What makes Zee such a force to reckon with

01 Oct,2012


By Pradyuman Maheshwari


I still remember the day a few weeks before Subhash Chandra was setting up Zee TV. Although I would edit a computer magazine then, I would review television for film trade weekly Screen and moonlight for a few publications.


Those were early days of television. Films dominated all magazines and newspapers, there weren’t too many journalists who wanted to cover television, even as viewership for the small screen was rising. This was good news for rookie media journalists like me.


Star Plus wasn’t for the masses then – though shows like The Bold and The Beautiful and Santa Barbara were very popular with the urban set. One would watch the BBC to find out what actually happened at Ayodhya in 1992, and many of us would be nuts about the graphics on MTV and knew each veejay by name.


Zee arrived and not many took it very seriously initially. All we knew was that a Subhash Chandra Goel was behind the venture. Yup, the same man who had set up the Esselworld amusement park on the outskirts of Mumbai, was once a rice trader and had made a success of Essel Packaging. But for someone like me in the Mumbai media, it was the association of Ashok Kurien, then poster boy of Indian advertising, that led me to believe that there was merit in the venture.


A friend at Mid-Day asked me to write about this weirdly-named ‘Z’ TV. For a while, we would call it Z, thinking that just as our Maths professor at college would pronounce ‘z’ as ‘zee’, the announcers called the channel Zee. I am fuzzy about it, but I think my story on Zee appeared soon after Rajdeep’s did in the Times of India. I tried looking for the story in the Mid-Day archives when I worked there, but couldn’t locate the file.


I remember reasoning with my friend that Zee had a future because Kurien couldn’t get it wrong, and it’s for this reason I insisted we also interview Subhash Chandra on the occasion. I don’t think we carried the interview.


We’ve transformed from broadcaster to content creator/ provider: Punit Goenka

By Johnson Napier


He’s been credited for the channel putting up a sterling performance over the past few years, be it in terms of staying in the top-3 or whether for being the most profitable among its peers. But much of what MD & CEO of ZEEL, Punit Goenka is able to do today to the network is due to the passion and vision that was carved out way earlier by its founder & Chairman Shri Subhash Chandra.


As the much-cherished family channel celebrates 20 years in India, MxMIndia gets Punit Goenka to relive some memorable moments of the channel’s past and what it plans to do to get audiences to love it in the future as well. Excerpts:


Your memories of Zee when it started 20 years back… did you think it would become such a big, powerful empire?

I was still studying that time, but always believed in my Chairman’s vision and that he would make it big.


The future of Zee is in a sense your hands. We have seen some rapid progress in the few years you’ve been at the helm. What do you think will be the way to go over the next 10 years?

We have transformed from being a broadcaster to content creator/ provider. We will address viewers at the end of any screen. Also, our focus has moved from catering to only south Asians globally to even addressing the local audiences in the international markets. Our focus is going to be on Middle East, Russia, Africa to start with, before opening up new markets.


The emphasis thus far has been on profitability. But over the last few years, we’ve seen some emphasis on marketing and promotion. How do you strike a balance between the two for a GEC?

The change is that marketing has become more intense but has always played an important role. Both functions are linked as you can’t have success without both the functions working in tandem with each other.


In some genres like news and music, Zee has been lagging behind. Any plans to shore these up in the near future?

No comments.


A little about the last 20 years:

a. What do you think led to the success of Zee?

Our ability to stay rooted and focusing on what we want to do rather than focusing on what competition is doing.


b. Your favourite Zee shows?

Saat Phere.


Any shows you would like Zee to have had?

More of home-grown formats.


Zee moved on from strength to strength. UTV, which had done programmes like The Mathemagic Show on DD, came up with a variety of gameshows… Saanp Seedi, for one.


Doordarshan launched a Bollywood music countdown show in Superhit Muqabla (produced by Harish Thawani’s Nimbus), but the satellite channel came up with its own popular countdown show (Philips Top 10).


There was a period when Doordarshan’s primary and Metro channels gave Zee serious competition, but with time, couldn’t match Chandra’s longterm vision of the space.


Zee experimented a fair bit – a news bulletin in colloquial Hindi peppered with a lot of English words, a weekend show on the stockmarket, a telefilm by Mahesh Bhatt, and finally a second channel called EL TV.


Zee’s top team saw various captains as business and programming heads: – Karuna Samtani, Nitin Keni, Digvijay Singh, Kamlesh Pandey, Meenakshi Menon, Anil Dharker for a bit, Chandraprakash Dwivedi… the list could go on. Sandeep Goyal too was CEO and announced a makeover, but he exited soon, to be followed by Apurva Purohit. Pradeep Guha occupied the CEO’s chair, but he left after a few years. Nitin Vaidya, who had helmed the regional channels for a while, took charge of the flagship Zee TV, but he too moved on leaving one with the belief that while the Zee top job may be coveted, it was too hot to handle for professionals. In fact when MxMIndia tried speaking to some of the former captains, many refused to be quoted saying that since it was too long ago for them to remember much.


Yet, privately they acknowledge that even though Subhash Chandra is a maverick, he’s a huge force to reckon with in Indian media. He is aggressive, dynamic, cost-conscious and a big risk-taker.


Very few others in the media have seen the ups and downs that he has probably seen. After being a darling of the stockmarkets and the Indian viewing public, Zee’s stock fell – in every possible way. In the early 2000s, the Economic Times would have a story virtually every other dialing quoting some regulatory irregularity.


But Subhash Chandra, minus the Goel that he dropped in the late 1980s, wasn’t going to be down for too long.


In 2005, after hiring Pradeep Guha from The Times of India group, he stitched up a joint venture with the Dainik Bhaskar group to launch a newspaper called DNA. PG, as Guha is popularly called, and the Bhaskar group’s Agarwals ensured that the paper had a high profile launch. That the Times of India improved its offering several times over, launched Mumbai Mirror and Hindustan Times too kicked off a Mumbai edition may have been dampeners, but DNA didn’t take too long to establish itself.


I was fortunate to be part of the DNA editorial team for a bit, though often felt the strains of a newspaper with too many people at the helm – owners and top management.


Much after I had left DNA and the Bhaskar group, I learnt that Subhash Chandra had assumed charge of DNA. There were several exits around that time, and one feared there would be instability after that. But that didn’t happen, although the editor changed and the paper dropped the editorial page. K U Rao continues to helm DNA, and the paper has an all-new business team to steer it forward.


Flagship channel Zee has seen its ups and downs. From a clear #1 in the 1990s to losing its leadership first to Sony and later for a long, long time to Star Plus, Zee has come back and attained strength in the GEC space.


Post Kaun Banega Crorepati in 2000, Zee was hit badly. It produced a dud in Sawaal Dus Crore Ka to combat KBC.  All those who backed the network had fallen in love with the new Star. Not for too long, as Subhash Chandra’s team picked up the pieces and steadily started inching up. And then Colors happened in 2008, pushing Zee down again. However, soon after his channel had turned #1 the then Colors CEO Rajesh Kamat told me that more than Star Plus, his team and he were watching Zee very closely. Its fictions and reality shows had promise.


Which it did. Cut to 2012, although there’s been a see-saw in the Hindi GEC space for the top slot, in the pure non-Bollywood general entertainment category, Zee is a GRP grosser.


Zee Timeline


> Launches Zee TV

> Initial Public Offering of Zee Telefilms Limited



> EL TV launched



> Commences Siticable operations Joint Venture with News Corp

> Launches Zee News and Zee Cinema.

> Zee TV goes global – launches Zee TV, UK



> Starts first cable channel in India – Siti Channel.

> Launches Zee TV, Africa.



> Launches Zee Music (originally called Music Asia).


> Launches Zee TV in the US.

> Institutes ‘Zee Cine Awards’.



> Acquires News Corp’s 50% stake in joint ventures of their television broadcasting business tie-up.

> Launches regional channels.



> Launches Internet over Cable services – first cable company in India to do so.

> Enters into content distribution joint ventures with MGM and Viacom.> Launches pay bouquet of channels in the Asian region.



> Introduces Zee TV and Zee News as pay television offerings.

> ‘Gadar – Ek Prem Katha’ became highest grossing box office movie (it released on the same day as Aamir Khan’s Lagaan)



> Acquires controlling stakes in ETC Networks Limited and Padmalaya Telefilms Limited.



> Launches 5 new channels for the DTH market viz. Action cinema, Classic cinema, MX, Premier cinema and Smile TV.

> Enters into a distribution tie-up with Rajshri Pictures for theatrical distribution of films in India.

> Launches ‘Trendz’ – A premium fashion and style channel, targeted at the fashion conscious Indian consumer.



> JV with Dainik Bhaskar group to set up DNA, DNA launched



> De-merger of Zee Telefilms Limited.> Failed attempt to acquire news agency UNI



> Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEE) gets listed as an independent company.

> Zee Next launched



> Zee Next shuts down



> Launches Zee Khana Khazana – India’s first 24-hour food channel

> Launches Zee Salaam – India’s first Urdu infotainment satellite television channel> Acquires stake in Ten Sports.

> Launches Ten Cricket – a dedicated 24-hour Cricket Channel.> Launches Ten Action+ – sports channel showcasing the best football action from around the world.

> Launches India.com – Joint Venture between Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. and Mail.com



> ZEE’s distribution arm, Zee-Turner Ltd, enters into a 50:50 JV with Star Den Media Services Pvt. Ltd. to form MediaPro Enterprise India Pvt. Ltd.

> Announces share buyback



> Launches Ditto TV – India’s first and only OTT (Over-The-Top TV) Distribution Platform

> Launches Ten Golf – India’s first and exclusive 24 hour Golf channel

> Launches 24-hour Bengali movie channel

> Announces launch of a kids’ channel


Source: Zee Corporate Communications, MxM News Desk


Credit for this goes to Chandra’s son and Managing Director and CEO Punit Goenka who has led the network very effectively. There are some chinks even as Zee continues to be among the most profitable media companies in the country. Sun TV is of course up there, but it’s been controversy-ridden for a while.


There are various genres Zee is in, but its channels aren’t much to talk about. Zee News has a new CEO, but it will need to do loads to turn #1. Ditto with the various other channels – Zee Music, Zee Smile, Zee Studio. Zee Cafe has tried to create a bang with more recent seasons of popular shows, but the niche channels require some attention from Goenka (See interview).


His leadership team has an interesting mix… Rajesh Jejurikar vroomed in from Mahindra & Mahindra to be President, Bharat Ranga is now heading content, Ashish Sehgal is Head of Revenue and of course the old and some new stalwarts – Amitabh Kumar, Atul Das, Atul Pande, Hitesh Vakil, M Lakshminarayan, Nittin Keni, Rajendra Mehta, Roland Landers, Sharada Sunder and Utpal Das constitute the A team.


Goenka’s leadership has also brought with it much camaraderie with Star India and its CEO Uday Shankar. They have merged their channel distribution interests into MediaPro and the move appears to be paying rich dividends.


Until a few years back, Zee lacked buzz-creating content. But no longer. DID has been putting up a blockbuster performance every year. Zee didn’t come up with anything like Satyamev Jayate, but it chose not to be a me-too.


At times like these when celebration is in the air, it’s not uncommon to gloss over a company’s various failures. But rather than blips, I would look at these as the network’s strength to have in Subhash Chandra a promoter who was willing to take risks.


Although I wouldn’t report on media in 2000-01, I am told the proposals for Kaun Banega Crorepati and some of the top-rated Balaji soaps were rejected by Zee.


Chandra started EL TV (no marks for guess where that name came from) at a time when he thought he could replicate the flagship’s success with a second GEC. That didn’t happen, and EL metamorphosed to Zee India TV and later Zee News. Yet another attempt to look at the younger, urban set with Zee Next in late 2007 survived for less than a year. Zee’s radio foray was still-born and attempts to publish TV and film magazines didn’t work.


Zee had much failure in bidding for cricket rights, including the World Cup. Despite his bid being the highest, Chandra lost out which many agreed was unfair to the media baron. In 2007, buoyed with India winning the T20 World Cup and the success of the 20-over format, and anguished with the ways of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI), Zee set up the Indian Cricket League. While the ICL took off, it never gained ground as key cricketers of the day were not allowed to participate for the tournament was dubbed ‘unofficial’. Chandra gave up after a protracted fight with the BCCI as the ICL became meaningless post the success of the Indian Premier League (IPL).


Twenty years on, how would I rate Zee’s performance? A 9 or 10 on 10 for the spirit of enterprise and growing the industry.  Too many leadership changes may have not given the company stability, but as Chandra once told me, the only reason why he’s had to move CEOs out is because of non-performance. And he shouldn’t be faulted for that. The ousted CEOs naturally have another story, but as mentioned earlier, almost everyone who has been associated with the network recognizes Subhash Chandra and Zee’s tremendous contribution to Indian broadcasting.


Three cheers to that!


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4 responses to “What makes Zee such a force to reckon with”

  1. sourabh says:

    sir zeetv kab change kar rehe hai 10 november ko kigiye thake

  2. Raj says:

    Very interesting report

  3. Sai Nagesh says:

    Fantastic Story….Hats off pradyuman for a very succint & intersting insight into the Zee success story. Punit has indeed done a sterling job in guiding the mammoth empire to its current position of respect & excellent programming . I wish the ZEE Network many more years of success & leadership.

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