ZEEL CMO Prathyusha Agarwal on niche channels in NTO, regional portfolio and subscription growth

The company has seen a growth in subscription revenue by almost 46 per cent.

MUMBAI: Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL) CMO Prathyusha Agarwal believes that the new tariff order (NTO) was TRAI’s best move for the industry as it has opened one more way to monetise apart from advertising. Now, subscription revenues count too. Post NTO, Zee’s subscription revenue has grown by 46 per cent in the last quarter.

Agarwal says that there was a popular belief that niche channels would suffer the most with the implementation of NTO but there was a subscription uptake. She said, “Contrary to popular belief the subscription uptake was great. We see it as an opportunity now that there will be subscription numbers available, which will be in millions.”

She further says, “So, if an advertiser is trying to reach out to premium audiences or English-consuming audiences, they know that these are the millions of people available, and what kind of consumption they are indulging in as well. So I think that NTO is a good move for niche channels. Of course, at first, the last mile was giving the idea that English channels are only available in higher-priced packs and such things. But we campaigned for the English cluster and that’s our focus even today. That's a great way to go for a niche channel and even for the advertiser, as this is where they have audiences who have consciously purchased you and you can reach out through advertising.”

Agarwal goes on to say that in tier 2 cities, English content is available only through TV channels and Zee’s aim is to serve them curated content. “Our single-minded focus for the English cluster is about getting great quality, exclusive content and making it available first on TV,” she says. 

There is bound to be some pricing variable since this is happening for the first time. “The NTO move has been contrary to all popular belief; pay channels have grown in reach. So there's been a 5 per cent growth at all India level and 10 per cent growth at an HSM-level for pay GECs. From Q1 FY 19 to Q1 FY 20 there is also been a 1.5 per cent increase in total TV viewership,” she reveals.

“Last quarter, we had a 46 per cent growth in subscription revenues thanks to our strong regional channel brands as well. For example in Zee Marathi and Zee Bangla, our share is more than number two and number three put together. We've had that kind of pull in the market and hence the ease of transition was faster for us,” she adds. Agarwal says that where the channel number dropped from 50 to 40, the quality of consumption has improved.

Even though NTO took a toll on several companies’ finances, Agarwal says that there was a larger economic downturn as well. People held on to the money to invest for festive time, which is the later part of the year. That is taking place now.

She goes on to state that the 30 per cent of Zee viewers has converted to 80 per cent. While people knew they wanted Zee channels, the network eased the process and friction.

Recently, TRAI released a consultation paper to review NTO stating that broadcasters have been misusing the new rule. On this, Agarwal says that people are only getting accustomed to the new climate. “I don't think anybody is trying to misuse. When you get a variable for the first time, it will take a while before market dynamics and the feedback loop happens. I would actually say that the entire sector needs to come together and ensure demand pricing stabilises. The current journey is more of a learning journey and it happens in any category where pricing is just about to start,” she adds.

Zee will continue to build culturally deep-seated content and original hours in every region. But the single-minded focus across channels is to drive demand lead subscriptions. “I think there's no better way than consumers asking for your channels and ensuring that we are available, easily accessible and delivering value. Going ahead, the roadmap will strongly drive the behaviour of evolving purchase and subscription and that's what will drive our subscription revenues.”

As clients want to speak to the different regions of India, she says, “We will focus to do more and maybe expand the portfolio in the regional. We will add more and more offerings to speak to the many Indias.”

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