Benita Chacko

Integrated buying of linear and digital platforms should be the norm: Zee Media's Mona Jain

With elections and sporting properties coinciding with the festive season, 2023 is an exciting year for news channels. The chief revenue officer speaks about her expectations, plans and challenges for the year ahead.

The festive season is an exciting time for all television channels. But when it coincides with major events like sports tournaments or elections it becomes even more important for news channels. Festivals hold great significance for them, with numerous regional channels investing heavily in their state’s celebrations. They forge on-ground partnerships and local tie-ups and create captivating programming for strong consumer engagement.

However, this time, news channels have an added bonus due to the upcoming Asia Cup and World Cup. Followed by five state elections in November and December. 

In an interview with afaqs!, Mona Jain, chief revenue officer, Zee Media says she expects the advertising revenue during this period to contribute around 35-40% of the annual revenue. Speaking about the network’s CTV strategy, she says that currently, it is prioritising growth and not revenue. It aims to build a strong audience base. 

Further, she highlights that advertisers should consider linear and digital platforms together to maximise their reach and they should value that and pay the price that they truly deserve. 

Edited Excerpts:

What is the boost in revenue that you are expecting during this festive period?

Festivals have consistently yielded higher revenue. The peak of the festive season occurs during September and October, contributing to about 35-40% of the annual revenue over eight to nine weeks. This consistent trend of revenue increase is expected.

Furthermore, this year presents an additional factor: elections. The electoral cycle, spanning from now until December, adds to the dynamic. This succession of events includes assembly and state elections, culminating in the Lok Sabha election. So this year there will be a back-to-back carnival of elections.

How much will the elections contribute in the ad revenue?

This year's election coverage holds substantial significance, amplified by digital media and on-ground activity. Viewers are interested in the political landscape, including parliament sessions and strategies of various parties. With our network's reach, we cover key states like MP, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, and more through local channels, offering deep insights. Our extensive stringer network ensures comprehensive coverage, disseminating relevant information to both local and national channels. Our content, backed by data analytics, aims to educate viewers and make elections a crucial and informed focus. We will also be launching our Telugu channel, which is already in the digital space, on television.

On average, a natural boost of 20-30% is expected. This increase can even surpass these figures but not less than the mentioned range.

How important are cricketing properties for a news channel?

News channels can provide a unique angle to topical subjects. They offer insightful twists, summaries, and analyses, often with a touch of humour. While sports channels offer factual coverage, news channels present sporting  information in an engaging format. This approach appeals to those seeking snapshots of events, including behind-the-scenes trivia and expert opinions. Advertisers who wish to associate with cricket find value in news coverage, especially when they can't feature during live matches. The live matches may be unaffordable for them, but this allows them to connect with their relevant audience.

What are the new ad formats you will be experimenting with?

We're introducing Bazinga—an in-house gaming app that will allow advertisers to engage with viewers through gaming. By scanning a QR code displayed on the TV channel, users access the Bazinga site to play a game. Advertisers can brand the game for visibility and engagement, offering gifts and vouchers as rewards on their page. 

Several niche regional channels are being launched, for example, Zee Kesar for Kashmir. Is this expansion influenced by advertisers showing interest in these audiences?

Certainly. We're seeing FMCGs and automotive brands keen to engage with audiences on a cultural level. This trend involves tailoring advertising to each state's unique culture and language. This approach fosters deeper connections, as the message resonates authentically, leading to increased comprehension, loyalty, and affinity towards the brand. It's about speaking their language and aligning with their culture, making it a highly effective strategy.

Right now we are prioritising growth over immediate revenue (for CTV). We're building a foundational audience base. This approach ensures a robust market entry with better yields and propositions.

What is the kind of growth you are expecting from CTV?

While it's a serious focus for our future, it demands strategic tie-ups and infrastructure development to establish a strong CTV presence. Right now we are prioritising growth over immediate revenue. We're building a foundational audience base. This approach ensures a robust market entry with better yields and propositions. Initially, we have our regional channels, but we will also be launching more channels.

While Zee24 Taas is on CTV, Zee Telugu is not. What are the factors that play a role in these decisions?

It lies in understanding the demographics and psychographics of the audience within a state. Currently, the CTV viewership tends to be urban, aspirational, and higher on the socioeconomic scale. If a particular channel aligns with the preferences of this audience segment and operates within their favoured genre, then it's a strategic choice. Such alignment makes clear sense in terms of effectiveness.

My future focus revolves around expanding my presence with retail clients and emerging markets, particularly SMEs and MSMEs that are experiencing growth.

What is the network's focus going to be this year, in terms of revenue? 

Looking ahead, I strongly believe that we must increase engagement and align with brands' purposes in the news genre. Brands seek news for rapid and efficient reach, tangible viewer connections, and showcasing their propositions.

My future focus revolves around expanding my presence with retail clients and emerging markets, particularly SMEs and MSMEs that are experiencing growth. To this end, I'll emphasise ground-level properties and IPs, creating avenues for brands to participate. These initiatives align with diverse CSR agendas— sustainability, women's empowerment and health—and address strategic brand goals. Our goal is to foster opportunities and events that resonate with the concerns and aspirations of our audience.

What are the challenges that you need to overcome in 2023 to witness growth?

Integrated buying of linear and digital platforms should be the norm. Our huge digital audience can complement linear viewership for maximum reach. This synergy creates immense opportunities. If they buy together the impact or the reach it creates is far superior and advertisers must recognise its value. I aim for this synergy to be fully realised, and we want the advertisers to pay the price that we truly deserve.

What are the categories that are spending on news channels? 

Healthcare and pharma have gained prominence, especially post-COVID. Emerging strongly is the EV sector, including ancillary categories like batteries. eCommerce is witnessing a surge, particularly smaller setups. Education remains consistently relevant, specifically international education. Countries are spending a lot, both education and tourism. Post-COVID, tourism has rebounded, particularly for Indians, making us a pivotal platform for these initiatives.

Post-COVID advertisers are expanding their horizons beyond traditional commercial time. Branded content has gained traction, aligning with their brand purpose effectively. Advertisers now view our channels through a broader, more innovative lens, creating opportunities that extend beyond their previous perspectives. This shift has brought about a positive change in how advertisers engage with us.

What about startups? Are they betting big on news networks?

Startups find value in news channels and print as their primary choice for exposure. News channels help build reach efficiently with cost-effective investments. They reduce risk while offering flexible immediacy. For startups, we offer unique growth capital options, so we're able to mitigate risk for them. This involves their commitment over a period while we provide brand-building support using our assets. Additionally, we enable B2B engagement by creating opportunities and events for relevant audiences. This inclusive approach bridges the gap between B2B and B2C conversations, making us a vital platform for these interactions.

Have news to share? Write to us