is your distribution strategy for the channel?

WION has established a distribution centre in South Africa and shortly we will be transcending into new global corridors. Zee Media is already available in nine languages on GEC. How much time does it take to enter those markets by just tweaking the content and making WION relevant to every Indian!

What makes WION a disruptor among the existing channels?

WION stands for World Is One News which implies what affects the world, affects us all. We believe that news dissemination is not about cacophony and stirring controversies around breaking news. It is about building in-depth content, analysis and about investing a lot in curating and building content and for that, one needs to have international investments and international bureaus. WION has expanded to around 20 countries by expanding our international bureaus. It is one of the rare few channels to be operating out of a full bureau in Pakistan and a full-fledged office in London and the US, and a correspondent in Beijing. Soon WION will crossover from an Asian to a global channel.

What is the local to international skew? What kind of news do you cover?

WION has international content aired from 6 pm to 12 am. The channel has 60 per cent international content and 40 per cent Indian content that is internationally relevant. We do chase Indian relevant stories and as they say, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ W show Indian content with a global tinge and ‘international’ as a word is misinterpreted. BBC in the UK and Al Jazeera in the Middle East are international channels but that doesn’t mean they don’t show what happens in their region and home territory.

It is a niche market that the channel operates in. What have been some of the major challenges for you?

It has been a challenging uphill climb but the channel has been accepted by discerning viewers. WION is available across all cable households in India. Although we have received some feedback that wasn’t very encouraging where viewers didn’t like the content or the overall channel, we take them as constructive feedback and insights and we are willing to improve that to make the content relevant to our customers.

Where does most of your viewership coming from?

Majority of our viewership largely comes from six metros but a large part of it also comes from foreigners residing in India as they are able to correlate with the channel effectively. The channel has a premium audience.

How will you ramp up your distribution strategy?

We are working towards building a global distribution network. We are in talks with The US to start global distribution. We will also make relevant content for markets like The Middle East, United Kingdom, United States and Canada. We will have more global networks next year added to our kitty of distribution.

What target have you set for next year?

We want to make the channel independently stand out in English news genre, add more distribution networks, and have more bureaus.

When can we see the rollout of your OTT platform?

We will have our platform very soon that will take the feed from the television channel and mirror that on OTT.

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