ZEEL's Siju Prabhakaran on TRAI tariff order impact, regional growth and rural viewership

Rural audiences are more loyal than urban audiences

MUMBAI: The situation created by the new TRAI tariff order (NTO) has become a reality check for the whole television industry. Big networks could earlier ensure that several channels are clubbed together by the DPO but now with power in the hands of the consumer, each channel has to fight hard for every TV set. caught up with Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL) south cluster head and Zee Tamil business head Siju Prabhakaran, discussing the impact of the regime on its regional cluster’s viewership and advertising pattern, the scope of regional TV viewing against mushrooming OTT platforms and others.

He is of the opinion that unique content will always get your channel to be picked. Breaking the myth that rural audiences aren’t engaged, Prabhakaran says that, in fact, rural viewers are more loyal than urban viewers.

Edited Excerpts: 

Could you elaborate a bit about the performance of the south cluster channels? Has the viewership increased or decreased?

We, as a network, have a healthy growth this year. We have our strong number 2 channel in Tamil which is Zee Tamil. We have also seen a huge growth in fiction. Even in Karnataka, Zee Kannada is the number 1 channel this year. That is a big shift from last year where we were in second place and this has come on the back of great fiction and non-fiction content where we have always been very strong. Part of the growth of the cluster has also been possible because of the launch of Zee Keralam.

How has been the impact on the viewership pattern due to the implementation of the new TRAI tariff order?

As per BARC’s rules, we are not in a position to quote number. Having said that, we do have an advantage from the TRAI tariff order that the consumers select the channel that they want and they pay for only those channels. The making is in their hands, so the brands and channels which have been built on the back of great content, always get picked. We do see Zee channels being picked.

What do you think is the impact of the TRAI tariff order on the whole regional space?

We know for a fact that India is a country of many languages and if you give good content in their own language, they would rather prefer that. To that extent, regional content is growing across India and in the southern regional space there has been a great penetration of TV. This growth will have an impact on advertising and subscription because viewers are willing to watch and pay for it. But the other aspect is that we need to improve the advertising rates in the regional space.

Several consumers had complained of a blackout due to the implementation of NTO. Did that affect you in any form?

There were obviously timelines set and there were many extensions that happened but the whole transition for the regional segment has been very smooth. There wasn’t any blackout as such, there must have been a few issues here and there but consumers have been asking for the in-demand channels.

Will this new regime also affect your content strategy? Especially since bills are rising and consumers could be forced to unsubscribe some channels.

While the regime has come now, consumer focus was always there because in this business consumers’ love for content is what we want. Yes, it is more responsibility on content providers and broadcasters and for that we are continuously keeping an ear to the ground to understand consumer preferences and changes so that we can make our content strategy on the basis of that.

It was reported that the Adex on Hindi GECs reduced to 9 per cent in FY18 as compared to an increase of 5.4 per cent in regional channels. What, according to you, is the reason?

There are two aspects to it. First is the huge quantity of content that is now being offered in regional versus previously where English or Hindi was the focus. Second is the quality of content. The formats, the best of storytelling and films are available in regional markets and the scale is only improving. The quality of making is also equal to some national market shows. Even OTT platforms are making good regional content today.

As you said, OTT platforms are constantly investing in regional content. Does that add more pressure on regional TV? How is regional TV competing with OTT?

If you look at the viewership data, the time spent on TV is growing. TV as a medium is only growing. But having said that, OTT is giving a lot of original content and content that is available on TV. So the good way to look at it is that both will grow at a different level. Maybe since it’s a new space and it will grow at a much faster pace, but TV is a more stabilised medium.

In rural areas, do you think consumers will be willing to pay for the regional channels? How are you attracting these rural audiences?

Yes! In every region, there is always an upper hand rural market and conventional understanding is that rural areas are more rooted in language culture. If we are giving content that resonates with the rural audience, they are more loyal than urban audiences.

With IPL ongoing and with elections around the corner, do you think that the viewership pattern for the regional segment is going to be affected? Any plans to alter your programming line-up?

IPL has been going on for more than 10 years now so broadcasters know their timings too. Elections are also a periodic phenomenon that comes after 4-5 years. One needs to understand that most of the channels are habit driven channels and they are the part and parcel of daily entertainment. We do have launches planned across our channels. So these things don’t matter as such.

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