At Zee the battle goes on

By , agencyfaqs! | In | November 12, 2001
Three months after it launched its revamp, and despite setbacks, there is an air of defiance at Zee

MUMBAI, November 12

At Zee TV, it is war. Three months into the battle, and the mood is still combative, though the offensive seems to have bogged down.

Will Zee, which was at the top of Indian television charts for eight long years, reach that slot again?

In August this year, Zee relaunched its flagship channel Zee TV, with a fresh logo, slogan and 24 new shows spanning soap operas and interactive gameshows. The target? STAR TV. The time frame? Six months. Now, like the war in Afghanistan, the effort seems to be faltering, and, just like in the Afghan war, the criticism has been mounting.

And, to complicate matters, Sony, which also wants to be at the top, is making a determined bid to get its act together. Both the channels claim the second position, and are trying to fortify that slot, before moving on to take STAR. Media analysts who opine Sony trails behind Zee feel that Sony is trying to come from a weak No 3 to a strong No 2. Others feel that the two are neck and neck, or that Sony has pulled ahead.

Two things are, however, clear. Both are bidding for the top slot. And, Zee is now on the defensive. None of the 26 new programmes of Zee, launched after June 2001, when current group broadcasting CEO Sandeep Goyal took over, have made it to the Top 50. From a channel share of 6.63 in January 2000, Zee went down to a channel share of 3.51 per cent in September 2001. According to the ORG-Marg's INTAM peoplemeter data for the week October 15 to October 21, Zee has only two shows in the Top 100 - Amanat at 71, with a TRP rating of 2.94, and Mehndi Tere Naam Ki at 84, with a TRP rating of 2.74.

According to AC Nielsen's TAM peoplemeter data for the same period, Zee has four shows in the Top 100 - Mehndi Tere Naam Ki at 19 and a TVR of 3.29, Amanat at 27 and a TVR of 2.9, Koshish…Ek Aashaa at 28 with a TVR of 2.9, and Kohi Apna Sa at 35 with a TVR of 2.6.

Analysts argue that Zee went wrong in launching all its shows at one go, and was left without any option. Yet, in retrospect, Zee's choices were limited. In fact, it had just two other options - concentrate on one show, and market that with all its ability. Or launch a bouquet of three to four shows, and then tackle STAR. In both cases, there was no guarantee of success; but the launch of several shows at one go was more cost effective, going by the money spend per show. Industry sources estimate that Zee spend Rs 150 crore on the whole exercise, and about Rs 15 to 20 crore in media pull.

However, at Zee, the mood is optimistic. Says Partha Pratim Sinha, director, marketing, Zee Network, "It is very simple. There is nothing like a small change or a partial change. Some programmes are popular in an instant, others take some time." Sinha feels that the new shows will pick up. Indeed, Zee's financials are looking better. Despite all the hungama, Zee posted a profit in the third quarter of the current financial year.

Right now though, the channel's strategy seems to have gone a trifle awry. First, media analysts say that launching a broadside against a very strong STAR, which had dug its heels well and truly in, was a futile gesture for Zee. "Fighting to regain the top slot from STAR Plus is like trying to win a war against a much stronger and much smarter enemy from a back to the wall position. You can never win it at one go," argues Shripad Kulkarni, managing director, M:Ideas, Media Services, a Mumbai-based media consultancy firm.

Add to that, the marketing team at Zee was well and truly stretched. "It was a classic case of overreach. Many of the programmes, and channels, like Zee Music, that have great potential, remain undersold," points out Sandeep Singh, vice-president, marketing, of the rival SABe TV.

Zee did not help matters by making a few mistakes of its own. For one, it used this pretty young model to advertise all its new shows, throwing the average Indian viewer into total disarray. When the same girl grinned at them from the hoardings, quite a few people were confused. Was she in all the shows? Or is it just one show that is being touted?

Another blow was the ratings scam. The scam was certainly greeted with unholy glee at the channel. And that backfired, especially among media planners. "You can't challenge the currency when nobody else is challenging it. That was a big mistake," is how one senior television industry official puts it.

Zee's experience seems to have convinced Sony that the way to attack STAR is to go in for a staggered response. Concentrate on a few shows first. Dig in. Slowly bring about changes. However, in the bedlam world of television, that strategy alone may not yield results. It would have to be combined, say media analysts, with the right timing and positioning.

STAR is in a dominant position. It controls six of the Top 10 slots, with the first three firmly in hand. Yet, every empire has its Achilles' heel. One way to tackle STAR would be to attack it in the time slot 7 PM to 9 PM, where it is relatively weaker. STAR's cutback on the frequency of KBC has also left a gap. It is such gaps that rival channels can exploit, as the average viewer, who does not follow the listings, turns the TV on and is disappointed that KBC is not there. His instinctive reaction is to switch to the other channels to see what is on. Studies show that this is one moment when TV audiences can be swayed. Of course, STAR too is dabbling with new shows.

But, in a scenario where there is no channel loyalty, only programme loyalty, STAR, at that crucial moment would be on a level playing field with the other shows on other channels. That, say analysts, is the moment to strike. Sony has effectively cut into the KBC time with Kkusum. Yet, given the turmoil at Sony, Zee might have a fighting chance.

For a company whose shares came crashing down from the high of Rs 1,630 in February 2000 to Rs 68 in June 2001 (it is currently trading at around Rs 75), there is no way but to fight. How well it attacks will decide whether this will be a quick victory, or yet another weary engagement.

© agencyfaqs! 2001