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Differentiated programming format disappoints Zee, plans to call off experiment

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Differentiated programming format disappoints Zee, plans to call off experiment

When all mass channels took the same route of Monday to Thursday and weekend movies, Zee Telefilms decided to try a different path and hit the competition from two ends – Thursday Premier and consequent Sunday to Wednesday programming. However, the differentiation has not paid off for the channel and come September 27, it would go back to the Monday to Thursday format with weekend movies.

Looking at the scheduling experiment more closely, Zee laid wager on two counts – strong titles for its Thursday movie slot and building Sunday episodes with hook points that would draw the viewer on Mondays. Had the Sunday episodes managed that and Thursday Premier succeeded in attracting eyeballs too, the beginning and end of the weekly cycle of programming on other mass channels would be affected. From the look of it, the strategy itself was a sound one, which reflects in the initial numbers that the channel has drawn.

Tracking the performance of the Thursday Premier slot in the Hindi speaking markets for the C&S 4+ audience, it is evident that the strategy was paying off in the beginning. Speaking more on this, Harish Shriyan, President, MediaCom, asserts, “The strategy worked for them when it was brought in place but the simple reason was good titles. The channel hasn’t been able to maintain that. How many good titles could there be to keep the interest going week after week.”

Adding more to this, Navin Kathuria, Media Group Head, Media Direction, explains, “Though the movies were giving them numbers for the Thursday slot for a while, the audience wasn’t really vacating mass channels. The established shows weren’t losing any eyeballs. Either people would return during the show or in case of a good title, swap between channels, which too ceased to happen in the recent past.”

The Thursday slot for Zee reflects a zigzag graph, indicating that only a few titles were scoring with the audience. In 2003, it has kept the channel playing largely between a 14-plus channel-share to 18 per cent, where a channel like Sony has barely crossed the nine-plus mark. When the slot’s averages in 2003 are seen, the strategy keeps Zee on a higher plank than Sony. However, the numbers of 2004 place the Zee graph well below Sony’s.

In the year gone so far, Zee has largely moved between 1.69 to 6.96 channel shares. The only exceptions are week 5’s figure of 9.06, 11.08 of the week 8 and 9.68 of the week 20, when the channel has shown titles like ‘Chalte Chalte’ and ‘Main Prem Ki Deewani Hoon’. Sony on the other hand, moves between 6.49 and 10.74.

In both the years, especially in 2003, an increase for Zee does indicate a dip for Sony and even STAR but as the highs eventually become lesser, so does the problem posed for other channels. Evidently, the intention of breaking the cycle from this end completely ceased to work in 2004.

“Which is also the case with Sunday-Monday episodes,” expresses Kathuria, “The Sunday episodes initially, though very marginally did manage larger numbers. Again, this was the case in the beginning only. So the aim of taking the audience to Monday didn’t really work for the channel.”

Giving a few reasons here, he says, “The channel didn’t manage to create the hook that it was hoping for on Sundays. And again, the content is established on other channels and the loyalty factor has been evidently high.”

Adding to this, Shriyan says, “The weekend viewers too aren’t necessarily the same as the weekday ones. No one can guarantee that they had time to come to the weekday programming.”

In totality, the plan was perfect but the execution wasn’t and Zee Telefilms realised this. “The very fact that they have taken it off means that they realised that experiment was not really successful,” remarks Shriyan.

But this gives way to a few other questions. Not much marketing is seen in regards to the change in strategy. Is the decision to make noise at a later date a wise one? “The channel has to be careful that the viewer is not confused,” says Shriyan, “But this change will be marked with good marketing.”

Kahuria informs that the channel’s intention to make considerable noise with the telecast of ‘Munna Bhai MBBS’ on September 26 is also a good idea, “The channel will garner decent eyeballs for the movie. So it does make sense.”

Also, now Zee will be competing head-on with other channels. Doesn’t this make things more difficult? “It is very tough and they have to start somewhere. They need to re-look at the strategy now. Breaking any habit is very difficult and that is what they have to do. This is the much-needed starting point but it has to be taken forward well.”

“They have to be quick now. The perks, new programmes, stronger content – all should be in place; for instance, ‘Tumhari Disha’ might just have lost out on audience, as people haven’t watched it from the beginning and in the new schedule, they could have,” comments Kathuria.

Too many programmes have come and gone from the channel in this time. The new scheduling does make perfect sense for the channel but as the experts put it, it has to be backed with both strong content and correct marketing. And we’ll soon know what Zee has planned on both counts.


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