Nothing wrong in airing Pak content: Punit Goenka

20 May,2014

 

It’s Zee’s boldest venture thus far: a premium all-India Hindustani GEC with ‘Made in Pakistan’ (and elsewhere) fictions. Launching on June 23, it is targeted at, as a communiqué notes, family viewing with today’s Indian sensibilities of wanting to balance household responsibilities and at the same time, creating one’s identity, the channel is set to infuse fresh storytelling to the Indian television industry.  An interview with ZEEL Managing Director & CEO Punit Goenka.

 

Bold move to launch a channel like Zindagi?

You have to do something every couple of years, to keep the blood rushing.

 

Hmmm, since when has this been in the making?

We’ve been working in the concept for a long time, but truly, about 15 months.

 

Do you anticipate any problem given that Pakistani serials in India are not official aired in India. It’s not a done thing to be showing Pakistani serials.

Well, there’s no law that says you can’t do it. I’ve received all my permissions. I’ve got everything in order. We’ve acquired all content on legal basis through legal entities. So my view is that if Hollywood content or content from the West can be brought here, why not content made in Pakistan? As long as it’s nothing to do with anti-India sentiments, there should be no reason why any entertainment content can’t be brought here.

 

Given that there’s over rising hatred towards Pakistan and you have the likes of the Shiv Sena creating a lot of fuss about Pakistan, do you anticipate trouble. You may be on the right side of the law, but is there a fear or worry?

No, it’s not a fear or a worry.

 

And have you taken any one into confidence….

No, I don’t think I need to take anybody into confidence, I’m doing what I believe is a good for the business and a good thing for the country also. I think, at the end of the day I’m entertaining and also bringing about a change which would allow people see the similarity in our cultures is so much that the reason for hatred is only select people. So, hate those select people. Don’t hate a country! That’s my view.

 

Pakistani serials have been very popular in India in the last 25-odd years. I remember how they were huge even in the early days of the video wave. How old or new are the shows that you will be airing?

They’re in the last two to three years’ range. Nothing older. Everything is as recent as the last two years.

 

And are these among the top shows from Pakistan?

Our barometer for selection was not how they’re performing in Pakistan. But the category we want to create is of the progressive mindset. While the predominant viewer is female here, the mindset of the female is progressive; not traditional… unlike what we offer through normal GECs that exist today. Therefore we handpick shows on that basis, irrespective of the fact of what the ratings were in Pakistan.

 

Is the handpicking of shows been done by you or do you have somebody in Pakistan helping you..

We have a team in Pakistan also and those are more outsourced kind of people. But largely it is our team in India.

 

Would you also look at freshly produced content at any point?

We’ve already started. We’ve already commissioned 12 telefilms that we’re producing and we’ve identified shows that we will be producing going forward. So it won’t be just syndicated content…

 

How much of originai content will we see?

Within a year I think we should be doing about 10 hours a week of original production.

 

How much new programming every day?

Four to start with, per day.

 

Your press statement says that the footprint of the channel is all-India and you are also targeting South India? Are we going to see the channel dubbed in South Indian languages?

No, it’s not dubbed. It’s going to be in Hindi and we do believe that the progressive mindset will consume Hindi, even down South, irrespective of the fact that it might not be their mother tongue. Our research has shown there are enough audiences available in different states, but therefore we deliberately chose to make it an all India launch.

 

This is a significant difference from the audiences regular Hindi GECs have always looked at?

Because they focus on the mass. This focuses on the premium mass. We’ve defined a new category which doesn’t exist today. My research tells me the premium mass are willing to accept content, irrespective of the language. They have to make a connect with the content rather than the language.

 

In terms of distribution will it be part of the Zee package?

Yes, absolutely, it will be in the Base Tier.

 

So no extra money to be paid for this?

Well, I think they should be charging extra for a premium channel like this. If they don’t pass on the cost to the customer, that’s the platform’s choice. But I do believe this gives them the opportunity to increase prices.

 

Have you tested the concept with advertisers?

We’re getting reasonably good response from them as well. So, I’m quite hopeful that we will have some sponsors and tie-ups on board before we launch the channel.

 

Coming back to the original shows,  would you look at syndicating to Pakistani channels too?

Why not?

 

Zee TV is already available in Pakistan, now will it officially available?

No, we cannot be officially available. Even Zee TV isn’t officially available in Pakistan. Pirated signals go, but officially we can’t sell it there.

 

You mentioned that a year from now there will be 10 hours of original content. Would there be reality shows also or..

No reality shows on this channel. It will predominantly remain fiction based.

 

Any reason for this?

I think the USP is the fiction part which we want to highlight. There are many reality shows which are already being done. So we didn’t want to bring in another element here. It helps us focus on the TG we’ve targeted and reality shows go away from the core and try and target a lot more than your bread and butter. So, we want to focus on the bread & butter rather than get garnished sprinkled on top of it.

 

In the past we have had instances of popular shows being moved to the flagship channel of the network? Could that happen here too?

No, that will not happen. How does it matter to me if tomorrow Zindagi becomes my flagship? Should it matter?

 

Over the years, the second GEC hasn’t done well

Zee Next.

 

And before that, EL TV

Well,  EL TV did very well. In fact Zee got scared of EL and therefore had it converted to a news channel (laughs)

 

On a serious note, the second channel across networks hasn’t done well. Life OK took off well, but is still not up there. What is the Zee Network’s commitment to Zindagi?

My view is that if we as a network were not sure about giving this a full shot, I wouldn’t be sitting here doing these interactions. I think we’re very clear on what has gone wrong. We can debate that till the cows come home! The fact is, have we plugged all those holes? Have we made sure that our go-to-market strategy is right or not? I think we’ve covered all grounds. The success, the viewer will decide. I’m no one to decide that. I have to make sure that I’m available. I’ve made the consumer aware of the product and then I’ve to get him or her to sample it and like it.

 

Would you at some point also look at Bangladeshi content or from other markets in newer channels?

I haven’t studied that market yet. But I do remember we were discussing the possibility of getting Bangladeshi movies which could run on the Bangla channel. But we haven’t studied it in that much detail. We’ve studied this market. It’ll be 15 months by the time we launch. A lot of work has gone in to get it to this stage and get it ready to launch. But definitely, we’re not closed to that. We can study that market also and if we find there is some proposition that can work, why not!

 

And would you look at other cross-border content coming into Zindagi?

I must add, in Zindagi itself we’ve identified content that we’ll be sourcing from markets like Turkey, Egypt and some of the Latin American countries where it’s not that we’ve just picked up shows, dubbed them and are going to be running them. We’re actually remaking those shows in Hindi. That’s part of the 10 hours of content I talked about. So, it’s not just Pakistan…

 

You mentioned Hindi, but these are shows in Urdu, right. It may be a little tough for some to understand the language….

This was one of the key parameters in my research. To my pleasant surprise, it came out that people appreciated that fact! Rather than making it a negative. They said that while some words are difficult to understand, in a conversation or sentence, as long as you get the gist of it, it’s fine. And the Urdu that was in existence 20 years ago when we watched PTV or Lahore TV has simplified. Quite like the way our Hindi was 20 years back to what it has become today. So, from that perspective I don’t think it will be such a big issue that it gets rejected. I’m quite hopeful that people will appreciate it and that will be one of the USPs. The dialect is so soothing to the ears unlike the tu-tadaak that you see here on our GECs today.

 

Would you also at some pint of time look at other cross border content on your other channels? Like with your food channel Khana Khazana given the similarities between food in India and across the border? Do we see a Khana Khazana Pakistan?

That’s quite possible. Definitely. Why not? We’ll definitely explore all that. Thank you for a business idea!

 

With Zindagi and the rest of the offerings you have, what is the direction you’re looking at for the Zee Network over the next year?

We’re definitely looking at outward growth for the Zee Network going forward. And as you know we love to beat the market projections every time. And that’s the endeavour for us. If the market is growing at X, how can we grow at 1.5X…

 

Any specific targets for Zindagi?

Yes, we have all those targets in place. The investment levels and all those things have been done to keep those parameters in mind. I wouldn’t want to pre-empt what my targets are right now, but I can tell you that they’re definitely aggressive.

 

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