Subhash Chandra, the rice merchant turned media-empire-founder, is a visionary who is far ahead of his time in many ways. He is reported to have once famously said, “India is not for sale.” He proved his commitment to this statement by keeping his venture Zee TV wholly Indian, even as other General Entertainment Channels (GECs) were going in for foreign collaborations.
Subhash Chandra, Chairman, Essel Group
In 1982, the Essel Group’s company Empire Holding Ltd decided to foray into the mass media and entertainment segment. To this end, it was converted into Zee Telefilms Ltd. Zee TV, its flagship channel, was launched a decade later in 1992, as the first private satellite TV channel in India. It is headquartered in Mumbai, India.
The story goes that when the amusement park Esselworld failed to attract the attention of public, Subhash Chandra decided to take the entertainment home to them. He set up a joint venture with Star TV called Asia Today Ltd to lease a transponder from the AsiaSat satellite network for broadcasting his channel.
Zee TV aired three hours of programmes a day initially, with a movie and a mix of old programmes from Doordarshan. After five months, it began Sunday morning transmissions and established a trade promotion cell, which attracted advertisers with its affordable rates. Almost within a year of its launch, it had become a 24-hour entertainment channel with considerable rural penetration. In August 1993, it became the first media company to offer shares to the public.
The year 1995 saw Zee TV reaching close to 11 million homes. This was the year its extremely popular programme Sa Re Ga Ma, the first singing talent based reality show, was launched. Two other channels — El TV with regional programming and Zee Cinema (the first Hindi cinema channel) — were added, consolidating market viewership. Zee TV created its own pool of producers and even set up a cable distribution network Siti Cable, which could send satellite signals from a powerful master control room to local cable operators everywhere.
Vijayawada saw the first such control room and many more followed, marking the entry of multi-system operators (MSOs) in India. Through innovative programming, including regional content, distribution and advertising, the channel retained the top viewership slot.
Quick to bounce back
In 2000, in what is acknowledged today as a monumental blunder, Zee TV turned down both ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC)’ and ‘Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki’, which were grabbed by Star TV. The rest, to use a cliché, is history. Star TV zoomed to the top slot with the popularity created by these two shows alone.
But Zee rallied and came back stronger than ever. Its ‘Indian Cricket League’ is said to have later paved the way for the popularity of IPL. In 2003, it came up with India’s first DTH service — Dish TV. Realising that women were the primary viewers who preferred serials and soap operas to time-bound reality shows, Zee TV concentrated on family-based entertainment. Storylines were researched in detail and dialogues and scenes fine-tuned, with corrections made based on viewer feedback.
In 2007, Zee TeleFilms became Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL). A dance-based reality program Dance India Dance, introduced in 2009, became wildly popular. In 2010, Zee TV launched India’s first 24-hour food channel Zee Khana Khazana.
he same year, Subhash Chandra’s son Punit Goenka took over as CEO, and reportedly brought back some stability in the business.
It pioneered online streaming with Ditto TV in 2012, and later, with OZEE. Both attempts failed to take off but the latest venture ZEE5, launched in 2018, has proved to be a successful venture.
Today, there are four broad platforms that Zee covers — Broadcast (domestic and international), digital – OTT, content delivery, technology and innovation, publishing; movies and music; and live entertainment covering live events and theatre. Its annual revenue for 2019-20 was ₹81,299 million. It reaches about 1.3 billion viewers worldwide.
Over the years, Zee has changed its tagline to reflect the changing times, from its first proud announcement ‘Yeh Hai Zee TV’ to the latest progressive ‘Aaj Likhenge Kal.’ Its taglines resonate with the viewer as they capture quintessential Indian womanhood, family relationships, inspirational stories and progress.
This ad is a story of a retired government employee taking a flight for the first time in his life, and it speaks of the great Indian middle class taking charge and rewriting the rules of their destiny.
It has teased and delighted its public with its promotional campaigns like the #ChangeHerNot social media experiment that asked women to stay true to themselves and not change just to fit into the ‘bridal’mould; and #DanceKaJungistan that struck a chord with youngsters. More recently, the post-lockdown content-comeback teaser campaign — #13thKiTayyari — had Twitter buzzing with guesses and reviews. The channel reportedly retained almost 40 per cent of its advertising on TV even during the lockdown.
Zee has tried to shrink its carbon footprint by reducing electricity consumption and investing in carbon offset projects. It is also taking up potable water projects and measuring water usage. Avoidance of single-use plastic, source segregation of waste and responsible e-waste disposal through external partners are other measures it undertakes for environmental sustainability.
Its CSR projects cover varied areas — empowerment of girls through social initiatives, integrated rural development, organic food development, preservation of heritage through partnership and collaboration with cultural custodians, providing relief and rehabilitation during disasters, and employee volunteering.
Zee TV was the only M&E brand that featured among the ‘Top 25 Most Valued Brands’ in India (Millward Brown study). The ‘Great Place to Work Institute’ recognised it thrice as one of ‘India’s Best Places to Work For.’ It has won multiple awards in Promax 2019 and CMO Asia Awards across channels. ZEE Cinema won the ‘Global Marketing Excellence’ award. ZEE5 won the ‘OTT platform of the year award’ in Promax 2020 OTT Digital Marketing and Innovation Awards and Trust Research Advisory’s ‘India’s Most Desired Video Streaming Brand’ award. BLoC