Zee@20 | Sundeep Nagpal: What a score!!!

01 Oct,2012

Sundeep Nagpal

By Sundeep Nagpal


Those who are familiar with Abraham Lincoln’s famous speech that started with the words “Four score and seven years ago ….”  (which actually meant 87 years ago …), will recollect that the word ‘score’ refers to a period of 20 years (but of course, it’s seldom used in that context nowadays!)


But the point here, is that Zee has scored! And how! It has been around for the last 20 years, in what has probably been the most eventful, dynamic, anarchic & explosive phase for the media industry in this country.


Although Star TV, as it was known (not Star Plus, s’il vous plait!), was the first satellite TV network in India, it was certainly Zee that heralded the satellite revolution in India.


Star TV’s only other claim to fame were the mother of Western soaps – ‘The Bold & The Beautiful’  and ‘Santa Barbara’.


At that time, in the days when the best known channels were always ‘DD-some-number-or-the-other’, and when transponders were perceived to be some gadgets that aliens used for communication, most of us reacted quite surprisingly at an innocuous brand name as ZEE. And if I may say, even with a certain degree of scepticism with respect to a certain, Mr Subhash Chandra Goel – the man behind the idea of an Indian satellite channel. But it didn’t take long to recognize his vision and to realize that he already had a few firsts to his credit – Essel Packaging and Esselworld!


But satellite television was to be a different ballgame. It even began with a tie-up with Star TV. Those were the earliest days of Stratagem Media. And I recollect developing a pitch for Subhashji, along with Ashok Kurien (the then chairman of Ambience Advertising, which handled the Esselworld account), to Star TV for this tie-up, which happened mainly for utilizing Star TV’s uplinking facilities in Hong Kong and perhaps for some content sharing as well (and which eventually fizzled out, a couple of years later).


Stratagem Media continued to service Zee’s needs in those initial days, and I also recollect working on a handful of sponsorship proposals for P&G, etc, with the then chief of Zee – Digvijay Singh (Diggy). And coming to think of it, there were just a handful of them, and none other than the big boss had to be involved.


I hardly need to elaborate on what followed. Tara became the new synonym for soaps in India and Navneet Nishan – the soap queen! Close-Up Antakshari became the best platform for relaunch of the brand in those days and TVS Sa Re Ga Ma, gave Bajaj a run for its money !


And let’s not forget, advertisers and media planners went into a tizzy trying to match data with observation and other realities. Viewership measurement methodology, which used a diary (yes, a minuscule set respondents in some select cities supposedly recorded their daily viewing in a diary), in the 1990s, found its way out around the turn of the century, and made way for the electronic Peoplemeter system, because it was just not representative of the satellite channel scenario.


Little wonder then, that Subhashji never really accepted TRP ratings as the yardstick of channel popularity, and I recollect that his comment about the futility of media planners pouring over reams of data, some years later, at an annual review of the Ad Club, in Mumbai.


Without much doubt it can be said that Zee taught the lessons of TV content to the other players in the satellite TV business in India, not just by virtue of being the pioneer, but mostly by feeling the pulse of the viewer. So much so, that it took Star TV many years after Zee’s entry, to Indian-ize, and morph into Star Plus. In fact, prior to that, and thanks to the onslaught from Zee TV, even Doordarshan made two valiant attempts to resurrect themselves with two avatars of what was known as the ‘metro’ channel.


And now, as we know it, the Zee bandwagon keeps rolling on, even in the face of stiff competition from at least three multinationals. So, cheers to Zee – keep scoring !!!


Sundeep Nagpal is Founder-Director, Stratagem Media Pvt Ltd, a media agency founded in the early 1990s


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