Dubai: Subhash Chandra, founder of India’s Zee TV and a broadcaster with an expanding global footprint, is nothing if not relentless. He has been chiselling away towards a higher audience share in the Middle East not just with a bouquet of Indian language channels but, more recently, with full on Arabic programming as well.
In between, the script has sometimes gone wrong, but Chandra has managed to come back with a suitably reworked theme to try and connect with the region’s viewers. In a recent interview to Gulf News, Chandra offers the big picture on Zee’s plans:
Gulf News: The Zee TV bouquet now has two dedicated Arabic channels – is there space for more?
Subhash Chandra: There are 330 million people in MENA and I think we can reach out to an audience with family-themed content. We will also produce local programming and as time passes, it will certainly convert into advertising dollars. We started in 1993-94 with 30 minutes of Arabic programming. After that we had to pull back because we felt this wasn’t working the way it was meant to.
We revisited with Zee Arabia’s music channel, which again did not work for us. That was then converted into Zee Aflam (a movie channel showing dubbed Bolllywood films) and that’s been a success. That in turn set us up for the second Arabic channel, Zee Alwan, in September last. And who knows what’s next.
Gulf News: Does it mean a wait-and-watch approach for Zee TV here?
Subhash Chandra: Certainly wherever the demand is, we will be open to pursue it. At the moment we do not have any proposal in front of us.
Gulf News: Zee’s Middle East interests also extend to Ten Sports (which it acquired in 2010). Are you OK with the returns?
Subhash Chandra: It has been successful but definitely can be better. Including that on Ten, our investments in the region will be close to $250 million. It shows our commitment to the region.
We want to grow our audiences outside of India and the maximum will come from Asia and this region for the next five to six years.
Africa is our next destination. That market has to grow and we want to be a part of it.
Gulf News: Zee is going wide with HD channels. What’s your strategy on this?
Subhash Chandra: HD is more of a subscription play than an advertising play. It’s a viewer experience. If some of our experiments succeed, we might even want to create ad-free HD channel.