Focusing only on digital media will erode advertisers' long-term brand equity: Zee's Ashish Sehgal

In an exclusive interview with BestMediaInfo, Sehgal, Chief Growth Officer for Advertisement Revenue at Zee Entertainment Enterprises, discussed important challenges faced by GECs, the draft Broadcast Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023, ZeeTV's progress in the last year, and various other topics

Sakshi Sharma
New Update
Focusing only on digital media will erode advertisers' long-term brand equity: Zee's Ashish Sehgal

Ashish Sehgal

Ashish Sehgal, Chief Growth Officer for Advertisement Revenue at Zee Entertainment Enterprises, highlights that amidst the excitement surrounding digital platforms, television continues to thrive in India.

In an exclusive conversation with BestMediaInfo, he underscored the importance for advertisers to acknowledge that concentrating solely on digital media could diminish their long-term brand equity.

Key challenges being faced by GECs

According to Sehgal, the biggest challenge the general entertainment channels (GEC) are facing is the media planning approach. There is an overfocus on achieving planning efficiency by advertisers and due to that free-to-air (FTA) genres find favour in the media plans.

“The downside is that advertisers end up spending money on a so-called ‘efficient media plan’ but lose on delivering to a quality viewer which the paid GEC and cinema genre caters to and is the real consuming class for most categories. Pay TV viewership is on the upswing and has grown by 5-7%. So, if we continue it in this manner, then in the long run it will put the original content investments under pressure in terms of ROI and we will also see less experimentation for new formats/content ideas,” Sehgal said.

Furthermore, Sehgal emphasised that advertisers need to recognise that focusing only on digital media will erode their long-term brand equity. Despite all the frenzy that surrounds the medium, TV continues to grow in our country.

“It remains an important source of brand discovery (Global Web Index, January 2023). Multiple global studies even in the most digitally advanced markets like the US and UK have shown the positive impact of adopting a TV+Digital approach. TV viewership has seen an increasing trend in the last two quarters both in terms of reach (Q1 FY24 - 758 million and Q2 FY24 - 764 million) and Weekly impressions (Q1 FY24 - 28.5 million and Q2 FY24 - 29.4 million) (NCCS 2+ yrs, (U+R)),” Sehgal said.

The current challenge is due to the global macro-economic scenario, extending the funding winter has pulled down advertising spending from key categories like Edtech, PharmaTech and other such emerging D2C advertisers, he added.

On being asked that sometime back ZeeTV announced that some of its popular fiction shows will now air seven days a week, so what does this mean for the advertisers and will it be successful in the long run, Sehgal said, “Having tasted success in Q1 with fiction shows for seven days a week, we have reimplemented this strategy post the successful closure of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. This helps us regain the number two position in Prime Time.”

From an advertiser's point of view, it means tapping into a loyal audience base and a format that delivers high stickiness and attention. The storytelling format also opens a unique opportunity to weave their brands into the storylines, he said.

On being asked that with a noticeable decline in DTH and cable connections, how the GEC genre acknowledging this shift, are there strategies in place to cater to audiences who are opting for more affordable alternatives like CTVs, Sehgal highlighted that as a medium, television is here to stay and that is evident in the growth in terms of reach and impressions.

“TV viewership has been an increasing trend in the last two quarters both in terms of reach (Q1 FY24 - 758 million à Q2 FY24 - 764 million) and weekly impressions (Q1 FY24 - 28.5 million à Q2 FY24 - 29.4 million) (NCCS 2+ yrs, (U+R). Year-on-year there has been a 2-4% growth in TV households. TV time spent is on the rise and there has been an increase in average time spent watching TV per day since 2019 (+ 0.6 hrs),” Sehgal said.

“Base of NCCS AB viewers has improved from 411 to 513 million, a 25% increase. Overall smart TV sales are on the rise YoY. India's smart TV shipments grew 28% YoY in 2022. This growth will help increase TV penetration further and bridge the gap of 100 million non-TV-owning households. Also, there are 53 million HD TV homes, who consciously opted to view TV which is 2x the number of CTV homes (25 million) likely to reach 125 million by 2025. The quarterly cumulative reach of HD is 3x of CTV (All HD: 125 million vs CTV: 25 million). Overall HD viewership has seen a 63% jump YoY. HD offers a better market spread across pop strata and continues to offer a high-profile viewer (NCCS A affinity index: 152) and catering to the 22-50 year age bracket,” he added.

Meanwhile, experts have opined that the draft 'Broadcast Services (Regulation) Bill, 2023'  could impact the content creation process as OTT platforms, like TV channels, will be bound by a programme code. Till now, OTT platforms had the freedom to create the kind of content that they wanted.

Sharing his views on the same, Sehgal said that for a diverse country like India, a common law is the utmost requirement to regularise the various aspects of content creation and dissemination.

“For example, if we are witnessing an uptick in CTV sets, then how we will consume OTT content will evolve as there will be easy access and an increase in co-viewing. In such a scenario we need to be wary of access to restricted content by kids and teenagers,” he added.

ZeeTV's growth in revenue and viewership over the past year

He, “Zee as a network has stood for motivating Indians to take charge of their destiny and curate an extraordinary future. Staying true to this promise, we are constantly at work across markets to understand the consumer psyche and their evolution. We identified the ‘Many Bharats’ that are driving the next wave of growth very early on and invested in developing these markets from a viewership and revenue standpoint.”

What sets the network apart is its structured approach to understanding the consumer, and their context through ‘SoulMine’ which is their proprietary consumer insights platform that has gathered learnings from more than 2,500 hours of on-ground research, cultural immersions covering over 28 socio-cultural regions of the country, he said.

“This serves as a trigger to various content ideas, character sketches and story settings. We also deploy the needscope approach to creating an irresistible brand. The success of our understanding is reflected in our leadership position in some of our key regional markets like Bangla, Kannada, Telugu, Tamil, Odiya and Punjabi. These are some of the key markets that are leading the consumption story of India and therefore a dominant position in most of these markets has kept Zee ahead both in terms of viewership and advertising revenue,” Sehgal added.

Sports content versus fiction shows

As per some reports, the rising prominence of internet-based content platforms like JioCinema and Disney+ Hotstar impacted the advertising revenue of Zee network and others, during the July-September quarter this year. The major reason behind this was stated that such networks do not have a strong presence in sports broadcasting and they lose out when there are major sports events.

Sharing his views on the same, Sehgal explained, “There weren’t any major cricketing events in the July-September quarter. The World Cup started in October. In fact, in Q2 FY24 we witnessed a 20.5% increase in the operating revenue (Q2 FY24 Revenue: Rs 24,378 million).”

Furthermore, he pointed out that irrespective of the cricketing calendar, as a network Zee offers a differential audience set through its fiction shows.

“With 97% of households being single TV owners, there is a large share of not just females but also co-viewing family audiences that we cater to. We engage on an ongoing basis with the sports viewers through our non-fiction like Dadagiri, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and movie premiers like Gadar 2, Bro for ZEEL, this is evident in our domestic ad revenues which garnered Rs 9,411 million, QoQ up by 4.4%,” Sehgal added. 

He also shed light on ZeeTV’s flagship singing reality show, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’s performance this year in terms of growth, as compared to the past few years.

“This year Sa Re Ga Ma Pa returned with an all-new format, with Himesh Reshammiya, Neeti Mohan and Anu Malik as the judges and Aditya Narayan as the host. We on-boarded 18 sponsors which was the highest number of sponsors on a non-fiction show this year. These include Maruti Suzuki India: Co-title, Hindustan Unilever: Co-title and special partner, Dabur India: Co-presenting and associate sponsor, Mondelez India Foods: Co-powered By, Rajdhani Flour Mills: Special Partner, Procter and Gamble: Special Partner, WhatsApp LLC: Special Partner, Loreal India: Special Partner, Berger Paints India: Special Partner, The Association of Mutual Funds in India: Associate Sponsor, Bandhan Bank: Special Partner, Capital Foods: Special Partner, Kohler India Corporation (Har): Special Partner, Eveready Industries India (Kol): Special Partner, H&M Hennes and Mauritz: Special Partner and Wipro Enterprises: Special Partner,” Sehgal said.

“We also partnered with Himalaya who leveraged the platform to talk about their Muskaan initiative in partnership with Smile Train for free Cleft lip surgery for children,” he added.

Sehgal also shed light on the shows that stood out in terms of viewership and audience engagement.

“Three of our marquee shows, BhagyaLaxmi, Kumkum Bhagya and Kundali Bhagya have always featured amongst the top 20 TV shows of the genre since their launch but our social platforms have a different set of shows like Radha Mohan and Rabb Se Hai Dua which perform ahead of the leading shows on TV. Indicating that, TV brings in a certain set of viewers which span across geographies, while social media has been engaging with the younger age bracket from the key metro markets,” he added.

ZeeTV’s revamped design interface

Sehgal highlighted that ZeeTV’s new on-screen design uses cutting-edge neuroscience to capture viewers' attention and improve retention of tune-in details and platform recall.

“This endeavour, called 'Vibrance', embodies the growing inner strength and confidence of the Naya Bharat that is charting new territories like never before. The design approach is brought to life through the visual metaphor called the 'Circle of Spark' that ignites life's most defining moments through inspiring stories and aspirational characters,” Sehgal said.

“Zee TV's new design is inspired by the Genda Phool, a symbol of celebration and catharsis that is present in many Indian rituals. This symbol represents the beginning of something good, and the overall well-being of a person. The design embodies the commitment of the channel to portray a wide range of emotions and experiences through its content. This shift in design approach also responds to a transformative audience mindset,” he added.

revenue Zee shows Growth sports tournaments Broadcasting Bill Ashish Sehgal Zee network fiction shows ZeeTV Sa Re Ga Ma Pa