Zee Café, India

Owned by / Company: 

Zee Entertainment Enterprises

Schedule Analysis: 

English general entertainment channel (GEC) Zee Café heads for its 12th anniversary in March 2012 with pretty much the same remit as it had in 2000 – international content for young, urban India.

Launched by Zee Entertainment Enterprises, the channel has consistently brought a mix of genres from sitcom to reality series and live concerts to the country’s multichannel audiences. 

For week 45 (30 October-5 November 2011), Zee Café ranked fourth with 10.4% TVS after BIG CBS Prime, which placed third with 11.7% TVS (among eight other English general entertainment networks in all markets, CS25+, source TAM ratings). In first place was AXN with 29.4% TVS followed by Star World with 28% TVS.

Prime time on Zee Café is from 6pm to midnight, with core viewership between 9pm and 11pm.

Genres that work best in prime time slots are currently thrillers and reality as well as comedy and drama series, which continue to be among Zee Café favourites.

The Zee Café weekly schedule (21-27 November) is predominantly drama series (108.8 hours/64.7%). Drama genres range from thriller, romance to supernatural and comedy.

The rest of the weekly schedule is made up of gag/comedy variety shows (15.8 hours/9.4%), talk shows (12.5 hours/7.4%), entertainment news (11.25 hours/6.7%) and reality/competition programmes (9.2 hours/5.5%).

Zee Café also dedicates about 10.5 hours/6.3% (7am-8am and 1pm to 1.30pm on Mondays to Fridays) of its weekly schedule to paid advertisement slots.

The key programming challenge has been the difference in the viewing patterns of the TV audience in the U.S. and India, the network’s programmers say.

The U.S. weekly habits can be inconsistent with the daily, stripped, preferences of Indian audiences. 

The second challenge is piracy, with illegal copies accessible online as soon as the episodes are aired in the U.S. 

“The funny thing is that the second challenge, for large parts, is a result of the first one. And the daily viewing pattern is a habit that is fostered by the Hindi GECs, the staple diet of the Indian television audience,” says Anurag Bedi, business head for Zee Café.

Among the first shows being showcased within 24 hours of its U.S. telecasts (possible because both are dailies), are entertainment news E! News and talk show The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Weekly shows are latest seasons of TV series, which are scheduled in a stripped format, supplanted with previous seasons as a recap. This, Bedi adds, helps keep viewers connected with the programmes.

Series are either scheduled Mondays to Fridays or only on weekends (Saturdays and Sundays).

Zee Café says the winning point for the channel is, being diverse (instead of a niche channel targeting niche audience) by focusing on two aspects of entertainment – variety and family entertainment.

“We have consciously made an effort not to confine ourselves to a single genre. We have content that ranges from quirky to dark. Zee Café has content for everyone in the family. It has spaced out itself in various genres which enable it to cater to different age groups and tastes of various audiences,” Bedi says.

He adds that the strategy of acquiring more and more diverse content reached its zenith in 2011. The network has covered its widest genre spectrum so far, ranging from talk shows (The Tonight Show with Jay Leno), reality (Hell’s KitchenHolidate,Baggage) to dramas (Mad MenCalifornication), comedies (The Big Bang Theory,S@#!, My Dad Says), supernatural (Vampire Diaries), teenage dramas (Gossip Girl,Pretty Little Liars), thrillers (The MentalistThe EventChase), and international events (Miss World 2011Miss Universe 2011Primetime Emmy Awards, and Billboard Music Awards 2011).

There are no plans to embark on original local production. The focus will continue be on international content for the young, urban Indian palate.

“Probably Indian audiences are not ready to see Indians act in English. Also, American shows are very high on the aspiration quotient as far as Indian viewers are concerned. The talent pool at disposal for creating content that can match the American ones, too, is very limited,” Bedi said.

Some of the biggest offerings in 2011 included the live/exclusive events such as 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards 2011 and the Indian debut of Billboard Music Awards.

Tentpole shows for the next six months are Keeping Up With The Kardashians (season 6); Parenthood (debut January 2012); and In Plain Sight, premiering in January 2012.