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Zee Tees Up European Expansion

Zee’s push to monetize non-Indian audiences around the world has reached Western Europe, with plans underway to launch a free-to-air channel in Germany, reportedly called Zee One, by the middle of the year.

The new channel, programmed around dubbed and reformatted Bollywood movies, will be Zee’s first local language offering for a developed economy, following a steady stream of ad-supported propositions in Africa, the Middle East, Russia and Southeast Asia.

It is also first in line for a broader expansion in Western Europe, following qualitative and quantitative research across the region.

More channels will follow, possibly as early as next year, sometimes in collaboration with Zee executives elsewhere in the world for languages such as French, Portuguese and Spanish.

“We see ourselves as ambassadors of Bollywood,” says Neeraj Dhingra, Europe CEO for Zee’s international subsidiary, Asia TV.

The entry strategy, as well as potential to expand within markets, will vary.

While some channels will focus heavily on Hindi movies, others will serve up a broader selection of Indian film, drama and lifestyle programming.

Zee is also keen to push its wellness and living property Z Living (formerly Veria Living), which has already launched in Russia as Jivi Media alongside GE offering Zee Russia.

“There are a lot of opportunities,” Dhingra tells Media Business Asia. “We are trying to carve out our own place in the markets, while remaining a mainstream channel.”

A broad playing field

In Germany, the country’s two biggest commercial broadcasters, RTL and ProSieben, have cornered around three quarters of a €4.5 billion (US$5 billion) net TV ad market. That leaves about a quarter for the rest of the market to fight over.

“Germany has one of the biggest and broadest free-TV landscapes,” notes Huyen Trang Nguyen, an executive with media agency MEC Germany. “Every genre is freely available.”

Nonetheless, Bollywood films that aired on local German channels have played well in primetime, notably on RTL II, encouraging Zee to play its hand.

The Indian broadcaster has secured carriage in around 80% of German homes, and is also working on a small slate of locally made magazine shows to whet appetites for Bollywood entertainment among adult women, the target audience.

A 1% audience share should be enough to secure advertising.

“We have given ourselves between two to three years to be self-sustaining,” Dhingra says.

“We will invest in the channel, the marketing, plus programming to ensure we get a significant viewership.”

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