Still from Adhikari’s serial Commander
And now comes the real crunch. The advent of Star TV rewrote the rules of the electronic media game, though Mandi House mandarins had seemed smug in the belief that viewers could never be enticed by English-language channels.
But hardly a year later, Star TV’s southern transponder on the AsiaSat-1 satellite will beam a Hindi channel for viewers not just in India but in several countries stretching from Turkey to Singapore.
Zee TV will begin telecasting a time-tested package of soaps, chat shows, children’s programmes and Hindi films for three hours every night from October 2, aiming to grow eventually into a 24-hour channel.
The familiar will share time with the fashionable – Sridhar Kshirsagar’s comedy soap Anand, Makrand Adhikari’s detective serial Commander, Shukla Das’s Jungle Toofan Tyre Puncture for children, along with Imtiaz Dharker’s astrology programme Boley Tarey, a business news-magazine by Raghav Bahl, a Donahue-type chat show and a game show with prizes for the participants.
Zee TV plans to have much more than just film-based programmes, an impression created when test signals consisting of Hindi film songs were telecast last month and described as a ‘preview’. Says Esselworld’s Subhash Chandra, who is the main Indian participant in the new venture: “Zee TV will stay off general news programmes completely. We’re absolutely not competing with Doordarshan.”
Chandra’s company Zee Telefilms, in which Ashok Kurien of Ambience Advertising also has a stake, will be the sole supplier of software to Zee TV. One Zee TV channel has actually been leased by a Bermuda-registered company, Asia Today Limited, and promoted by a group of Hong Kong and British NRIs headed by Ranjan Isaac.
“Zee TV will stay off general news programmes. It’ll be pure entertainment.”
Isaac migrated to Hong Kong in 1974 and now heads Campaign Advertising, which reports billings of HK$ 100 million (Rs 39 crore). Neither Isaac nor Chandra will comment on how much they paid for the five-year lease of Star TV’s sixth channel, which they bagged after intense competition from several Indian media companies. But the total cost of the project is likely to be Rs 65 crore, with the NRI share amounting to US$ 11 million (Rs 33 crore).
Though 20 million expatriate Indians live under the new satellite channel’s footprint, urban viewers at home will clearly be the target of both Zee TV’s programming and advertisers. Much of the advertising is expected to come from multinationals looking for Indian markets, such as the Japanese electronic giants.
Zee TV expects Indian advertisers to contribute about a third of the new satellite channel’s advertisement revenue. Advertisements will be restricted to 10 minutes every hour and will cost Rs 30,000 for a 30-second spot, with the newly-formed Ambience Space booking time against rupee payment.
Zee TV is being launched at a time when Indian advertisers are beginning to turn pretty enthusiastic about other Star TV channels. Says Marzban Patel of Mediascope, sales agents for Star TV’s English channels: “There are more than 30 new advertisers in the pipeline, including several retailers from Bombay.”
Star TV’s Indian viewership has zoomed to an estimated 13 lakh households, from just 2.5 lakh last December. And it is growing at the rate of 2,000 households a day.
Zee TV will be ranged against Doordarshan’s last bastion – the Hindi film and the 9 p.m. soap. The popularity of Doordarshan’s soaps has declined in the last two years. Even its film-based programmes are facing competition.
The Asian Television Network (ATN), another NRI-backed satellite channel, has begun beaming over the subcontinent and Pakistan TV is beaming its own much-acclaimed soaps. With the plethora of channels, that long-abused creature, the Indian television viewer, will finally have his day – and his TV nights.