Tarun Ka­tial

Afaqs! Re­porter spoke to the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of ZEE5 about the con­tent, strat­egy and chal­lenges of his VOD plat­form.

The Brand Reporter - - EDITORIAL / CONTENTS - By Su­raj Ram­nath su­raj.ram­nath@afaqs.com

ZEE5’s CEO be­lieves that it is im­por­tant to give In­di­ans a plat­form that has in­her­ent ad­van­tages like the con­ve­nience of view­ing a va­ri­ety of con­tent in a lan­guage of their choice.

While Zee En­ter­tain­ment En­ter­prises an­nounced, through a press re­lease in May, that Tarun Ka­tial (43) had been roped in as chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer for it’s over the top (OTT) plat­form — Zee5, Ka­tial has been in­volved in the plan­ning and mak­ing of orig­i­nals for the plat­form right from the end of 2016, while the merger of Big FM was on-go­ing.

Ka­tial was founder, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer and chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Big FM from Fe­bru­ary 2006 up to May 2018. Prior to that, he worked with BTVI as a board mem­ber for three years. Ka­tial also worked with Sony Pic­tures En­ter­tain­ment as busi­ness head and ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent, Sony En­ter­tain­ment Tele­vi­sion. His im­pres­sive re­sume also in­cludes work with Star TV, Ogilvy & Mather and En­ter­prise Nexus Lowe

Re­cently, ZEE5 launched a Marathi web-series called Lift­man and prior to that the plat­form launched a biopic — Karen­jit Kaur: The Un­told Story of Sunny Leone. Very re­cently, the plat­form has also launched a Ben­gali orig­i­nal — AranyaDeb, a story of Kolkata as a city, in re­al­ity, and imag­i­na­tion through the lives of two friends.

Ac­cord­ing to a source, the OTT plat­form is go­ing to launch close to 90 orig­i­nals in the next one year.

While Ka­tial re­fuses to con­firm or deny those num­bers, he did speak to us about the plat­form fo­cus­ing on launch­ing orig­i­nals not only in Hindi but in re­gional lan­guages too and about the var­i­ous chal­lenges that lay ahead.

Talking about his goal for ZEE5, Ka­tial says, “It’s very im­por­tant that we give In­di­ans a great plat­form that has in­her­ent ad­van­tages like the con­ve­nience of view­ing a va­ri­ety of con­tent in a lan­guage of their choice. All of these are the at­tributes that we bring to the ta­ble. Orig­i­nal con­tent in var­i­ous lan­guages, net­work con­tent at their own time and their own con­ve­nience shoul­der con­tent that is un­seen on TV. So, it is a plat­form full of op­por­tu­ni­ties and pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

In the past one year, OTT plat­forms like Ama­zon Prime came up with shows such as Inside Edge, Net­flix with Sa­cred Games and now ZEE5 with Karen­jit Kaur and peo­ple seem to like these In­dian pieces of orig­i­nal con­tent. afaqs! Re­porter asked him if that’s the way ahead for a fu­ture where peo­ple will judge a plat­form’s per­for­mance based on which one con­sis­tently gives them good, orig­i­nal con­tent. He says, “I think the depth of the net­work, whether it is orig­i­nal with a great tech prod­uct with good data an­a­lyt­ics and good rec­om­men­da­tions, those would be the key for any OTT plat­form.”

Talking about the fo­cus on re­gional con­tent, Ka­tial says, “Lan­guage con­tent is one of our pil­lars. All data shows us that the new ‘In­ter­net In­dian’ is com­ing into lan­guages and In­di­ans are col­lo­qui­ally, very proud of their cul­ture and lan­guages. So, that’s the point. We try and em­body these cul­tures in the sto­ries and in their lan­guages on our plat­form. Whether it is Tamil, Telegu, Ben­gali, Marathi or Kan­nada, we are go­ing to be fo­cus­ing on all the big mar­kets which have large cul­tures and sub­cul­tures.”

While Net­flix had al­ready launched ‘Mostly Sunny’ in the year 2016, we asked Ka­tial if he was ap­pre­hen­sive

The OTT plat­form is go­ing to launch close to 90 orig­i­nals in the next one year.

while mak­ing Karen­jit Kaur and what kind of re­sponse it re­ceived.

He says, “No, we were not at all ap­pre­hen­sive. This was about a series in its true form. I think Karen­jit Kaur was a land­mark show in In­dia. I think it was a first big biopic in a series for­mat. It was also a show that had its own share of cu­rios­ity at­tached to it be­cause ev­ery­one knows Sunny Leone the out­come, but no one knows Karen­jit Kaur the per­son. Hence, the show was named Karen­jit Kaur and not Sunny Leone. We got an im­mense re­sponse. We have seen all the rat­ings, crit­ics’ re­views and plat­form up-take, all that has been un­prece­dented. Across mar­kets, peo­ple have viewed the show right from Tamil Nadu to Chandigarh and from Guwahati to Pune... ev­ery­where.”

Speak­ing about the chal­lenges for OTT and ZEE5, Ka­tial says, “I think the ma­jor chal­lenges will be to work with great cre­ators and build great sto­ries. It will be im­por­tant to con­tinue in­no­vat­ing prod­uct and tech. It will be im­por­tant to use data to un­der­stand au­di­ences. Those are our key tasks.”

When asked what kind of con­tent sub­scribers of ZEE5 pre­fer to watch, he re­sponds, “Films are a big hit along with orig­i­nal series. We pre­miered Pad­man, Veere di Wed­ding, Shaadi Me Za­roor Aana, and Par­manu and they all worked won­der­fully for us. Par­manu was a shared ti­tle be­tween us and Net­flix. Most of them are ex­clu­sive, but this one was shared.”

Cur­rently, OTT is not a plat­form for the masses. But will the masses pay for DTH and OTT? Ka­tial says, “Masses will make their own choices. In­di­ans have also grown in their per capita in­come sub­stan­tially and Ur­ban In­dia has the ca­pac­ity to pay for it. Chan­nels have film pre­miers on TV; nev­er­the­less, peo­ple go to theatres and watch them. The propo­si­tion has to be strong. If the con­tent is strong, peo­ple will pay for it.”

ZEE5 is soon com­ing up with a mu­sic-based re­al­ity web-series Lock­down - which is pro­duced by rap­per Bad­shah. Apart from that, the plat­form is go­ing to launch Akoori, a web-series based on a quirky Parsi fam­ily. What else? “We are plan­ning to come up with a series of dig­i­tal­first movies. We will be rolling out a list of about 10 movies in the next one week; ti­tles done by big In­dian direc­tors which will be avail­able only on Zee5,” he says.

In the re­cent past, there has been a lot of con­ver­sa­tion re­gard­ing peo­ple rais­ing is­sues about reg­u­lat­ing dig­i­tal con­tent post the launch of Sa­cred Games. Is it im­por­tant for the gov­ern­ment to do so? Ka­tial re­sponds, “I think self-reg­u­la­tion is the best way of reg­u­lat­ing con­tent. OTT is a very per­sonal medium and I don’t think, at this point in time, there is any need to reg­u­late the con­tent. The gov­ern­ment has been very good about reg­u­lat­ing con­tent on TV and it is self-reg­u­la­tion that works there as well. So, I don’t see a rea­son why it would be any other way.”

Now that Ka­tial’s LinkedIn pro­file shows that his in­volve­ment with Big FM ended in May, we asked him about the chal­lenges he saw in ra­dio and how dif­fer­ent they are from OTT. “I think the chal­lenges al­ways re­main the same - how do you cre­ate ex­cite­ment with con­sumers; how do you cre­ate new use cases and new needs for con­sumers; how do you grow the pie; and how do you make sure the con­tent is mar­keted well. These are just some clas­sic chal­lenges in a busi­ness,” he signs off. ■

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