Zee Tamil goes for the kill as churn grows

Zee Tamil is looking to stand out in a tough market using actress Jyothika (centre) as its face
One of the country’s top television viewership markets - Tamil Nadu - is in the midst of change. Sun TV, once the indisputable leader in Tamil general entertainment, is seeing the gap narrow with its rivals as they dish out bold and attractive fare to woo audiences.

The churn comes as Tamil viewers, for long considered conservative, follow their Hindi counterparts, embracing shows regarded as edgy. During the telecast of Bigg Boss Tamil between June and September 2017, for instance, Sun TV’s viewership share, which historically hovered in the 60-65 per cent bracket, dropped for the first time below 50 per cent.  This was in urban markets in Tamil Nadu, according to data as per the Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC), India, sourced from the industry and analysts.

Based on the international show Bigg Brother, which follows the lives of contestants in a closed house, the principal beneficiary of the change in viewership habits in the state, was Star Vijay, the broadcaster of Big Boss Tamil. Its share doubled to around 28-30 per cent in urban markets from historic levels of about 10-15 per cent. While Star Vijay gained from the spurt in viewership, Zee Tamil, whose historic viewership share was five per cent, stayed in the 13-15 per cent bracket, a level acquired in the last 15 months. This was a plus, channel executives said, as Star Vijay disrupted the market within months.

For now, Zee Tamil remains the third-largest general entertainment channel (GEC) in the state after Sun TV and Star Vijay. But the pecking order could be upended with the impending launch of Colors Tamil. The latter is known for its fiction and non-fiction shows in Hindi general entertainment. It is expected to bring its high production values to Tamil entertainment, captivating audiences.

The fight for viewership will also extend to a battle for advertising money, industry experts said, owing to the large ad base that exists in the south. The Tamil TV advertising market, say analysts, is pegged at Rs 2,000 crore, followed by Telugu at Rs 1,300 crore, Kannada at Rs 800 crore, and Malayalam at Rs 300 crore. 

While Zee leads in the Telugu-language GEC market, thereby walking away with the lion’s share of advertising in that segment, Sun TV’s domination in the Tamil language ensures it has bulk of the ad revenues in that region.  

As the third-largest player, Zee Tamil, say experts, is aware of its vulnerability in this fight for eyeballs and ad revenues. To ring-fence itself therefore and ensure it remains relevant to viewers, the channel has undertaken a revamp, changing its logo, packaging and colour. 

At the same time, the channel has introduced the Tamil version of its popular singing talent hunt Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. It is also expected to beef up its programming line-up in the coming months, aimed at both millennials as well as female viewers, the latter a staple for GECs in any language. Zee Tamil has also appointed a brand ambassador in actress Jyothika, a first, and has launched a high-definition feed of the channel.

Siju Prabhakaran, cluster head, south business, Zee Entertainment Enterprises, which runs Zee Tamil, says the changes will allow the channel to stay ahead of its game. This is critical, say experts, as nearest rival Star Vijay increases its content budget by 30-40 per cent following the success of Bigg Boss Tamil.

Industry sources say Star Vijay’s move is aimed at increasing its lead with players such as Zee Tamil as it squares up to take on Sun TV. The increased content budget is also expected to help the Star channel defend viewership when Viacom18’s Tamil channel launches shortly.

“The brand refresh will help the channel to be relevant to its audience. It is important we stay ahead of the viewership game” 
Siju Prabhakaran, cluster head, south business, Zee Entertainment Enterprises

For the record, Viacom18, which is a 50:50 joint venture between American major Viacom and Mukesh Ambani’s Network18 group, had announced in May that Colors Tamil would be launched by the December quarter of the current calendar year. A precise launch date has not been announced yet.

The revamp of Zee Tamil involves not just TV shows, but also blockbuster movies. Zee, which like other key broadcasters such as Star, Sony and Colors, is known for its aggressive acquisition of movie titles, has pushed the pedal in the south in this regard. It has acquired the telecast rights of 2017 blockbusters Vikram Vedha, starring R Madhavan, and Mersal, starring Vijay. Rajnikanth’s upcoming movie Robot 2.0, which also features actor Akshay Kumar, is slated for telecast on Zee Tamil following release next year.

Prabhakaran says Jyothika will help convey effectively what the channel has to offer owing to her connect with the masses. Her association with the southern film industry will also be leveraged aggressively. Zee Tamil is going the whole hog in promoting the brand refresh. The logo, packaging and colour change also come as parent Zee TV celebrates its silver jubilee. All channels in Zee’s bouquet have been revamped to reflect the milestone. For Zee Tamil, however, the makeover is not cosmetic at all. It is a fight to the finish and one that the channel is keen to win, says Prabhakaran.