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Regional OTT markets are very content-hungry markets: Siju Prabhakaran

“The taste clusters of the audiences are evolving,” says Siju Prabhakaran, Chief Cluster Officer - South India, ZEE Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL). The OTT space has grown immensely during the pandemic. And ZEE5 is one such platform to record phenomenal growth during and after the pandemic. According to reports, the number of subscribers of ZEE5 has been thrice compared to 2019 in 2020 and has been growing ever since. Launched in 2018, ZEE5 offers content in 12 languages. It is coming up with a whole new range of content for the New Year and plans to surprise the audiences as usual. Prabhakaran believes that there is a lot of responsibility on the platform for delivering good content that matches audiences’ tastes and preferences. Excerpts from the interview.

What are your upcoming plans for ZEE5?

Actually, the year gone by has been an extremely successful one for us. We launched a lot of good content, which got a lot of appreciation from our viewers. We launched movies and web series. One of the best Tamil web series came from ZEE5. With that sort of momentum and force behind us, now we are launching a complete slate of new originals for the new year as we are also  getting into the Tamil new year. We want to give our viewers a complete bouquet of new shows. This is keeping in mind all the audience tastes clusters, which we have identified through a lot of consumer understanding, in the last six to eight months.

We are associating with some of the best creators in the Tamil industry. We have great actors like Prakash Raj, who are doing projects. We have new young filmmakers, like Kritika, who are doing projects for us. There are varied types of storytelling. This is also another thing that OTT helps you with differentiated storytelling, which kind of connects with the audience, which is more realistic, which have very different plot lines; they are edge-of-the-seat  thrillers. Different genres are being explored.

What is your content strategy and how do you plan to engage the audience?

Unlike other mediums, the appetite for good content is very high and varied content is what the audience expects from any OTT platform. Thus, the heart of the strategy is good content and how you connect with the audience with good content, which would mean that we need to really understand how audience tastes are evolving, what the audience exactly expects, etc. And then we also work with the best in the industry, partner with them, engage with them, and understand how audience tastes are developing. And then cater to those with unique storytelling which connects with the audience, not only in Tamil Nadu, but across the world. So, at the heart of the strategy is good content.

What are your outlook and growth predictions for this year?

We usually do not disclose the numbers, but it is fair to say that we have a very ambitious plan for ZEE5. The next set of growth for the OTT platforms are coming from regional markets. And original content is coming every month from ZEE5. The idea is how do you get the audience to love these programmes and then we keep the platform’s subscriptions growing through a good content strategy.

What are the innovative strategies and marketing campaigns that you have undertaken?

These are early days for OTT in the regional markets. Content is what will drive the whole game. Great consumer experience, having a social connect, getting to that newer audience base, and having different audience segments for different shows are some of the things to be considered. Every show has a very different approach when it comes to marketing. Some shows are very young in their treatment. Marketing campaigns will be planned depending upon which show is catering to which audience. There are the umbrella ZEE5 marketing campaigns, which also travel across markets. And then there are show-specific marketing campaigns, which we do from time to time. We engage with the best in the industry and so they do great work for us and it is something which we do and we keep learning.

How has the reception of OTT content in Tamil Nadu changed over the years?

It has been phenomenal. In fact, that is an understatement because we do know for a fact that in regional markets, phenomenal content and language of choice are the two underlying statements. And we have seen data of theaters, these are very content-hungry markets. And thanks to the pandemic in the last two years, the sheer consumption of OTT has increased, and rather, this has been a very comforting thing for viewers in the last two years.

This is a new start. What we have done has given us a lot of confidence and, therefore, we are announcing the whole new slate for the New Year. So, we have to give great content throughout the year because it is such a content-loving audience. And, therefore, there is a huge responsibility on the platform.

What are the new genres that ZEE5 will come up with this year?

A lot of time-tested genres have been thrillers, investigative thrillers, and crime dramas. But we are also seeing pure-play dramas, slices of life, dark comedy, etc. We are exploring dance, music drama, and even sci-fi in regional languages. So, there are a lot of unexplored areas. OTT gives creators an opportunity to tell such stories which are very intriguing, which have great narratives and which reach a worldwide audience.

The taste clusters of audiences are evolving. And our job is to keep constantly looking at what the audiences are wanting and how we can fulfil that.

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