'Ambitious, not desperate' is how Nitin Vaidya, chief operating officer, ZEEL (ZEE Entertainment Enterprise Limited), describes the channel's vision. Vaidya took on the reigns of the national channels in October 2008, when STAR Plus had the major chunk of GRPs (300+), and Colors and Zee were separated by 25 GRPs, with the former leading. Cut to Week 22 this year, when Zee grabbed 245 GRPs, beating long time supreme STAR Plus. (See chart)
It has been a journey of continuous change. Media observers give credit to Zee's changing programming strategy for the turnaround, from a passive No. 3 to a fierce contender for the leadership position among GECs.
Mona Jain, head, strategic investments, India Media Exchange, agrees. "STAR Plus and Colors do indulge in tactical programmes, which could be through airing big ticket events and blockbuster movies," she says.
So what Zee set out to do was to build a core prime-time audience not just with one driver show but many, with a mix of reality as well as fiction, with emphasis on the latter.
It launched Chhoti Bahu (after Colors launched Balika Vadhu) and got its regional sibling's (Dance Bangla Dance) format show 'Dance India Dance' on weekends. Chhoti Bahu almost changed the fortune of Zee, with the channel being credited for introducing a new solid prime-time band at 7.30 pm. Today, the show commands a TVR of 3.4.
"We develop our own format. One of the key things is to test market the format in the regional channels, evolve it and get it on national," Vaidya says. The other adaptation that the channel introduced was an advertiser funded programme, called Wheel Ghar Ghar Mein, an improvised version of Zee Marathi show, Home Minister. The next season of its singing reality show, Little Champs, is on the cards.
At least three of its shows feature in the top 10 list every week and five of its shows deliver TVRs above 2.5. "We are not depending on one single show and would like to build each slot. We are growing at our own pace instead of creating short lived spikes in programming," Vaidya reasons, adding unabashedly, "The market respects the strong player and not the desperate one."
With its zestful 'back with a vengeance' attitude, Zee has won back media planners' confidence, who think that Zee is definitely here to heat up the battle. "Gone are the days of one clear leadership in the GEC segment. In the last few weeks, there has been neck-to-neck competition between the top three; it will remain a three player battle," Lakhani says.
With its new programming and steady approach, it has been able to build stability and viewership. Slow and steady, Vaidya hopes to win the race.