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The popularity of IPL is questionable: Ashish Sehgal, COO Zee Unimedia

30-January-2018
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The popularity of IPL is questionable: Ashish Sehgal, COO Zee Unimedia

ZEEL has just reported a phenomenal growth of 25.8 per cent in the last quarter. The organisation is excited about 2018 which looks more promising. As Zee Unimedia is set to complete two years, exchange4media spoke to Ashish Sehgal, COO, Zee Unimedia, about the year ahead for the industry and ZEE group.

Excerpts:

Zee Unimedia is set to complete two years in April 2018. How did the concept of a subsidiary company has helped ZEEL's overall growth?

With business expanding, our core objective was to consolidate. With this perspective, Zee Unimedia as a standalone entity, helped us grow business exponentially. With network consolidation, our presence and strong competitive position across genres and markets, we were able to synergize our offerings and focus on our objective of Value Based selling with consumer being at the core. This helped us become an one stop solution provider to our partners for national and hyper local connectivity, thereby gaining higher share of the revenue pie.

We are in the beginning of the new year, what are your predictions for the market after a slow 2017? Also, what are your big plans for 2018?

I am confident that 2018 would be a year to watch and it looks extremely exciting for us due to our strong competitive position. The economic outlook has been very encouraging as GDP is projected to cross the 7 per cent mark. While rural will continue to fuel FMCG and auto sector, electrification will drive consumer durables. Also, this year will mark the rise of OTT, which may see an increase in advertising with surge in acquired content and improve customer acquisition. Lastly, upcoming Lok Sabha election will boost advertising towards the end of financial year.

From our perspective, not only are we market leaders across most genres, but we have dominant presence in rural India as well. This would help us garner higher share of FMCG, auto and consumer durables.

With literacy improving and English being the core of this, we believe that viewership of English Movie and Entertainment content would gain prominence. Keeping this in mind, we have invested heavily in this segment and that's where we'll focus in terms of advertising.

Lastly, all brands are consolidating their presence across regional markets, thereby increasing their spends in the regional channels. West Bengal market is currently the most lucrative market for all advertisers and our dominant presence in both fiction and non-fiction would help us garner higher share. Similarly, South markets are evolving as middle class income levels are on the rise, leading to higher consumption. In fact, across most product categories, consumption of South markets have surpassed all India average. However, in terms of advertising, right price needs to be established which will be our endeavour. We have a strong presence in these South markets, which will be our revenue spinner with right mix of content, on-ground initiatives, etc. Retail will be our focus across markets.

One of the purposes of creating Zee Unimedia as a subsidiary was to have other broadcasters on board with you as clients for ad sales. How much have you succeeded on this front?

Having consolidated, in the past two years, we have bought Sarthak to mark our presence in the Odisha market and Big channels to consolidate FTA bouquet in the critical markets of UP, Bihar and Jharkhand. Having said that, we are still in the process of internal synergies so that we can offer an integrated solution to our business associates.

Your parent company ZEEL has recently reported a growth of 26 per cent in the last quarter. This is phenomenal growth considering the slow pace of the market. What did ZEEL do differently to get its numbers right?

As an organization, my vision for ZUL is to be a consumer-centric organization. With this objective in mind, we work closely with our clients to understand what their business and brand imperatives are and then create solutions accordingly. Our focus is always on maintaining business flexibility. Be it through effective pricing as per market conditions or optimizing our servicing capabilities with a quick turn-round time. Another important aspect is that we have been aggressive in improving our market positioning, especially in markets like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, which have been undervalued for multiple reasons.

While ZEEL continues to grow and do well, we have not heard much about ZMCL. Are any major changes lined up for better ad sales or revenue figures for ZMCL?

This year, within our bouquet of offerings, News genre has been the growth driver. It has not only shown multi-fold growth but also faster revenue growth than market as well, way ahead of all competitive channels in this space. To further enhance our revenues, we will focus on retail advertising on Regional News channels.

Market is abuzz about Zee coming up with its new OTT platform. Almost all broadcasters have invested heavily in OTT in last few years. As a media sales expert, what is your take on the future of OTT platforms. How will they be able to monetize these platforms in a country like India?

The OTT arena is very exciting and going by the prediction of 35 per cent growth YoY, it will be an important vertical for the industry. But the marketers will have to treat it as a complementary screen to Television and not as a competing medium. My understanding is that even in the most digitally forward markets, the role of TV in building long term 'word of mouth' for a brand remains unchallenged. Therefore, it'll become imperative for them to adopt a multi-screen strategy to drive ROI.

Monetization will be a function of active user base and content mix. I believe, players who will invest on local language content will stand to gain in the long run. From monetization perspective, ZUL will be able to offer multi-screen proposition to our advertiser and this will form a part of our key objectives of multi-media approach.

The TRAI order on tariff regulations is expected anytime soon. In case the SC upholds the TRAI order of offering channels on a-la-carte to consumers, how will it affect the TV sales in general?

Since the matter is sub-judice, I would not want to comment on the same.

We are nearing the IPL season. It is believed that this particular sport takes away a major chunk of advertising budget during the given season. How will you ensure that its popularity does not affect revenue of your channels for the given period?

I feel over the last few seasons, the popularity of this sport is questionable. As a network, we don't shy away from putting our best properties on air and that's what we will do this year too. From a revenue perspective, with high ticket properties and 45+ channels, we will be in a position to offer better efficiency and efficacy to our advertisers which will cover the length and breadth of the country.

You are an industry veteran. What according to you could be major challenges for the media industry in coming months?

In my view, the major challenges will be in the area of Unified measurement system (EKAM) which will be a big game changer. OTT proliferation will lead to further audience fragmentation. Media houses will work towards garnering right price for the audience reached, which would help build multi-platform solution with a unified currency. Becoming an effective one-stop solution for our clients applies for agencies as well as media providers. In the near future, agencies will revert to the old model of one-stop customer-centric approach wherein creative and media would be bundled under one roof. All of this would help offer relevant proposition to capture the rampant mind-set fragmentation.

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