For more than two years, India has witnessed surge in terms of online streaming platforms, run by established broadcasters (Hotstar, Voot or Sony LIV), international platforms (Netflix, Amazon Prime Video), and the independent ones (Spuul, ALT Balaji). However, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL), who entered the space way back in 2012 with Ditto TV—offering live TV and catch-up content—had not created much buzz.
“We were asked many times over why we weren't talking or doing something about it, but we wanted to do something only after curating promising content,” Archana Anand, digital head, ZEE5 India, said on the sidelines of the launch of ZEE5. The online streaming platform from the ZEEL bouquet will also integrate its existing Ditto TV and OZEE.
The channel is betting big on the freemium-model, with subscription charges of Rs150 (launch price Rs99) per month. “We are going to have a large bouquet of content on our free site. But all our originals and digital firsts, our premium international content, and the Korean, Turkish and Pakistani shows, can be accessed only through the paywall. But a lot of movies and regional shows will be available on the free site.”
Anand believes it is a myth that Indians are wary about paying to watch content online. "Indians definitely pay, and they pay for a lot of things. They need to see the value. With ZEE5, one of the beautiful things we are doing is going across 12 languages. A lot of people are talking about regional, but I think ours is going to be the most authentic one.”
Announcing the launch, Amit Goenka, CEO, Zee International and ZEE5 Global, promised a great line-up of original shows—eight original series that will be unveiled in the coming months, one show featuring Sunny Leone, and a lot of other original content. Anand believes that the show starring Leone will hit the market in a very big way. “There’s long-form, short-form, binge-watch, six-minuters—it is a whole variety of content completely catering to the digital (audience),” she said.
For other streaming platforms, it has taken a long time to come up with original shows that match up to the international standards. Hotstar is still downplaying the significance of original series format, while betting big on sports. Some of the small-format series that Voot has come up with received a mixed response. Sony LIV is yet to make a mark even after attempting original content (short films and shorter series) to tepid response. Amazon Prime Video, which launched with a promise of 18 original shows last year, have come with two originals so far —Inside Edge and Breathe—to mixed and positive response. The shoot of Netflix’s Sacred Games has wrapped up. However, there still seems to be some time before its streaming date is announced. The stand-up shows with Indian comedians of some of these streaming platforms have, however, got a good response.
Anand believes comedy is a promising genre to explore, but they haven't ventured into it yet. Depending on the audience response and demand, they might.
It is a tricky situation when betting big on originals, a genre that is at a very nascent stage in the country. Also, it isn’t clear what the digital audiences' taste is like. “Original content gets stuck for two reasons—one is funding, that can always be a problem as the show goes on. In our case, the original content shows are being driven directly by Punit Goenka (MD & CEO, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd) because he has a tremendous understanding and he has taken it as a pet project. Since it is being driven directly by the person at the top, we have tremendous speed, agility and the ability to put out good stuff,” Anand told THE WEEK.
She believes in the team that has been hired for the original content. “They are capable of reading the pulse of younger India. We are aware that at Zee, we have been fairly conservative and traditional with the content that we have on the broadcast site. We do realise that digital gives us a little extra width to be a little edgier. And we are definitely going to see all of that when we roll out,” she added.
ZEE5 already has more than one lakh hours of content that includes exclusive originals, Indian and international movies, TV shows, music, live television, health and lifestyle videos in 12 regional languages.