Zee@25 | Ashok Kurien: Zee changed the Indian consumer forever

03 Oct,2017

Ashok Kurien

It was a dream that was waiting to become one big reality. When the rest of India was hooked on to the goings-on of the Gulf War in 1991 through relay from international news channels, a bunch of visionaries were contemplating launching a private channel that would do something similar in India. Thus was sown the seed of India’s first and private Hindi channel, Zee.


When we spoke with him in October 2012 on the occasion of Zee’s 20th anniversary, Ashok Kurien, the man who ran Ambience Advertising which handled the ad business of Essel Group, recountedto Johnson Napier how a chance conversation took shape to create one of India’s earliest and most successful Hindi channels. Mr Kurien continues to be on the Board of Directors of Zee Entertainment.


Do you recall how you reacted when Mr Subhash Chandra first came to you with the idea of launching Zee? From what we hear, it’s after your reassurance and active support that he got into it.)

January 1991: Subhash, my client at Esselworld, and I were watching the Gulf War ‘Live’ on CNN. It was our early exposure to satellite TV in India.

“Why can’t we do this here in India?” the conversation went.

“What do you know about TV?” asked Subhash.

“More than anyone else,” I replied, having spent many years on the ad agency side: Concepts and Pilot programmes, Sponsored programmes and FCT during the Doordarshan days…

“Write me a business plan,” said Subhash.

I did… and the rest is history.

Of course, Subhash was way ahead of me, with advice and plans from some ex-Doordarshan people.

The first 5 or 6 years, working hands-on to help Subhash build India’s first private TV station, was the most exciting chapter of my life.

Zee changed the Indian entertainment scenario, and along with it changed the Indian consumer forever.


Zee obviously had the advantage of being the first mover in the Hindi space, and later there were many others who entered the scene. What according to you is the reason Zee has been such a success story?

Zee moved fast, was always the first, and stayed far ahead of everyone for over the first decade.Zee understood the emotions and tastes of the Indian consumer. It took a long time for the competition to figure it out… mainly by hiring Zee TV’s people.


Other than being a director on the Board, are you active in advising the Zee management presently?

No advice to Zee at all….. unless I am asked to.I have played a role in helping Dish TV grow to leadership over its first 3 or 4 years, and now helping to take the Zee group into new media with India.com.


If there was one thing that Zee could have possibly have done differently in these 20 years, what would it be?

Zee should have launched a Tamil/South channel 15 years ago. But it was my error of judgement and ill advice that prevented that. My one, big, unforgettable mistake!


Zee, it’s said, mirrors Mr Subhash Chandra’s personality: dynamic, aggressive, a maverick, often restless, cost-conscious, risk-taker and a visionary. He’s been a friend for many years, would these descriptors be appropriate (for him and Zee). And how much would you attribute the success of Zee to Mr Chandra and in recent years, his family?

Subhash’s personality is all this and more. He is fearless and will walk where angels fear to treadBut as a friend I have seen the warm, but very private, human side of him too. He has great inner strength, and this too is inbuilt in Zee’s DNA.

Zee’s success was driven almost 100 percent by Subhash for many years, and only in the last decade or so did the professionals who joined Zee start contributing majorly.

Punit has reinvented the ‘creative magic’ that Zee started with 20 years ago.

But today, it’s certainly TEAM ZEE!!


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