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India’s Zee Entertainment Enterprises is having a growth spurt, both domestically and on the global stage, reports Richard Middleton.

Amit Goenka
India might have a population of 1.2 billion but that’s not stopping Mumbai-based cabsat broadcaster Zee Entertainment Enterprises from looking beyond its own market for new opportunities.
With more than 30 Indian channels and almost 40 international networks on its books, Essel Group-owned Zee is already pretty well accustomed to expanding into new territories, claiming to reach viewers in almost 170 countries.
The company has for some time been a regular at industry events, shopping its unscripted formats under its global syndication head Sunita Uchil. These include talent show Dance India Dance, now in its fifth season in India and picked up for local production in Thailand, as well as lifestyle programmes Rock Your Yoga, Good Food America and Flip My Food.

Yet clearly there are plenty more miles in the company’s expansion plans, and Amit Goenka, CEO of Zee’s international broadcast business, says he envisages “substantial growth” outside of India as well as domestic developments.
Exporting more of its original content via markets such as Mipcom has been on Zee’s agenda for some time, while channel launches and new OTT services are also planned.

Dance India Dance is now in its fifth season in India

Only last week, Germany became the latest territory to get some Zee love with new female-skewing drama channel Zee One, a 24-hour net offering Bollywood movies, Indian series and entertainment formats.
“It’s coming directly from us – we’ve not partnered with anyone – and is a free-to-air Bollywood movie channel,” says Goenka. “Bollywood content has done fairly well in Germany, at least the bits and pieces that have been exposed to viewers, so we see good traction for it.
“It’s a big launch for us this year, going into the mainstream European market. The target audience is mainly females, aged 19 upwards.”

Such an entrance is helped, of course, by Zee owning the largest Hindi film library in the world, amounting to almost quarter of a million hours of programming. On top of that there is a 3,500-plus movie reserve that can be tapped for international launches.

Goenka says around 250 movies have already been dubbed into German and further programming is being acquired, with wraparound shows also being prepared that will feature local hosts. Zee already operates foreign-language channels around the world, with French and English offerings in Africa sitting next to Russian, Arabic and an array of Southeast Asian services.

“We’ve done extensive research in a lot of markets, including Latin America, Portugal, Spain, Poland, Australia and China, and everywhere is getting positive feedback for content,” Goenka continues, hinting at the extent of the company’s ambitions.

“Of course, it depends on priorities and our investment appetite for each year, but over the next three years we’re expecting 15 new launches, “he adds, having recently hired a former Zodiak Media exec to get more Zee channels on air in the Americas.

Rock Your Yoga airs on Z Living in the US

Perhaps Zee’s best-known global offering is Z Living. Goenka says he has “big plans” for the US cable network, which airs lifestyle shows such as Rock Your Yoga and Flip My Food.

Goenka is planning to double the network’s distribution to 40 million homes and build on the channel’s USP, which is not simply about creating and airing healthy cooking and fitness shows.

“That’s easy to do and they can travel well globally but what we’re trying to do is create some formats that don’t tell people to eat healthily by seeing a healthy recipe but by making it fun to see a healthy cooking show and adapting their own cooking style.”

Plans are also afoot for further OTT services joining Ditto TV, with an international SVoD service that could be set to compete with the likes of Netflix. Local Indian shows would be available along with programming from global suppliers.

Goenka adds that original programming could be prepared for the OTT service, with its first roll-out likely to be in India later this year as part of the company’s “big plans on the digital side.” But he admits his home market is a challenging environment, where the likes of Star TV’s Hotstar and regional players such as Spuul and Hungama compete for eyeballs with global players such as Netflix, which launched in India last year.

Zee’s advantage is perhaps its past form on the VoD front in India. It launched DishFlix last year to counter the threat of Netflix and, around the same time, SVoD service Zee Family emerged in Asia Pacific. The service is another indicator of Zee’s global ambitions and its intention to secure a greater share of the global viewership in addition to its sizeable home market.