Since its launch in 2018, Zee Entertainment’s OTT platform Zee5 has evolved from carrying a library of existing content to adding powerful Originals spanning short films, feature films and web series to its portfolio. In Q4 2021, Zee5’s monthly active users (MAU) were at 101.9m across India and global markets, with the platform attracting more and more South Asians. Archana Anand, Chief Business Officer of Zee5 Global, shares strategies to take the platform further in 2022 with Sarah Nathan.
How has 2021 been for Zee5 Global?
2021 has been a high-growth year for us. The biggest highlight of the year was our much-awaited launch in the US which, with 5.4m South Asians, is the biggest international market yet. We launched Zee5 in the US on June 22, 2021, with a mega-event featuring Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas as the chief guest for the evening, and we had more than 10,000 people attending the event in the country and across the globe. We have grown exponentially since then, with the US emerging as the largest international revenue market driving more than 40% of our revenue. As the only stand-alone streaming platform for South Asian content, viewers have seen significant consumer benefit in the rich content library we have and that’s a very positive trend. Like in other markets, apart from Hindi content, we are also seeing significant traction in content consumption in languages like Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Marathi. Apart from the US, we’ve also seen strong growth during the year across our other markets, especially in the UK, UAE and key markets across APAC.
You have said that viewership and subscriptions increased during the pandemic in 2020. Has this continued across all demographics? Could you share some exclusive numbers with us?
Yes, we have seen a continued growth trend in content consumption in 2021 and across demographics. Over 70% of our audiences are in the 18-35 age group and they continue to drive strong content consumption across languages. Year on year, our viewership is up by 20-25% and that’s a strong trend. Globally, nearly 50% of our content consumption is in Hindi. We have seen a significant uptick in our regional language content consumption, especially across Tamil and Telugu as well as Bengali and Marathi. Malayalam content has done especially well in the Middle East, driving more than 20% of content consumption in the market. Overall, our viewership in the Middle East has grown by 42% in 2021 and subscriptions are up by 30% as compared to 2020.
With the Sony-Zee merger, what changes do you foresee at Zee5?
It’s too early to comment on this. However, we do see a lot of content synergies, with some complementary genres of content being possibly added to enhance our content offering.
How has progress been with your plans to expand to Canada and Europe?
Both Europe and Canada have grown out very well for us in 2021. Both markets have been receptive to good content, and we have seen good uptick across our recent Originals. Hindi content is a key driver across both markets, with Bengali and Telugu and Tamil content also driving significant growth in the UK. In Canada, our recent Punjabi and Tamil content launches have seen significant traction.
What are Zee5’s goals for 2022? Could you elaborate on your content strategy for the coming year?
In 2022, our first and foremost goal is to fortify the leadership position that we have already built in the international market. In the past five months, we’ve already galloped to the number one position as the world’s largest platform for South Asian content and the only stand-alone platform in the US with such an offering. Driving on this key focus, we have got a strong line-up of content in the coming year with digital premieres, blockbuster titles, originals and more across languages, with some key partnerships in place including TVF and Applause. Over the last year, we have seen strong engagement in specific language cohorts and we see that as being pivotal to our growth, so we are especially building out a strong library catering to the Punjabi, Telugu, Tamil and Bengali audiences. With the trend of people globally appreciating good production values and storylines, we are also making our content easily accessible through subtitling our content in English.
We have also clearly identified the markets we want to focus on this year. Beyond the US, we have a lot of plans lined up for the UK, the UAE and Australia markets. We are set to aggressively build on our leadership position in these markets in the months ahead.
Traditionally, Zee5 has worked with a library of Indian content. Any plans to adopt international drama series for an Indian audience or secure content from other markets for the Indian market?
We are currently focused on South Asian content, i.e. content from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Having said that, we have premiered Black Widows, an Indian adaptation of the Finnish drama of the same name, which was well received by South Asian audiences. We also expanded our repertoire of Indian adaptations of European dramas with a film titled Aafat-e-Ishq, an Indian adaptation of the award-winning international Hungarian film Liza, the Fox-Fairy. As we grow our audience base, we will look to add more content from other markets. We have also just announced the second edition of the Zee5 Global Content Festival, to give independent filmmakers and content creators across the world a platform on which they can showcase their content to the globe and that will also add in content from other countries.
Technology-wise, have you planned any upgrades to offer viewers a better experience, better recommendation and personalisation?
Zee5 is deeply cognisant of the need to constantly improve our product and consumer experience. Recently, we inaugurated a Technology Center in Bangalore to ensure that our products are best-in-class and that we can match up with the best, so you will see a lot rolling out in 2022.
What are your observations on gender issues at the workplace, and how have you tried to ensure more inclusive policies at Zee5?
I think the media, more than any other industry, is less prone to bias and has a lot of women in the workforce. At Zee, we have and nurture a sizeable women-led workforce. Leena Nair and Geeta Gopinath are fantastic examples of women in leadership positions doing tremendously well; however, women in leadership positions are certainly not as much as one would like to see. The skew is fast-changing, but it is one that we would still hope would change even faster.
What are some of the challenges you foresee for Zee5, and how are you looking to address them?
OTT is a competitive space, and one can’t rest on one’s laurels. Cracking the formula of good content, which means having the ability to discover good content at the script stage and nurture it, is hugely pertinent to our success. The other challenge is chasing South Asian audiences among the mainstream audience and keeping them engaged, and we have been finding various ways and means to do this. Because in most markets South Asians are a niche audience with just 2-5% strength, it’s always been a challenge to find them and advertise to them. To this end, we’ve undertaken several partnerships across countries. In the US, we have partnered with NAAIS (North American Association of Indian Students) to establish deeper connections with students across the US. In the UAE, we have partnered with Lulu for multiple on-ground initiatives to reach the South Asian diaspora. We have had similar partnerships across all our key countries.
What trends do you foresee in the streaming business, regionally and globally?
The trends that we foresee are the absolute blurring of borders regarding language content. People are willing to watch great stories regardless of language, provided they can comprehend them. Stories have stopped being confined to the language of origin or the language audience they cater to. Audiences across the world are deeply appreciative of great storytelling, and this is an ongoing trend we have been seeing on Zee5 as well and that we want to build on.
Secondly, we have seen a much higher appetite for SVOD where audiences are now willing to pay to subscribe for content. There has been a direct correlation to the amount of consumption that happens, especially during the lockdown, and we have been catering to that increased demand through easier access to our content, offers, etc. Australia and Singapore are two cases in point where we’ve seen a significant uptick in subscriptions and consumption during periods of lockdown.
We also expect to be seeing much more by way of gaming and gamification in 2022, as direct-to-consumer brands will look to leverage technology to drive deeper engagement with audiences.
Are there plans to partner with other streaming apps and consolidate efforts for the greater good of the audience?
Zee5 provides viewers with such a comprehensive offering in itself, with 170,000+ hours of content being available at the viewers’ fingertips across a variety of languages and genres. While we have multiple key content partnerships, we have not as such looked into partnering with other streaming platforms. We have upped our content offering by joining hands with The Viral Fever (TVF), a digital entertainment network, and production houses like Applause Entertainment.