Television networks are exploring the digital medium keenly in a bid to remain relevant in a screen-agnostic age as well as to generate additional revenue opportunities. ZEEL has created some intriguing new ways to increase monetization on their digital platforms. exchange4media spoke with Debashish Ghosh, CEO, India.com and Zee Digital Network to understand the group’s master plan in the digital domain.
1. As the head of India.com and entire Zee Digital Network what does your work entail in ZEEL? How is it different from when you were CEO, Times Business Solutions Ltd (TBSL)?
It was also an internet (based) company but specifically in the domain of internet classifieds. But that business is quite different. Currently what I am doing is in the domain of media, internet media, across various verticals and that’s the key difference as the businesses are concerned. Overall in terms of ZEEL, we have consolidated all the digital initiatives of the group. ZEEL has 36 channels in India and has another 36 channels abroad. Then Zee Media Corp which is Zee’s 10 news channels in India, then there is DNA, then there is Ten Sports which has four channels. Now one of this is to drive the digital representation of all these mainline media plays but also to grow those platforms and not let them stagnate as marketing billboards. Our play is entirely on the digital side, leveraging the content to promote a consumer-centric proposition. We have activated the archives of our content to show 5-minute episodes, funny scenes, behind the scenes, etc. It has organic engagement on the platforms for users.
What is the digital strategy that which you are using to push Zee?
There are effectively four large PNLs, large not in terms of value but in terms of activity. We are still relatively small but we would collectively reach Rs 100 crore in terms of top line. That is a significant growth. Last four months we've already seen two and a half times over last year and both in terms of revenue as well as traffic. The profit centres being India.com & Zee Digital. It points towards two things i.e. driving organic growth on the digital platforms and driving brand recall as far as television is concerned. That is a side proposition. It does not override the need for having original and organic traffic on the websites. That's more critical and more where the monetization comes from. Even in Zee Digital what we are doing for Zee TV is now being replicated for our Marathi, Bangla, Telugu, Tamil, etc. and our advantage here is that we have a lot of archival content over so many years. On digital there is no inventory crunch. Two previous seasons of Pavitra Rishta are doing well on digital. If you look at comScore today Zee TV is higher than STAR, of course higher than Sony TV or SAB TV. Unfortunately Colors doesn't get reported in comScore because it is all under In.com.
What are the gaps in the organisation that where there and they you helped fix?
I just managed the people well. It's just broad direction and goals that need to be set honestly and a certain sense of enthusiasm needs to be inculcated. I didn't do anything, the team did. In India.com or IWPL as we call the company, we are very open towards collective ideation and that does not come from a single person it comes from all quarters. We are a start-up at the end of the day as far as India.com is concerned what we have done is push the fact that we are a start up right down to the people as well.
How is Zee looking to monetize the digital space? Are you looking at it as a promotional tool?
At this point in time there are primarily two routes. One is an inventory sales route which is to do with site inventory, streaming inventory as well as video inventory. If we play our content out of our own player and not as a YouTube embedded player (although we have our YouTube channels), we still play it out of our own player because that helps us monetise more. SEO is one of our key strengths actually across the board and because of that we quite often rank higher than YouTube for the same video and that is the reason we drive it of our player. But more importantly what we look at is driving branded solutions. For instance if it is the Pavitra Rishta page, then can I get that sponsored. That destination can be sold to brand from a monetisation perspective. However, one of the things that we want to bring out in the market is video integrated advertising and that is different from pre-roll or mid-roll (ads).
A UK-based company which we own stake in produces videos they embed brands, physical products or brand messages in. So for instance if this is a video being shot with you and me right now I could place two coke cans on the table even after the video is shot. So these ads become non inventory-led content integrated propositions. That is something that we are looking at driving in the market. It has not started yet but will be out in the next few weeks. Discussions are on with Coke, Micromax, and more importantly what we are trying to create is currency. This is something that a user will never miss. It is within the content so you can't miss it. It will not be something that you will skip like in a True View ad or skip channels in case of TV. The other we are looking at is interactive video. For example you click on a character and get to see more information and click on scene and go to the behind the scenes footage. It is fairly native right now but we are trying to experiment with. Both are going to be launched this quarter.
With entire shows being played on YouTube does it affect TV viewership?
Not really, in fact it is actually complementary. It is also the kind of profiling that Zee TV has for it audience. In terms of television Zee TV has a 35+ housewife audience profile and that to Sec BCD kind of profile. Internet by definition is a Sec A profile and young below 30 possibly. There is no reason to believe that there is an overlap. Having said that we also do a lot of social listening in terms of understanding what people are talking about on the digital space with regard to our content and we use this as inputs for the mainline programming as well. This whole context of cannibalisation is a little immature because if that were to happen it would happen anyway. You can't stop it and even if can't put your content others will put it up. They are moving out of TV and not your content.
Are viewers watching True view ads or are they being skipped?
It's a balance between monetisation and not making the user angry basically. But because of True View ads, the creatives are becoming so interesting that people actually don't mind watching it in most cases; whether they take an action is debatable. That is debatable in any form of advertising. But what they are doing since they know the first five seconds is critical, the creatives are being built for all big brands in a way that core message is shown in the first five seconds. Even if someone skips the message is still gone. The creative industry is gearing up to that. If I were to estimate, because there is no direct statistic that I am aware of at this point in time, as high 60-70 per cent do not skip ads and that is a very high success rate.