Alokananda Chakraborty

Zee revamps programming, bets on diversity

While at first glance, Zee’s programming strategy seems confusing, the channel is following a well thought out plan to stress diversity

If there is one thing that Zee does not lack, it is audacity. The channel launched a 100 shows at once, unprecedented in Indian television history, and now has launched a whole new set of programmes, across genres, and bang in prime time, confusing media planners.

Sources at the channel, however, say that Zee is following a well thought out strategy in the launch of its new shows. "What we are offering is completely different programming, and making this the key to our programming strategy. When it comes to creative products, there is no hard and fast rule as to what will succeed or what will not. And what we want to give the viewer, is choice," says Partha Pratim Sinha, director, marketing, Zee Telefilms. The channel will also launch another new programme, Khelo Number Khelo, a game show, hosted by Archana Puran Singh in the 9.00 pm to 9.30 pm slot, Thursdays, starting April 11.

As is apparent, what the channel is banking on is being different.

At the same time, Zee has also gone in for audacious decisions, such as pitting its new serial Tu Kahe Agar (Monday to Thursday, 10.30 pm) against STAR Plus's top ranker, Kyunki Saas Bhi Bahu Thi. The channel has also pushed its Choti Maa out of the 9.00 pm to 9.30 p.m. slot to the 10.00 pm to 10.30 pm slot, again pitting the show against STAR Plus's top "bahu" serials. The game show Nilaam Ghar-Bid Bid Boom will now be in the 9.00 pm to 9.30 pm slot on Mondays and Tuesdays.

In this, the channel is going in direct contrast to the strategy of the other channels. Sony, for example, in the heyday of KBC, packed its programmes with fillers, and then when KBC slowly began to lose popularity, came out with Kutumb, which did quite well. Right now, Sony is pitting its strongest shows against industry leader STAR Plus's weaker ones, and is following a strategy of slowly building up its base. "The usual strategy is to pit your strong shows against your opponent's weaker ones. However, what Zee is doing is akin to the marketing strategy of pitting your products against your rivals' strongest ones," observes a senior media planner.

While the timing does not seem to be too clever at first, analysts say that a lot of thinking has gone into the launch of Tu Kahe Agar. For one, Zee has taken a theme that is almost as big an obsession with Indian audiences as the "bahu" phenomenon, which STAR Plus has capitalised on. The cog for Zee is astrology. "If there is something that Indian audiences are as obsessed by as the bahu concept, it is kundli," reveals a senior programming official at the channel. To ensure that the show does well, the story is also about love, and desire, and all the other things that have made countless Hindi serials, and movies, a success.

In a nutshell, the story goes something like this. Vishal and Maya are in love; but Vishal's kundli (horoscope) predicts that the girl who marries him will die in six months' time. So Trishna, an office colleague, agrees to marry Vishal. Maya lets this happen, knowing that Trishna, who is dying of blood cancer, will not last beyond six months. However, Vishal and Trishna get attracted to each other and Trishna becomes pregnant, thus ensuring there is quite a lot for viewers to chew on.

While Zee might have picked up the right formula, the challenge will be two fold. One it will have to have unbeatable programming, and two, it will have to let viewers know that they do have an alternative in the 10.30 pm slot. Traditionally, channel surfing has been a major way for viewers to literally stumble upon new shows. Tu Kahe Agar will not have that advantage. Given the popularity of the "bahu" serials in that slot, channel surfing hits a low in the 10.30 pm slot. Says Gopinath Menon, vice-president, TBWA Anthem, "All new programmes on Zee have been advertised heavily for at least four to six weeks prior to launch. There hasn't been any major advertising blitz around this programme in particular. I guess what Zee plans to do is let the show go on air, build up a base and generate enough pull or a high demand among planners to park their money on."

Therein comes the need for strong programming. "The moment you put a programme against a strong programme, the new programme gets compared with the strong one," says Sandip Tarkas, associate vice-president and manager, HTA Fulcrum. But Zee is combative. "Just because STAR Plus has a strong show in that slot, does not mean we are going to put a filler there. What we have put is a show that is different," argues Sinha of Zee. Letting the viewer know that a different show exists will thus be the big challenge.

The show is just one innovation among many that the channel has taken up as part of its strategy to be "as different as can be" - as Sinha defines it. Zee is also making a few changes in its star show Amaanat (Thursdays, 8.00 pm). Toeing KSBKBT, the serial fast forwards by 20 years, to introduce a whole new cast. The new episodes will start off on Thursday, April 4, 2002, at 8:00 pm.

To put forward diversity as its key in the new programming strategy, the channel is also bringing back its talent hunt Sa Re Ga Ma in a new format, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. The channel has roped in MTV Asian Award winning pop artist Shaan Mukherjee as the host. This time around, the show will have four singers in each round, one pair of which gets eliminated. The winning pair will then compete with a new pair, and so on, till the final round. At the end of the year, there will be a grand event in which the winners of the year will perform. This will be a 22-hour-odd show, which will spread over four to six episodes.

Here, the channel is banking on the popularity of talent shows. A similar show on STAR Plus, as well as the Coke-[V] talent hunt, has been doing well. "The formula is good. What remains to be seen is how it is sold," is how one senior Mumbai-based analyst judges the whole new programming initiative of Zee.

A lot is at stake for Zee. Out of the Rs 3,600-crore television ad pie, three-fourths is garnered by the top three players. Getting to the top of the heap is what it is all about. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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