The team at ZEE5 is riding high on the success of its Tamil original Ayali, and also the overall performance of ZEE5 Tamil and Zee5 South over the last year when it released six originals and 22 feature films.
Subscription for ZEE5 in the South is growing at a CAGR of over 60 pc, as against a national industry average of 19 pc, revealed Manish Kalra, Chief Business Officer, ZEE5 India, at a media roundtable in Chennai alongside Siju Prabhakaran, Chief Cluster Officer – South, ZEE Entertainment.
ZEE5’s all India SVOD share is at 12 to 18 pc, as measured by various platforms, of which half comes from the South, added Kalra.
Excerpts from the interaction:
On ZEE5 Tamil’s 2022 run
Prabhakaran: The past two years have been very successful because of back-to-back successful originals right from Vilangu, Paper Rocket, Finger Tip 2 and the latest show Ayali that has caught the imagination of the audience across the world. There was a belief that only a select genre works in OTT, but with the kind of risks that we have taken, it is proved that social dramas can be bingeable. Today Ayali is one of the highly binged shows on our platform.
Kalra: ZEE5 in Tamil Nadu has been around for five years. The last year has been very successful for us, we are thankful to the Tamil audience for their love towards our content. Last year ZEE5 launched six originals and 22 Tamil films and we can proudly say that we are one of the biggest content creators for Tamil Nadu. It has in fact helped us to grow our viewership in double digits. Our local team has been successful in getting the pulse of the audience right, delivering to our goals in terms of business as well as engagement.
On the OTT advantage
Kalra: Our web series Ayali has done 100 million minutes, reaching millions of viewers. Movies may not have reached so many people. It will go off screen in a couple weeks after the release, whereas in OTT we keep the content alive forever. Web series that were launched three years back are still getting the same level of engagement and that is the power of OTT. People go out to watch movies, but today if we are lazy, they can always get to watch the movie on ZEE5 after 30 days.
On ZEE5 shows versus competition, budgets
Kalra: ZEE5 as a platform always looks at the consumer first. We always look at the story and evaluate how it will connect with viewers rather than planning shows on a scale of Rs.100 or 50 crores.
Other platforms are throwing lots of money, but that is not our philosophy. We want to focus on what connects with consumers. For example, our new show Ayali has broken the norms of OTT formats. It is one among the most successful series in Tamil despite being a low budget production.
On one industry metric for OTT
There is no standard metric of measurement available as of now. But we do internally evaluate on search metrics. There are some research agencies like Ormax that focus on Hindi shows but not for regional content. As an all-digital platform, we get a lot of insights from social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Google and YouTube and the inputs keep us happy that we are nothing less than any of the leading platforms.
If a transparent and unbiased measurement tool is agreed upon by all platforms and comes to light, then we definitely welcome it. Instead of keeping one bar, it can have multiple tools to evaluate the performance of the platform and content separately.
On growth in subscription down South
Kalra: The growth in subscription of ZEE5 is in high double digits. We managed to witness tremendous growth. Industry is growing at 19 pc CAGR across India, while ZEE5 in South is growing three times more than the industry average, crossing a whooping 60 pc CAGR.
There is a steady growth in our audience base as they are liking our stories and movies. We are bringing in new content almost every month. Last year in Tamil alone we added 28 content pieces.
In terms of our SVOD market share, our all India share is at 12 pc to 18 pc (various measurement platforms). Out of which 50 pc share comes from the South.
On customer retention in SVOD, cost of acquisition
Kalra: Retention is a major part of any subscriber business. Once you reach a certain scale, if you are not able to retain subscribers, then you’ll have to spend a lot getting them back versus just retaining them, and that is a critical parameter.
Industry retention rates in India are 50 pc or lower depending on the type of platform. A healthy retention rate is anywhere around 50 to 60 pc. India does not have auto-renewal options because of RBI’s 2021 mandate on standing instructions. Most of the OTTs suffered a setback as the customer has to renew it manually now. Ecosystem barriers related to the electronic payments also contributed to a drop in retention ratio of SVODs in India.
Ideally, we’d want that number to be 65 to 70 pc to become a mature market like the US and China. We hope the Indian government enables subscription-based services and we will also take care from our side to put out good content and invest in technology to make it easy and safe for subscribers.
On AVOD vs SVOD in India
Kalra: AVOD and SVOD are both important businesses, but AVOD enables the customer to sample a platform’s content free of cost. If we have decent content, then AVOD enables a consumer to test it.
For us it is important because we have almost 110 TV shows with a new episode every day. If someone misses out on their favourite TV show, they can still catch up on ZEE5’s AVOD. It is a wonderful opportunity enabling both businesses to thrive by making AVOD a type of funnel to make them choose SVOD.
Originals va Blockbusters
Kalra: Good customers love good content, it can be movies or web series. They love interesting stories that excites them, surprises them, connects with them and relates with their lives. Movies had mastered the art of creating two and half hours of power packed entertainment. Having big stars in movies helps and Tamils love their stars. Similarly for web series, we identify scenes which keep you hooked. Even if it is a six or eight-episode series, people will lose interest if they don’t find anything exciting after 8 or 10 mins. So there is an art that has been formed on how do we start, how do we engage and where do we end an episode.
Blockbusters are a natural favourite and drive lots of eyeballs but they do come at a very high cost, whereas originals are successful if we get the right angle with stories, content etc. Then they pay richly.
Take for example our investment in RRR. We trusted Rajamouli, it had a stellar cast as well and it had a high cost – but it was a safe bet. In originals, we learn what goes well and what does not. The better we do that, the better their reach, which in turn will enable us to make more originals.
On big names creating for OTT, unearthing fresh talent
Prabhakaran: Due to the pandemic and lack of theatrical releases, big stars and directors explored the OTT space. Directors like Mani Ratnam explored the anthology genres which resulted in others following suit. Whereas, the biggest hits of ZEE5 were from lesser known directors like Prashanth and Muthu. On the other hand, we also did Paper Rocket with Kiruthiga Udayanidhi. So, it is the content and story that excites us. We are also doing originals with yesteryear legends of TV. While they are unable to do films or TV shows in the present scenario, we feel that they are the perfect people for web series.
Kalra: We can cast a big star in a web series but when we have an alternative artist who can do justice to the role, why not? This way, OTT shows widen the scope of work for content creators, artistes and talent. The scope was getting limited when only a few stars were ruling the movie industry. We have given opportunity to storytellers, writers, technicians, producers and actors.
Prabhakaran: In addition, we do extend an opportunity for young and aspiring content creators with path breaking ideas. With newcomers our team has to work closely to extract the best, while established talent comes with film culture that needs to be moulded for web series. We are good at handling both the ends to deliver the best. Big names come with the advantage of marketability, however, it is the content that determines the success of a show. For instance, a majority of the successful films released in the past couple months such as Dada, Ayodhya or Run Baby Run, have come from newcomers.
We operate on the philosophy of consumer first – content first. I feel that the Tamil content ecosystem is gradually shifting towards a qualitative benchmark.
ZEE5 has a local team in Chennai which evaluates content from creators and every day we get 10 to 12 new concepts. We evaluate proposals purely based on merit. Otherwise, a concept like Ayali must have easily escaped our eyes.
On viability of originals on OTT, success rate
Kalra: We are not at that stage because consumers want both, and we want to keep a hybrid. If the success rate of originals is 20 pc, and we want it to be more, then we will have to take steps in that direction which will take some time. It is an art and requires a lot of patience.
On share of TV shows in OTT viewership
Kalra: Out of a hundred million users every month, TV show viewers comprise almost 80 pc. There is a percentage that comes only to watch originals, so it is a hybrid with TV show viewers forming a majority.
On male versus female audience
Kalra: If we look at subscription-based content, then it is male dominated (over 60 pc) but if you take free content, because there are daily soaps, then the ratio reverses and it becomes female dominated with 65 pc women.
On upcoming content slate for ZEE5 Tamil
Prabhakaran: There is a robust lineup of shows that has been planned and we are eagerly waiting to see how the response will be for each. In two weeks, our next original show in Tamil, Sengalam will be launched. It is a story based in Virudhunagar, a town in Southern Tamil Nadu and revolves around the politics involving the local body elections. Our specialty is our content that has been rooted and compelling, working with some of the specialists in the market to craft the best. Every viewer expects to watch captivating content in his own language and we strive hard to satisfy their expectation, which is the reason why ZEE5 has been successful in this market. We plan to launch more than six originals this year.
One of the biggest and most anticipated films of this year is Viduthalai, a Vetrimaran directorial. Part 1 and 2 of Viduthalai will be streamed in ZEE5 immediately after the theatrical release cycle. A film directed by Muthiah, an Arya-starrer based on the bond shared between two religions in the rural area, will also be streamed on ZEE5.
In the original space we have an interesting line up. Our next big ticket original show will be Aindham Vedham, a new genre in which technology will meet mythology. As an original platform, we have been able to attempt unexplored genres in the theatrical, with these cult shows. With Director Vasanthabalan and Radaan Mediaworks, we will be launching Thalaimai Sevagan.