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Zee Entertainment may cease operation of Marathi channel to allay CCI concerns

Zee Entertainment, which is seeking to merge its operations with Sony Pictures Networks India, may exit the Marathi entertainment space in a bid to allay concerns raised by the Competition Commission of India (CCI), sources have told Business Standard.

A spokesperson for Zee Entertainment declined to comment on the matter. An e-mail sent to Sony Pictures Networks India, now called Culver Max Entertainment, elicited no response until the time of going to press. Culver Max retains the Sony brand name for its bouquet of channels in India.

The Marathi entertainment genre is one among four segments where the anti-trust regulator had made initial observations of concentration of power, if the merger went through. The others included Hindi general entertainment, Hindi movies, and Bengali entertainment.

Zee had earlier submitted TV viewership data for the financial year ended March 2022 and year-to-date data for the current financial year to resolve the issue of concentration of power. It has now moved to the next level to soothe concerns, the sources informed.

The current viewership share of the combined entity in Marathi entertainment stands at 25 per cent, according to persons in the know. This is led largely by Zee Marathi, which is the dominant player in the category.

It is also among Zee’s oldest channels in its bouquet, launched in 1999. In contrast, Sony Marathi, launched in 2018, is a small player in the category, they said.

The sources said the proposal by Zee to exit Marathi entertainment signals its intent to clear the CCI approval process at the earliest. The anti-trust regulator is expected to carefully consider all concessions made by the players when deciding to clear the merger or not.

“For a merger of this size, the CCI will give the players concerned time and opportunity to provide remedies, including exits from a category or categories, if required. If these remedies do not satisfy the regulator, it may suggest options that these players could consider to ease competition concerns,” said Anu Monga, partner at Delhi-based law firm AnantLaw.

The Zee-Sony combine will become India’s second-largest entertainment network by revenue with over 75 TV channels, along with two video streaming services — ZEE5 and Sony LIV. It will also house two film studios — Zee Studios and Sony Pictures Films India, and a digital content studio (Studio NXT).

Shares of Zee Entertainment closed trade at Rs 252.10 apiece on Monday, down 2.36 per cent over the previous day’s close.

The BSE Sensex, on the other hand, closed trade at 56,788.81, down 1.11 per cent over the previous day’s close. Since January, shares of Zee Entertainment have lost 28 per cent of their value, even as the BSE Sensex has shed 4.04 per cent in the same period. Business Standard

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