Noel D'souza
Nov 01, 2023

Keep the user experience straightforward and ensure that navigation is not overly complicated: Manish Kalra, Zee5

The chief business officer of Zee5, Manish Kalra, spills the beans on its five-year brand journey, plans for the festive season and how it aims to connect with regional cohorts

Keep the user experience straightforward and ensure that navigation is not overly complicated: Manish Kalra, Zee5
Zee5 recently marked its fifth anniversary with a series of strategic initiatives that have helped the OTT platform expand its business, and audience and sustain its presence in the OTT ecosystem. 
As part of their commitment to regional-specific content, Zee5 introduced Bengali originals in December 2022. This move resulted in a doubling of viewership for the genre and a reported 22% increase in monthly active viewers from East India.
Zee5 has also entered the world of E-sports through a partnership with Big Bang Media, offering tournaments to viewers free of charge. With this expansion, it has allowed the OTT platform to gauge the level of interest, concurrent viewership, and the dynamics of the gaming community. 
Campaign India caught up with Manish Kalra, chief business officer, Zee5, to delve deeper into the brand's journey, accomplishments, and its vision for the future.
Edited excerpts
In a crowded OTT space, what's Zee5's differentiator and what has kept it going for the last five years? 
Over the past five years, our strength has been deeply rooted in understanding the Indian consumer. We've harnessed the power of cultural insights, regional languages, and indigenous art forms to engage and captivate our customers. As a result, we've expanded our content library significantly, with more than 50% of our viewership attributed to regional languages. This approach recognises the diverse nature of India, where each region has its unique cultural identity, and people appreciate content that reflects their heritage.
During this period, we've continually improved our technology infrastructure, with AI-driven recommendations now playing a pivotal role. 
We've established partnerships with renowned creators, enhancing the quality of our content. Our brand recognition has also seen substantial growth. A few years ago, mentioning Zee5 might not have elicited recognition in the competitive OTT landscape, but now, we've earned a significant place.
How would you define a Zee5 user? How would he/she be different from one who consumes content on the likes of Netflix/Amazon/Disney+?
Our user's preferences are diverse and influenced by their desires and expectations from a platform. We are attentive to the distinctiveness of Indian consumers and their various requirements. This understanding sets us apart from English-language competitors who may not cater to the same extent. For instance, consider the genre of thrillers – if someone is seeking a thrilling experience, like a suspenseful series, they should find it on our platform. We aim to provide a wide range of content to suit their preferences.
Ultimately, our approach hinges on comprehending our audience, regardless of their language or location. We reach across every corner, from bustling cities to remote towns. The beauty of being a digital player is our ability to transcend boundaries and genres. We tap into the way people consume content, often driven by recommendations from friends or word of mouth.
We are committed to maintaining a balance that caters to diverse sensibilities, ensuring that our content remains family-friendly and respectful of cultural nuances. This approach has enabled us to appeal to a broad spectrum of viewers, fostering a sense of community and shared experiences among our consumers.
In regards to brands, which sectors are heavily investing in Zee5?
One of the advantages of Zee5 is our closely curated ecosystem. Unlike platforms like YouTube where content is primarily user-generated, on Zee5, a significant portion of content is handpicked and curated by us. This means we can offer a more controlled environment for brands.
We have attracted a diverse range of brands, from FMCG giants like Unilever to digital powerhouses such as Google, Amazon, and Spotify. Zee5's audience is predominantly online, making it a prime destination for brands seeking to connect with online consumers. Moreover, we offer precise targeting capabilities to advertisers, leveraging consumer profiling data, including demographics, location, age, interests, and even the device used for accessing content.
This fine-tuned targeting ensures that brands can reach their desired audience effectively. We have witnessed a high level of success, particularly with digital brands, FinTech companies, FMCG firms, and even automobile manufacturers. These businesses have realised the value of advertising on our platform, and we're continually attracting a growing share of advertising revenue from these sectors.
The benefit we provide to brands lies in our brand-safe environment and the ability to curate consumers based on specific demographic attributes. This empowers brands to measure their return on investment more accurately, ultimately enabling them to make more informed decisions about their advertising strategies.
In terms of content genres, what's doing well for Zee5?  
As we've evolved, we've observed that viewers no longer limit themselves to traditional TV series. Instead, they explore a variety of content, from social narratives to unique stories such as thrillers. 
We've seen that our audience enjoys a diverse range of genres, spanning from comedy to thrillers and action. However, with the rise of OTT platforms, viewers are increasingly seeking content that is more intricate, layered, and nuanced. They are drawn to stories that keep them on the edge of their seats, eager to discover what unfolds. Thrillers, in particular, have garnered substantial interest and engagement. 
Nevertheless, we continue to cater to a broad range of genres to meet the varied preferences of our audience.
What does your marketing split look like?
When it comes to promoting a particular movie or show, our approach is data-driven. We carefully analyse what our target audience is currently watching and where they spend their time. This analysis guides our marketing strategy.
A substantial portion of our marketing budget is allocated to digital platforms, given that our target audience is predominantly online. We also recognise the importance of traditional media, such as television, for reaching a broader audience. Additionally, outdoor media plays a role in creating a captivating visual presence that can grab attention, particularly for larger-than-life content.
Our strategy is a dynamic mix that adapts to our objectives. While digital marketing remains a significant part of our approach, we leverage various mediums as needed to effectively reach our audience and achieve our goals.
How have major movie releases like Gadar 2 helped scale Zee5’s revenue and viewership?
Most of these new releases are placed behind a paywall, which is instrumental in acquiring new paying subscribers who appreciate the value of premium content. This approach has undeniably bolstered consumption on our platform, with users spending anywhere from 15 to 20 hours each month engaged in viewing content.
The success of these new releases, particularly when they are content blockbusters, further amplifies our platform's appeal. It contributes to increased viewership, attracting a diverse audience with unique preferences. In our endeavour to cater to these preferences, we conduct comprehensive research.
Our research has shown us that consumers appreciate the freedom to choose content based on their mood, whether it's a thrilling experience, action-packed excitement, or lighthearted comedy. We understand the importance of offering an array of options to match the viewer's ever-changing preferences. We're delighted to receive feedback from our audience, allowing us to continually improve and cater to their diverse tastes.
The OTT platform doubled its viewership of Bengali content after launching Bengali originals. Can you elaborate on your regional content strategy and its impact on viewership? Are you looking to replicate it in other markets?
Our approach is entirely consumer-centric, focusing on what stories and content our audience is seeking. To achieve this, we have dedicated teams for various regions, such as the B2B region and Bengali, given our television network presence.
These teams comprise experts who collaborate with the best in the industry. Their primary objective is to craft stories that resonate with the audience, offering a more nuanced and complex viewing experience for an OTT audience. 
Regarding strategy, we prioritise understanding the types of stories that will strike a chord with our viewers. 
We've identified specific content categories that are more marketable and production phases that yield successful series.
Our process involves extensive research and experimentation, as well as identifying which stories resonate with our audience. This ongoing learning and adaptability have proven fruitful. 
Across different languages, our teams have discovered a sweet spot in content creation that aligns with the preferences of our target markets.
As for expansion, we plan to explore regions and languages where there is an existing infrastructure for content creation. This allows us to collaborate with local creators and leverage their expertise. We have already seen success in Tamil, Telugu, Bangla, Hindi, Marathi, and Punjabi markets, and we are looking to experiment in languages like Kannada and Gujarati in the future.
Zee5 ventured into E-sports and partnered with Big Bang Media. How do you see esports fitting into your content ecosystem, and what has the response been like from viewers?
The foray into the world of gaming has been an intriguing experiment for us, aimed at comprehending the sports gaming ecosystem in India. This endeavour has provided us with invaluable insights and marked a positive learning experience. We've attracted a vibrant and youthful audience, including avid gamers who bring their expertise to the table.
This marks just the beginning of our journey in the gaming domain in India, and we remain committed to further investment and learning. The landscape of OTT platforms caters to specific content preferences, but we recognise that the younger generation, particularly those in the 15-20-year-old bracket, exhibits a keen interest in gaming. They represent a significant demographic that we aspire to engage and serve.
Collaborating with Big Bang Media has been pivotal. They bring a deep understanding of the gaming community, their preferences, and the type of content that resonates with them. It has also facilitated reaching out to gamers effectively, with Big Bang contributing to the effort to capture their attention. This collaboration has opened doors to scaling our presence in the gaming arena.
As we are in the festive season, can you provide a glimpse of Zee5’s strategy and the impact expected?
During special occasions like Diwali and other festivals, we bring forth a delightful array of content. A significant portion of our paid content becomes accessible to consumers for free. We take this opportunity to launch exciting content, including Bangla shows, Hindi movies, and much more. This creates a dynamic content bouquet for our viewers.
From the consumer's perspective, we aim to keep them engaged and entertained whenever they have free time. We endeavour to provide fresh and engaging content every week to cater to their entertainment needs.
Lastly, as we are at Designyatra, a design convention, how important is a user-friendly and engaging interface for an OTT brand's streaming platform to content discovery?
Having a user-friendly interface and providing high-quality experiences are crucial for any online company. Consumers visit our platform with the expectation of finding relevant content that resonates with them. To achieve this, our platform comprehends their preferences based on their location, industry, and content preferences. Recommendations are tailored accordingly.
Our content is diverse, allowing for organisation by genre and the introduction of new releases throughout the year. The platform adapts and learns from your content consumption habits. 
However, we believe in the power of simplicity. We aim to keep the user experience straightforward and ensure that navigation is not overly complicated. This approach is driven by consumer research, as users prefer easy content discovery that allows them to connect and enjoy without unnecessary complexity.
Our team's mandate revolves around making the user experience as enjoyable as possible, keeping the interests of our customers in mind. 
Campaign India

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