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Zee's fiction goes digital: Novel focus?

By Devesh Gupta , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | January 10, 2013
With a series of Facebook apps, Twitter handles, augmented reality games and interactive voice response systems, the network is trying to increase the presence of its fiction properties on the digital medium. Has the channel missed the digital bus?

While extensive use of digital is steadily gathering strength to promote reality shows across channels, interestingly, Zee TV is assembling a slow but aggressive digital focus on its fiction properties as well.

Fear Files

Housewife

It has launched a slew of initiatives including apps, social media discussions, augmented reality games and interactive voice response systems to reach out to its audience and create a buzz for its fiction shows such as Sapne Suhane Ladakpan Ke, Qubool Hai and Fear Files, amongst others.

Recently, it designed a virtual temple on the Facebook page of the mythological show, Ramayana, to generate buzz with the promise of a few moments of daily spiritual solace for netizens. An augmented reality game was also launched in the malls in Mumbai. The 90-second game required people to stand in front of the screen and shoot an arrow at the demon king, Ravan.

The channel launched a similar augmented reality for its horror fiction, Fear Files, to increase viewer engagement. Huge LED screens were put up in malls in Mumbai and New Delhi in an enclosed dark unit that reflected as mirrors. The viewers who entered the setup could only see their reflections on the screens and a visual apparition would then appear out of nowhere, taking the audience by surprise.

The channel has also launched some interesting apps for its reality properties, a recent one being the app for its singing reality show 'Sa Re Ga Ma Pa'. This was an extension of the much-hyped mobile application (launched for Dance India Dance) that enabled viewers to watch older episodes, follow the competition and even chat with the participants or mentors in the show.

However, the focus on the fiction promotion on digital hasn't faded. For an upcoming fiction property, 'Housewife', Zee launched a Facebook app. With this app, housewives can upload their pictures that show them running a business, teaching a neighbourhood child or engaging in other activities. The app users can exchange notes with other housewives about their achievements.

Akash Chawla

Earlier, the channel had launched social media discussions around its fiction shows such as Qubool Hai and Sapne Suhane Ladakpan Ke, where audiences could interact with the protagonists directly and discuss their problems with them.

In 2012, the channel made it a point to be visible on the digital platform, with a specific increase in expenditure on the online medium. Akash Chawla, head, marketing, national channels, ZEEL, says, "Promotions on the digital medium was always a part of every plan. Be it social networking sites, augmented reality, mobile or IVRS, we are trying to engage with our audiences through it. Now, we have decided to push the engagement to another level. We will come up with more innovations in the coming year."

He confirms that the network has increased the spends on the digital medium from an earlier 3-4 per cent of the total marketing spends, to a current 10-14 per cent (for 2012).

ZEEL reasons its investment in the platform with advantages such as reduced contact cost per consumer, attracting a wider range of audience and creating more conversations around the subject, creating more communities.

Interestingly, at a time when digital is still considered to be more of a youth phenomenon and most GECs are promoting reality shows, why is the channel trying to push fiction through the medium? Is it a late entrant in the league, or is spreading fiction on digital the new trend?

Priti Murthy

Sundeep Nagpal

Pratik Rathod

The network chooses to assume that extensive use of digital is a new trend. Chawla dismisses the late entrant proposition and says, "If we see the digital penetration data, a sizeable number of females (both in metros and smaller cities) are using the social media and other media to watch these shows and participate in the discussions that happen on the social media."

He stresses that the channel has unique strategies for each of the properties and digital has a huge potential. "Increasing activity on the digital medium has given Zee a good presence across the different places where the network's out of home has not been able to reach," he reveals.

Experts, however, contradict the view and claim that Zee is actually a late entrant in the field. Priti Murthy, national director, consumer insights, Maxus feels that this could be an attempt by the channel to connect with the urban youth. The channel is still behind its counterparts in the urban markets. She adds that promoting properties on the digital medium is a norm today and with fictions, Zee is only trying to be ahead at the curve.

Sundeep Nagpal, director, Stratagem Media believes that Zee is trying to catch the digital bus while everyone else has already taken it. "Channels like Sony (KBC) and Colors (Bigg Boss), with their reality properties which are aired across the week, consume a lot of prime time. Zee has only Sa Re Ga Ma Pa on weekend primetime, so to keep up the pace and constantly connect with its audience, digital is the best option for it," adds Nagpal.

He further adds that the course of these activities depends on the revenue streams that they are able to generate for the channel.

Another industry source points out that Zee promoting its properties on the digital medium is an entirely programming-based marketing activity. It will be too early to say whether it has increased its spends on promotions on the digital medium in the fiction domain or the reality domain. But, he considers this to be a logical move as the GenNext audiences are on digital only.

Expressing doubts about the effect of the digital campaign in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, an anonymous media expert mentions that the smaller cities and towns have very low internet connectivity. He adds that the move doesn't look very logical if the target is to tap these smaller towns. Also, the internet plans for the mobile platform are too expensive for this audience to avail the online promotional campaigns.

Avinash Pillai, director, national buying, Mediacom suggests that digital marketing is not an expensive medium. "Through digital, the marketing communications of the channel can easily reach out to all those people who are otherwise tough to connect to."

He further adds that Zee has more of mainstream audiences and this might solely be an attempt to grab more and younger eyeballs.

Pratik Rathod, buying head, Maxus Mumbai, says that the digital campaign for any show depends on the kind of the content that it sports. "For instance, digital promotions for any saas-bahu saga will not make as much sense as any youth-based love story would. Likewise, even for the reality genre, the shows which have buzz-worthy content, for example Bigg Boss, can have a strong and fruitful campaign on the online platform."

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