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In Conversation | Creating strong block for family entertainment: Zee's Hejmadi

As the competition in the Hindi general entertainment space heats up with new entrants, older channels in the game are leaving no stone unturned to not only retain viewers, but also strengthen the viewer base with new viewers.

Coming from the ZEEL stable, Zee TV has been performing consistently well on the ratings charts, thus offering tough fight to others. Aiming to strengthen its weekend band, the channel has been pulling up innovative strings to bring in the eyes balls.

In his first round of public interactions, Pradeep Hejmadi, Business Head, Zee TV talks about his stint with the broadcast network, the channel’s plans in the coming and more. Edited excerpts below:

Adgully: Its just been a few months that you came aboard ZEEL's ship. What were some of the immediate task at your hand while joining?
Pradeep Hejmadi: Firstly, all the things at the group were well in order. While there are always a million things to do, we have to prioritize. And that was one principle for the whole team to align on and following it. The other task was to leverage the best of all the resources already available in the network, specially people. So, while we have the best of talent pool which reflects in out quarters, the most important thing was to get the best tunes of all the people and thus building a nice orchestra!

Adgully: ZEEL has been a strong standing broadcast network offering content in almost all genres. However, what according needed more attention (fiction or non-fiction etc) and strengthening while you came aboard?
Pradeep Hejmadi:
If one looks at the audience base, there are two buckets in which viewers put content in. One is typically the staples (things that we like to have every day!) and then there are non-staples (unique things that one likes to try). So when you start looking at content with that lens, and start organising and offering content in that unique yet consistent manner, slowly starts defining what is staple and what is not. The different thing that a channel would offer is always unpredictable, because the channel might have a certain taste, which may be rejected by the audience. So in the Zee TV case, the non-fiction content has been very strong with properties like Sa Re Ga Ma, Dance India Dance etc, with the industry’s epitome of achievement coming from this stable. The task is to get new energy back into these formats after years of existence. From our perspective, we got it correct with the staples and audience liking very nicely structured; it was the season-based specials that we needed to sharpen. One of the things that differentiates our non-fiction and reality from others is that we play low on star quotient while playing very high on people. For us, people are the centre of our business – we exist because of them, create platforms for them! Our focus has been to provide a platform for a common man to realise talent and celebrated. We have taken a conscious root of never relying on taking proven talent and creating a format out of it.     

Adgully: Do you think that there is a fatigue level that has come in with the non-fiction properties, and hence need to be revived?
Pradeep Hejmadi:
Just like every other product manufacturer, there comes a time when you need to offer a change. For us, since we offer an experiential product and not a ‘touch and feel’ product, it becomes ever more important for us to realise that there has to be a sense of enhancement in what we offer, constantly. We have to keep reinventing ourselves as audiences always graduate and look for ‘more’, ‘different’ and ‘new’. And I don’t think we are any exception to this industry rule. However it is both an opportunity to innovate and a challenge not to saturate.

Adgully: Put on a weighing scale, how would you weigh fiction and non-fiction for the channel? (What has been your focus  over the last few months?)
Pradeep Hejmadi:
From a rating point-of-view, clearly fiction has been doing very well. But from a main-stay point-of-view, it is as much as both the genres. I believe that what we at the channel are doing is very different from others. So, when people compare formats without complete knowledge of the intricacies of the same, you cannot gauge the success it has or possibly can ring in. For example, in a Cinestars ki Khoj, it is all about acting talent and not just mere song and dance. It is about an individual’s journey coupled with our commitment to offer them a platform. So if you compare a celebrity dance-show to a DID it is not fair since it is not exactly 1:1. While the audience may be watching dance, but the talent performing is different with known celebrities on one side and raw talent which needs sharpening on the other. Our aim hence shall continue to nurture formats that unique, close to people and promise performance.

Adgully: While the spends on Maharakshak seem steep, shed some light on the kind of spends and scale that one would get to see on the channel going forward?

Pradeep Hejmadi: Honestly, It is not a cost issue, but a standards case. In all our properties, we have tried and maintained certain standards of delivery, with content, packaging etc. For example, in the case of Maharakshak Aryan, there is fair amount of investment in not only the story-telling (since is fiction based) but also post production, unlike other shows on the channel. So each show calls for different plans on the spends charts.

Adgully: While your competition broadcasters have gone a six-day fiction way, which may have proved to be successful for them, Zee TV hangs onto five-day with variety entertainment on weekends. Why so?
Pradeep Hejmadi:
Every channel has its own programming philosophy. From our perspective, we would like to offer Saturday-Sunday as a combined package where there could be convergent viewing of the family. The minute you extend your weekday fiction to the weekend, you are still connecting to just one or two members of the family. So, it’s a low hanging fruit, the easiest to do for anyone. The task is to try and create what general entertainment is and connect with all of the family members. So while we have not been successfully do it, our endeavour is to overcome that. Each of us in the game have tried to work on many options and offer different combinations on the same. So, hence I am not worried about a particular route to success, where we have been trying to get the convergent viewing format right while other follows other tactic. For us, first in that was to bring Neeli Chatri Wale and now Maharakshak Aryan that will come to Indian television very soon. Alongside this, we have Dil se Naach Indiawale and DID Super Season 2 is on the blocks in the coming month. Hence we are creating a strong block for a family offering general entertainment.        

Adgully: Also, the channel has mostly banked upon home-grown non-fiction formats, unlike others. Going forward to do see to continue this or bring in IP’s for elsewhere and working on them?
Pradeep Hejmadi:
We are open to this idea, understanding that a lot of efforts go into localising these IP’s and making them work in India. For us, what is interesting is to create something that is truly rooted into our country and that we are able to pull out and present in a unique fashion. So if, Indians have the ability to create new formats, so we would rather stand behind it than go fishing!

Adgully: On the fiction front, what according to you is the strategy that has made properties in this space a success?
Pradeep Hejmadi:
Very simply, we need to understand how to hook the audience and once you hook them in with the right kind of content, you need to be relentlessly delivering what you promised. So as long as you don’t get carried away by passing trends, you are bound to reach your destination successfully.

Adgully: How has the Diwali contest fared for the channel? Also, tell us a bit about Umeed- E- Kashmir?
Pradeep Hejmadi:
The Diwali contest has done really well for is as we tried and made it real-time to offer different feel to it. The response to Umeed- E- Kashmir has also been overwhelming. The contributions that have come are the sheer indicators for the success of this initiative. We have also made efforts to report each contribution and its usage so as to build trust in the initiative. We are going the full hundred yards in making sure the contributions reach its designated place with the knowledge of the contributor. 

Adgully: What are the strategies in place as far as marketing your shows is concerned?
Pradeep Hejmadi:
There are different of looking at this. I look at it in the form of effectiveness of marketing. Many times, in the herd of doing new things, we tend to forget the usefulness and impact of old things. We have consciously studied over time and are singularly focusing on the things that would make quantifiable difference in moving audiences. These are very simple and measureable things, for instance, pre-testing our communications, bench marking activities and moves, identifying the completeness of messaging etc. Each of these bring in the vigour to gauge if we are smarter and hence effective enough, hence we will not do something new, just for the sake of it but do it to build another level of consumer relationship. The things that shall come along the way will enable consumers to interact with us, build rapport with brand Zee TV.

Adgully: Your last stint was at the research and ratings agency TAM. With the ratings fiasco that the TV industry faced and the setting up of industry led ratings system BARC. Having worked at TAM and now a broadcast network, how do you perceive this situation?
Pradeep Hejmadi:
It is always important to know how you connect with the consumer from a neutral body’s perspective. Measure of consumption is most important, but do we today have technology that we have millions of viewers telling us whether or not the like my show, I don’t think so! So we have to rely on sample-base research, and therefore, will always be used as an indicative to get a good sense of how audience’s are behaving and how we are performing. It is critical that a person should be able to yield that to be able to create a strong brand. So for us, as much information available the better it is, since it helps us go deeper and wider in the audience base. Hence, apart for the rating, we also do extensive online researches to understand how our viewers are evolving in demand, how our content is performing etc. So, irrespective of the source of such indicative information, what needs more attention is that more than the source and the kind of information, it is the ability to be able to synthesize the information and utilize it and hence stand out in the game. 

Adgully: Lastly, how has your experience been so far at the network?
Pradeep Hejmadi:
Honestly, I have never seen a ‘position’ as a mere ‘position’ but taken it as a responsibility. And let me tell you, the responsibility here is humongous! I believe Punit Goenka has put in this trust in me and given me a very able team to be able to deliver this responsibility. It would be wrong to try and figure whether the position has done justice to me, I think, firstly I am answerable to the millions of viewers who come to Zee TV every day, for us to deliver to them collectively and the faith that has been to in me by the management for me to live upto. 

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