Punit Goenka, Managing Director and CEO of Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited, started his career with Zee TV in 1995 before moving on to other companies across the Essel Group. He took charge of Zee TV in 2004 as the Business Head. This, at a time when Zee’s rating had dropped to an all-time low. Since then, the channel has notched up impressive numbers and post a re-branding in 2011, is firmly in contention for the No. 1 spot. In conversation with exchange4media, Goenka recounts his early days, lessons learnt and more.
Prior to joining Zee in 2004, you spent nine years within Essel Group’s various divisions. What are some of the learnings that you have imbibed along the way that have helped you in your role as CEO today?
The biggest learning was when I worked directly with the Chairman. It was that if you are clear and honest in your mind, then you don’t need to worry about what people think. If you think you are right, then go after your target. The second learning was a big one as I got to work under a lot of professionals and reported to them. At Essel Packaging, Rajiv Santwan, the then Executive Director, groomed me from being a supervisor on the factory floor all the way to sales. Jai Singh (at ASC Enterprises), showed me HR practices, systems, processes and I realized then how difficult it was to sell a new concept to people when they didn’t understand it. I would consistently keep at it and that’s the third learning -- never give up because if one idea fails, you have to work on something new.
You are among the first CEOs who are involved in content in a big way. What has been the driving factor?
Content is at the heart of our business. When I joined Zee TV, I had to learn everything from the ground up. I had no idea how the content business worked and it’s the team that taught me. I came to the understanding very early that you can’t sell a blank screen, you need content. There were conversations that ratings get manipulated and such, but my point to the team was that one can manipulate ratings in the short term, but not in the long term – only good content wins in the longer run. At the end of the day, you have to keep listening to your viewers and evolve the content with time.
You would then agree that the new Hindi GE Chief Exec must also be a content man at heart?
Of course, it is very important and it is not that a non-content person cannot learn - I learnt it, right? I had otherwise come from a pure finance background, working in a very technical area in the satellite industry. It takes time, but you can learn it. However, at the end of the day, profitability is important and the business head’s role is to balance it all out. There may be fear amongst programmers that business heads or CEOs get too much involved with content but this is unfounded. They need to understand that it is a business we are running – we can’t eat ratings, we have to monetize them.
Your distribution JV with STAR India was quite an announcement. How has the experience been so far?
It has been good even though we have our challenges. It’s a joint venture and so far, Uday (Shankar, CEO Star) and I have taken it to a level on the basis of trusting each other to be able to work together for mutual benefit. And we are seeing it. Our distribution revenue numbers for the last 13-14 months have seen a significant rise. Earlier, we were growing in single digits, which today is double-digit.
Is there anything that your competition has done in the last couple of years that you wished Zee had done?
One thing that STAR has done… I wish we had done it ahead of them… was launch HD channels. STAR has built Utsav up well -- to get 30-35 weekly GRPs in the current system is very decent.
STAR also has created a second network brand with OK. Is it something that you consider interesting?
For them, it may work, but I don’t believe in the philosophy of two separate brands under Zee. Ten is the only other brand that we have got, but that’s because we acquired it. It had its brand properties, which we didn’t want to change. Hence we stayed with it. If you think about it, I actually killed the Alfa brand under which we operated all our regional channels and we converted everything to Zee. I believe that the mother brand’s rub-off on everything will be far greater, at least from our point of view, which does not necessarily make sense to everyone else.
What about cricket?
We consciously did not bid for cricket.
Because it was a Rs 4000 crore gamble?
No, because it’s a sure-shot loss…