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Nitin Vaidya

COO | 08 Jan 2010

The respect that brand Zee commands in an average Indian family is huge and that respect no one can take away from us. We will not show any programme that will make anybody in the family uncomfortable as we are truly a family-oriented channel that values culture and we build on that strategy. We will always honour and respect the Indian value system. That is our strength and not limitation, and we will build our equity on that.

Nitin Vaidya is the Chief Operating Officer of ZEEL and Business Head of Zee TV. He has rich experience in print and electronic media. He began his career as a reporter with Sakal Papers Ltd, and thereafter was with Maharashtra Times. He has worked at different levels as reporter, principal correspondent, and special correspondent, chief of bureau, brand manager and chief executive at state as well as national levels. Vaidya has also headed Zee’s News Bureau.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Khushboo Tanna, Vaidya speaks at length about Zee’s strategy in 2009 and the plans for 2010.

Q. You took over as COO of ZEEL in October 2008. How has the transition from regional channels to national channels been for you?

Earlier, I was handling only regional channels and that was a different type of role. That time there was no belief in regional channels except in the Zee Network. Today, those channels have come to grow at a different scale and now everyone is launching regional channels in Hindi speaking markets (HSM). So that was a good satisfying moment. The Marathi and Bengali channels became successful and 10 years after the launch of these channels, the competition thought of launching channels in those languages.

Q. But does it bother you that despite being latecomers, those channels are doing very well?

That’s a matter of programming and strategy from time to time, which can happen in any case. But belief in regional channels was very strong in our Chairman (Puneet Goenka) and he gave his full support. Launching and working with regional channels is a totally different experience as they offer a direct connect to the viewer, the geographical area of focus is very limited and you are tackling only a single language mind, so programming is not that difficult. In the HSM market, national channels were our main competitors, so I never looked at competition from within the language channels. Internally, whenever I used to discuss about the competition of, say Zee Marathi, I would say that Star Plus was the competition or Zee TV was the competition, as the audiences were watching these channels. For example, Marathi audiences are consuming Hindi channels, so they are our competition.

Q. How has the jump to this side been and what were the key milestones?

It was a difficult year as Colors had already come on the horizon and Star Plus was still the No. 1 channel and we were still oscillating between the two channels. The downslide of successful programmes such as ‘Dulhan’ and ‘Saath Phere’ had begun. Around that time we started taking calls, so we launched ‘Choti Bahu’ in the 7.30 pm time band and then ‘Dance India Dance’. ‘Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya Kiyo’ came next and we took a different route, that of girl child trafficking. What all these things were telling us was that right storytelling was what mattered. Viewers were looking for a change and we provided them that.

Q. Apart from content, is scheduling the next strategy for Zee?

Zee tapped into the 7.30 pm slot with ‘Sindoor’ and ‘Choti Bahu’ as Zee has always believed in this slot’s potential. This time band was not popular with the GECs, but in the regional markets, this is a strong time band. In HSM, there are only two markets – Maharashtra and Bengal, where regional is strong. In small towns, television consumption begins as early as 5.30 pm. For example, in Bengal, primetime is at 5.30 pm. So, we took our learning from that and launched ‘Choti Bahu’ at 7.30 pm and it became a primetime slot. So, 7.30 pm primetime is a gift from Zee, which nobody had believed in.

Q. Besides content, what were the other components that formed this strategy that you adopted for 2009, especially given the challenges?

One was compelling content and effective style of storytelling and content that could connect easily. For example, ‘Pavitra Rishta’ is set in a middle class Maharashtrian family. That has worked, apart from smart scheduling.

Q. So, within content there were smaller components that worked for you?

Yes, for example, ‘Karol Bagh’, where the entire shooting was done in Delhi. We could have done it in Mumbai as well, but we wanted it to have a real flavour and feel. ‘Karol Bagh’ is the only daily soap on satellite channels that has been shot and produced in Delhi.

Q. There were only two weeks where Zee was on the No. 1 slot. Was it because Zee was doing well or was the competition wasn’t doing that well?

When we look at positions we don’t just look at the No. 1 position, but we look at the most profitable No. 1 position, and we have always claimed and always believed that profitable No. 1 is also critical. There is another stream of revenue – subscription revenue – and there were some issues in that area. We wanted to focus on that first and we took a conscious call to look into that first, even though we were aware that our ratings might suffer for some weeks.

Q. In terms of ad revenues, Star Plus is still commanding a huge premium and Colors is more on par with Zee TV...

I cannot comment on ad revenues, but when it comes to profitability and margins, we have a better business model in terms of our cost efficiencies, in terms of maximising the profits and also keeping an eye on the future, which lies in subscription revenues. Ratings and GRPs are important from the advertising point of view, but while we focus on GRPs, we cannot ignore the growth that is going to come from subscription sales. So, based on that we took certain measures that affected our ratings, but those were conscious calls.

Q. Overall, how has 2009 been for Zee?

In all, 2009 has been a good and satisfying year, but we still believe that we have a long way to go. We would like to become the No. 1, and while we keep on increasing our profits, we would like to surge way ahead of the competition. Thus, 2009 has been a good year as we have stayed among the top three.

Q. Zee TV has seen a lot of changes in its senior programming team. Could you comment on that?

During the last one year, just one head has left (Ajay Bhalwankar), which is not a big concern. So now, though we do not have any programming head, we have a fiction head (Sukesh Motwani) and non-fiction head (Asish Golwarkar). We aim to fill the programming head’s position internally and we have enough people for that.

Q. What are the big plans of 2010?

Right now, prime time is stable and there will be continuity with change, which means that we will not drag any story line. We have learnt from our past experiences that if we drag, the viewer decides to change. Replacements are ready. There will be focus on more time slots – afternoons, Sundays, weekends. We are planning to add more reality shows in 2010 and looking at many formats – some would be more homegrown like ‘Dance India Dance’, which comes from our learnings in the regional market. We are looking beyond dance and singing, also plan to buy and acquire films for both Zee Cinema and Zee TV.

Q. According to you what is the Zee advantage over other GECs?

The respect that brand Zee commands in an average Indian family is huge and that respect no one can take away from us. We will not show any programme that will make anybody in the family uncomfortable as we are truly a family-oriented channel that values culture and we build on that strategy. We will always honour and respect the Indian value system. That is our strength and not limitation, and we will build our equity on that.

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