Strong stories for the many Bharats - Prathyusha Agarwal on ZEE’s post-Covid strategy
Celebrating the spirit of solidarity and the joy of being back, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd. (ZEEL) recently announced its content comeback via an innovative partnership with leading CPG brands – Nestle Maggi, Amul Lassi, PepsiCo, Red Label, Cadbury Dairy Milk, ITC Dark Fantasy.
The #BanegiBaatSaathSaath promise has been rolled out across media and to all of ZEE’s partners along with a film, which is an ode to the entire TV industry coming together to entertain its viewers.
As production resumes, ZEE aims to bring stories that will uplift the mood of the nation and provide its viewers respite through all that they are going through.
In this interaction with Adgully, Prathyusha Agarwal, Chief Consumer Officer, ZEE, speaks at length about how the M&E behemoth is gearing up for the new normal.
How is the entertainment industry gearing up for the new normal?
The last three months have caused a significant stir in the mood of the nation. People are increasingly investing time in entertainment to cope with the uncertainty prevailing. During such times, TV has been the greatest common unifier, keeping consumers positively engaged and entertained in this lockdown, and as content creators, we acknowledge that it is a huge responsibility we carry. For us, understanding the pulse of our consumers and customers and delivering delight is an obsession. With the resumption of production, we are excited to bring fresh content for our consumers. The stories we bring will aim to uplift the mood of the nation and provide our viewers respite through all that they are going through.
We are glad to receive the support of the various state governments in resuming shoots, and we have geared up to commence content creation in the new normal. A clear ONE SOP has been crafted, which has the support of the broadcasters, production houses and the Government. We are ensuring that our teams are following the SOPs diligently on the sets and all measures are being followed to ensure the health and safety of our biggest asset, our people. At ZEE, we strongly believe that the challenges we all faced in the first half of 2020 are just like a twist in the tale before the interval and when we all rally together, we can achieve the impossible and create an extraordinary second half.
What kind of future content strategy/ innovations do you envisage to cater to the changing consumption patterns?
During the lockdown, we have seen consumer behaviour and attitudes shifting. This dynamic consumer mindset has given rise to new trends in the television space. We see three big themes playing out in terms of content, which are being woven into our storytelling. First, the lockdown period has heightened family bonding, with people reconnecting and spending more time together. With the festive season on the anvil, there are little moments and occasions around families coming together. Given that the viewing pattern is going to see the entire family consuming TV as a unit, there is a lot more emphasis on some of those elements in our storylines. Secondly, given the uncertainty and sense of fear that has been surrounding us, at ZEE we are integrating the thought that we will overcome this difficulty together through our stories, because that courage is what we are looking at as a very big emotional benefit. And the third, of course, is the need for light hearted and motivational content to beat the uncertainty and stress. Comedy as a genre acts like an antidote and we are infusing that into our characters, tracks and stories across our channels. Keeping our strong customer first approach in mind, a collective force of 5,000+ people have come together to bring 100+ fresh stories, every day in 11 languages, which take inspiration from the consumer sentiment and echo their anticipations.
What would be the role of entertainment in the post COVID-19 world?
The television set, a vital part of every home, took over the roles of the informer, entertainer, and stress-reliever, for the entire family and society at large in these unprecedented times, making television an essential service in these solitary times. The ubiquitous TV set continues to enjoy its role as the biggest source of entertainment for audiences across the country, a constant and daily habit. With the lockdown and people being confined to their homes, the reliance on television for entertainment witnessed a major spike. It also re-emerged as a binder to remain connected to the world. Many of the brands as well as the state governments used television as a medium to communicate with the audience and keep them informed and educated. We see the habit of television viewing growing stronger amongst the entire family as a unit, even in the new normal as television continues to remain an essential service to millions of people across the country.
What are the technological innovations that will propel the growth of the entertainment industry in these times?
In the new normal, organisations will have to rebuild efficiencies through a hybrid production model, where physical interaction is kept to the essential and all other parts of the value chain are delivered virtually. Technology is an important part of how we operate now in the new normal and we have been optimally leveraging technology to ensure our viewers are delivered a quality output. As an organisation, ZEE has always been agile and quick to lead and adapt in the ever changing environment, and we are exploring AR/VR solutions in our content to offset the curbs in live location shoots and outdoor shoots during the ongoing situation. We see these technology solutions taking off in a big way as the entertainment industry adapts to newer ways to develop its content. We have successfully been able to bring in innovations with remote production of content over mobile and professional cameras by using video and audio production technologies to support broadcast, digital & social platforms. Moving to these systems with agility and adaptability has helped us bring back the content across all markets in a coordinated manner.
ZEE recently successfully concluded an industry first phenomenon of 25-hour Music Marathon on digital. There also have been other virtual global events that saw huge traction. How does ZEE see such virtual events in increasing traction for the network? What is ZEE’s strategy in this regard?
SaReGaMaPa’s silver jubilee celebration was an industry-first initiative, which saw an entire concert being shot by various artists at their homes. This 25-hour Marathon on digital, leading into the mega concert on TV proved to be a breakthrough among consumers. We received an overwhelming response even globally, with a cumulative reach of 63.1 million viewers across TV in India, and 165 million cumulative reach worldwide for its 10-day campaign on social media platforms. Going forward, we see events that engage with viewers beyond just one screen, increasing loyalty and walk-ins across platforms. At ZEE, our strategy has always been to provide a seamless entertainment experience to our consumers across multiple touchpoints, and the mammoth effort of pulling off the 25-hour music marathon on TV and Digital was a perfect blend of maximising technology, creativity and collaboration. Taking a cue from the success of this event, we are very confident that we will be able to successfully unlock many such innovations adapting to newer technologies in the coming times.
Lack of fresh content saw GEC viewership slide during the lockdown period. Now that shootings have resumed, how long do you think it will take GECs to get back to pre-COVID-19 viewership levels? Will it ever get back to the pre-COVID levels? How much will the changing consumption patterns impact television viewership?
Even during the lockdown, the nostalgic content and all-time favourite shows re-introduced by broadcasters to ensure the much-needed levity in family viewing saw viewers tuning in. With people being confined at home due to the lockdown, we witnessed a surge in consumption during non-primetime hours besides the usual prime time hump. Now, with fresh content rolling out across channels, it gives us many more consumption occasions to cater to and we’ve reworked our content strategy to cater to the audience in the non-primetime and primetime hours. Moreover, the viewing audience set is changing from just women to family as a unit, drawing a lot more people to TV viewing. So, more people consuming for more time for more number of days is a big behavioural trend we have seen in consumer cohorts. We see some of these family consumption viewing rituals continuing in a big way as we get into Unlock 2.0, and GECs not only reaching the pre-COVID-19 levels in terms of viewership, but we also see television viewership increasing further with these new behavioural trends.
How do you view the growth of FTA channels during the lockdown period? Channels like Star Utsav, Zee Anmol, Colors Rishtey and Sony Pal, which turned FTA 2-3 months in March 2020, have been gaining viewership at a faster pace during this period.
In the current scenario, we have seen a tremendous increase in demand for differentiated content on DD Free Dish. As people were confined to their homes and had limited entertainment options, TV emerged as the trusted medium to provide entertainment and infotainment. There is a big market for FTA channels and with Zee Anmol and Zee Anmol Cinema as FTA offerings bringing quality content, the consumers resonated well with the stories that are a reflection of their lives, traditions, and cultural nuances.
What does the road ahead look like for ZEE? With the COVID disruption, how are you revamping your network strategy? How have your focus areas changed? What areas are you looking at to drive growth? Where does digital fit into your scheme of things now?
Through the immense power of storytelling, the strength of our characters and the depth of emotions that is showcased on our channels, we have aligned our entire content strategy to instill solidarity and positivity as the country unlocks for operations. Continuing to deliver strong stories and characters that resonate with our consumers across the many Bharats through our soul-to-screen approach remains our core focus. Digital has and will always continue to be a key aspect in our growth strategy, and going forward, we will be identifying more opportunities to maximise the potential of our content by using technology as the key enabler to deliver the soul to screen approach across platforms and markets.