Country’s First Private TV Channel Zee TV Stepped Into Glorious 25 Years

Twenty-five years ago, It started a new era of entertainment in the country, metamorphosed into infotainment and later branched out into separate news and entertainment channels. In essence, Zee TV became a “public movement.” The journey, as many early employees of Zee recall, has been that of progress, growth and constant innovation. As Rajya Sabha member and Essel Group Chairman Dr Subhash Chandra puts it in his tweet — today the channel is a household name as “viewers have made this private channel a public movement with their love and support.” He added: “Reaching entertainment to the homes of people — with this conviction in my heart, I had made a start.”

Today, Zee has become a global media giant offering entertainment, news and information to 1.3 billion people in 173 countries in 19 languages. The brand is present across news, broadcasting, movies, music, live entertainment, digital and talent businesses, both in India and overseas. Its entertainment wing has more than 240,000 hours of television content and houses the world’s largest Hindi film library with rights to more than 4,200 movie titles across various languages.

Punit Goenka, MD & CEO, ZEEL, said: “25 years back, on this very day, our Chairman, Dr Subhash Chandra launched our nation’s first private satellite television channel. The launch of ZEE way back in 1992, sparked the evolution of not just a company, but an entire industry in itself.”

Some of the finest and most successful talents of the country started as part of this Zee ‘revolution’. Union minister for Information and Broadcasting, Smriti Irani, was a stringer with Zee TV 23 years ago. Stating that the channel had helped many people make their dreams come true, Irani said, “I was like any other reporter who used to send news to Zee TV. This group has been really lucky for me. It has shown several programmes on television that transformed people’s lives in terms of entertainment. ‘Zee Antakshari’ made people listen to music, ‘Hum Paanch’ made people laugh and ‘Teen Bahuraaniyan’ made people cry.”

The story of how Zee TV started is interesting. In January 1991, a well-known personality in the advertising world, Ashok Kurien, and Dr Subhash Chandra were watching CNN and decided that they wanted to get into satellite television. They spoke to senior managers at Li Ka Shing’s Hutchison Whampoa, then the owner of Asiasat 1, the only satellite broadcasting into India and China, to form an equally-owned venture. The proposal was to be presented to Richard Li (Li Ka-Shing’s son).

In his remarkably candid memoir The Z Factor – My Journey as the Wrong Man at the Right Time, Dr Chandra describes what happened next: “It was on December 14 1991 when Ashok Kurien of Ambience ad agency and I reached Star TV’s office in Hong Kong. There were ten to twelve senior and junior executives in the room. Richard Li, head of Star TV, was not there. So we waited a while. It was like waiting for the king to come in and give his blessings. Richard walked in suddenly and sat opposite me. ‘OK, Indian channel… Hindi channel. Where is the money in India?’ Richard was very dismissive. ‘I am not interested in a joint venture.’ Most of us in the room, including his executives, were shocked. It appeared that Richard had already made up his mind about the futility of the project. So I addressed him directly. ‘Mr Li, if you are not interested in the joint venture, can you consider leasing the [satellite] transponder to us?’ ‘There is no transponder available for less than $5 million per year,’ Richard said. It was a haughty statement to put me off.’ ‘That is fine. I will pay $5 million!’ It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. I did not realize the implication of what I had said…”

Dr Chandra insisted the deal had to be signed there and then. Li, however, made him wait for two hours before refusing. Dr Chandra came back and started talking to the Russians, who had a satellite stationed over India. Li was intrigued enough to come to India in 1992. He then met Dr Chandra who took him to the Essel Propack factory. Its sheer scale and size made Li change his mind. In May 1992 he signed a deal with Dr Chandra and on October 2, 1992 Zee went on air, two years after the principal ‘revolutionary’ of the ‘Zee revolution’ had actually thought about it.

Reflecting on Zee’s journey of 25 years, Essel Group, Zee chairman and Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, Subhash Chandra said, “25 years ago, the launch of India’s first private television channel, Zee TV led to the commencement of a whole new industry which not only generated employment for 50 lakh people but also gave a new direction to our country. We started with a single resolution to provide entertainment to people in the comfort of their homes, and today, we share this happiness with 1.3 billion viewers across 173 countries, in 19 different languages. Zee has become a household name because of the continuous support and love of viewers across the world. It is their support that has made a private channel into a public movement. Under the able leadership of Punit and Amit, Zee will always work towards new technology and concepts so as to provide its viewers with the best of entertainment.”

ZEEL MD and CEO Punit Goenka said, “On 2 October 1992, our chairman Dr Subhash Chandra launched the nation’s first private satellite television channel and sparked the evolution of not just a company, but also an entire industry in itself. An industry which today stands at an estimated size of Rs 588 billion, generating millions of jobs across the nation and worldwide. Right since its inception in 1992, Zee has been at the forefront of launching many industry firsts, courtesy to its pioneering vision, entrepreneurial spirit and sheer persistence. We started as a television broadcasting company and have today emerged as a global media and entertainment conglomerate, entertaining over a billion viewers across the world. As consumer preferences shift and evolve, our aim at Zee, is to anticipate the change, embrace the new and continue to lead by innovation.”

ZEEL CEO international broadcast business Amit Goenka said, “Zee forayed into the international business in 1995 with the launch of Zee TV in the UK. Over the years, Zee has emerged as the cultural ambassador of India, taking its rich and engaging content across the world, to not just the South-Asian diaspora but to local audiences in international territories. Our vision for the future is to become the world’s leading global content company from the emerging markets.” With the vision to bring a revolution by facilitating convergence of media and communication with a mirror into the common man’s life, Dr Subhash Chandra had launched Zee Telefilms Ltd (now Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited) in October 1992. The journey that began with a single channel has opened the gateway for Indian entertainment to the world. Zee is today providing entertainment content to diverse audiences across 173 countries with a reach of more than 1.3 billion people.

With a dedicated focus on quality content, the company has built a diverse portfolio of leading businesses across the entertainment value-chain including television broadcasting, digital, movie and music production and live entertainment. Over the past 25 years, Zee has always been committed to remaining profitable and delivering increasing shareholder value. Zee has also established a very strong consumer connect.

Acquires 9X Media

The Punit Goenka-led Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited (ZEEL) has entered a definitive agreement to acquire 9X Media and its subsidiaries from Rivendell PE LLC (earlier known as New Silk Route) and the other shareholders through an all-cash transaction amounting to Rs 160 crore.

With this, ZEEL strengthens its music portfolio significantly. Currently, the network has Zing, which is a music channel targeted to cater to the requirements of a young audience. Originally launched as Music Asia in 1997, the channel was subsequently re-launched as Zee Music in 2000. In 2009, however, it underwent another name change and became Zing. In 2014, ZEEL re-positioned it from a music channel to a youth-and-music channel- a positioning that it retains till date.

Currently, the 9X Media operates five music channels- 9XM (Hindi), 9X Jalwa (Hindi), 9X Jhakkas (Marathi), 9XO (English) and 9X Bajao (Hindi). The acquisition also includes INX Music- a subsidiary of 9XM engaged in the business of broadcasting a Punjabi music channel 9X Tashan. 9XM owned a majority stake of 70.85 per cent in INX Media. Besides significantly expanding its Hindi music portfolio, the acquisition gives ZEEL access to the regional music genre. It also increases its regional footprint with its foray into the Punjabi market. 9X Media’s Bollywood news portal, SpotboyE, will also be a part of the transaction.

Goenka, MD and CEO, ZEEL said: “Continuing with our strategy of expanding into regional markets and niche genres, we are pleased to announce this acquisition which strengthens our music portfolio. Music is an integral component of consumer’s entertainment pie and we will offer our consumers a wider array of choices through these channels. 9X channels enjoy leading market shares in their respective segments and will benefit immensely from our network’s strength to achieve higher growth potential and cost synergies. I am confident that these channels will make our entertainment bouquet even more compelling for the audience.”

9X Media, previously known as INX Media, was founded in 2007 by Indrani Mukerjea and housed the Hindi general entertainment channel 9X as well. In 2010, ZEEL bought the said Hindi GEC for Rs 64 crore. The same year, the company changed its name to 9X Media and focused its energies on growing its music portfolio. 9X Media’s consolidated revenue for FY17 stood at Rs 158.6 crore and it posted an EBITDA loss of Rs 5 crore. In addition to acquiring 9X, ZEEL also bought Turner’s 26 per cent in the distribution joint venture between the companies at par value of Rs 2.6 lakh. The company has also bought 26% equity stake in Zee Turner Limited (74  per cent  subsidiary of the company) for Rs. 2,60,000, the company said in a filing to the bourses on 6th October.

9X Media Private Limited, incorporated in 2006, is engaged in the business of broadcasting of five music channels. INX Music Private Limited, incorporated on March 15, 2007, is 70.85  per cent  subsidiary of 9XM and engaged in the business of broadcasting ‘9X Tashan’ (a Punjabi music channel) under its wholly-owned subsidiary Paul Entertainment Private Limited.

According to the Ficci-KPMG Media report, the music industry, which was valued at Rs 1,220 crore, is expected to grow at a CAGR of 15.8% to reach Rs 2,540 crore by 2021. Currently, digital music contributes to 70% of the revenue.

Zee as a media group has been very active in mergers and acquisitions over the last one year. Besides acquiring a 49% stake in Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Broadcast Network’s radio business Big FM in November last year, Zee Group recently sold its sports broadcasting business – Taj Television – which operated Ten Sports set of channels to Sony Pictures Networks India for $385 million.

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