We saw a growth in non-prime time viewing as well during the lockdown: Kartik Mahadev, ZEEL

Kartik Mahadev

On the sidelines of Zee Cafe completing 20 years, we speak to Kartik Mahadev, Business Head, Premium Channels, ZEEL to trace the channel’s journey & emerging trends in English entertainment genre. 

In line with the channel’s proposition of All Eyes On New, Zee Café’s content palette boasts of diverse genres. As the channel completes two decades of its presence, ZEEL’s Kartik Mahadev in an exclusive conversation with Media Samosa, shares the highlights of the journey, consumer trends in the wake of a pandemic, and more.


As Zee Cafe completes two decades, how has the content strategy of the channel evolved over the years? Especially now, in the face of a pandemic

Since inception, it has been the sole endeavor of the channel to bring the best of English entertainment to the Indian viewer, with iconic shows like Seinfeld, Friends, The Sopranos, Mad About You and Emmy winners – ER and The West Wing.

Circa, early 2000s, consumption of English entertainment was still at a nascent stage in India. Today, this has grown into a ‘Glocal’ community. Zee Café has played a pivotal role in shaping this genre through compelling content and shaping the aspirations of this community of international content viewers.

Be it through the marquee offering ‘Along With The US’ launched in the early 2000s where the latest shows like The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, and Supergirl were aired along with its US release or the introduction of ‘binge-watching’ as a format with ‘House of Cards S3’ and subsequent properties like ‘BBC First’ and ‘Breakfast To Bed Binge’ – Café has always catered to the evolving consumer needs.

As consumption appetite for English entertainment evolved, we introduced compelling dramas as part of properties like Hollywood on Café. The BBC First Dramas on Café added a complex and visceral mix of content with a TV First approach. We also provided a variety of content with locally-nuanced content with celebrity chat shows like ‘Look Who’s Talking with Niranjan’ and ‘Not Just Supper Stars’ and ‘Starry Nights’.



The channel has added 256 hours of content to its line up post lockdown.

What is the kind of consumer trends that you have observed during the ongoing crisis? Which content hooks work best for Zee Cafe?

The lockdown has shown us that the viewers chose to watch television for the curated content experience it provides, to not just individuals but the entire family. We observed a trend in audience preferences towards familiar, light-hearted content amidst the uncertainty and gloom.

‘Nostalgia’ as a genre clearly emerged as a big theme across television with several successful examples in Hindi GEC. Spotting the trend early, we introduced the iconic sitcom of the 90s– Seinfeld along with the 60s sitcom ‘I Dream Of Jeannie’ which resonated with the viewers.

Conversational shows and iconic sitcoms like along with easy to watch movies have performed well with an increase in time spent on Zee Café.

We saw a growth in non-prime time viewing as well and hence to keep viewers entertained throughout the day, we introduced back-to-back episodes of many popular titles.

Please shed some light on the #WeTimeWithZeeCafe campaign insight and its execution?

Our viewers are evolved, motivated, and have a global outlook. Being exposed to some of the finest shows, viewers have grown in their familiarity and affinity towards International content. Content with familiar characters spark conversations, shape cultures, and become a catalyst towards personal growth.

Over the years, we start relating to the character or an iconic moment and realize how it could potentially shape our own identity. The #WeTimeWithZeeCafe campaign captures this relationship with our discerning viewers and celebrates the We-Time moments.

Through a series of relatable illustrations, the film highlights moments in her life that are inspired by the iconic shows on Zee Café, which has become a signpost of her life stages, similarly playing a part in shaping life and lifestyle for their viewers from around the country. We have a robust marketing plan including On-Air, Digital, Radio, and Trade communication.


With television & social media going hand-in-hand, how do you use the latter for integrated marketing efforts? 

The rapid and constant change in the traditional media landscape and rising levels of digital sophistication in consumers has led to the emergence of multiple mediums to engage with the consumer.

Context has also emerged as a key factor in any integrated marketing strategy.

In the English cluster, we have adopted digital engagement alongside television as part of the channel marketing strategy. The #WhereIsMyChannel MRP campaign was first launched through Anurag Kashyap’s Twitter handle, before being launched on the Zee Café assets.

Within two weeks, we delivered over 25 million sharp targeted video views with strong engagement rates. The campaign with its 2 Ad films has reached to about ~58 million across digital and on TV. In a competitive category with several brands, the campaign has delivered over 70% ad cut-throughs which is quite strong.

Which social media platform offers the best results for Zee Cafe? What are the engagement tactics being adopted on digital?

Video consumption on digital is growing through shorter format videos, allowing for a sampling of content on television. Use cases: Café Shots format on digital platforms, Live TV on Zee5, #IdolInTheMaking engagement, Snippets, and challenges on Starry Nights. For instance, with Café Shots, we create snackable snippets of the highlights from our episodes that garner immense organic traction on social.


As part of our campaign #IdolInTheMaking for American Idol, we worked with content creators and collaborators like Monica Dogra, Melvin Lewis, Thomson Andrews, and Sejal Kumar and set to motion a 360-degree campaign across on-air and social media platforms. Every week, Zee Café opened the floor to fans across the country with an opportunity together with the influencers in encouraging budding artists to send in their renditions of the song of the week.

In over a month, the series of videos attracted over 150 entries from fans across the country with 6.4 million video views and 37 million impressions across platforms.

Also Read: Interview: It is not Television vs OTT but how both can…

Do you think Television will sustain despite the growing popularity of OTT platforms? 

There is no doubt that digital video platforms are here to stay. However, today we live in an AND world, not an OR world. English entertainment (Movies + GEC) on Television caters to 170Mn+ viewers (BARC @ All India 2+ U+R, Week 01’20- Week 29′ 20)).

Studies reveal that consumption of overlapped content between TV and OTT grew on television from 59% pre-NTO to 82% contribution post-NTO for the sitcom, drama, reality genres. It naturally follows that navigation between screens is seamless and consumption on TV and digital is complementary in nature.

The surge in TV viewership post lockdown tells us that television is the trusted medium of entertainment. Television provides youth-focused brands and premium brands the opportunity to associate with a premium subscriber base that is defined basis their content choice.

This sort of content and platform synergy for brands to associate with is not available on OTT platforms where English content is behind a paywall. While content consumption on OTT is growing, it is the Hindi and regional original content that are the primary drivers of this growth.

Please take us through the Ad volumes on the channel. Which are the biggest sectors contributing to the advertisement slots on Zee Cafe?

Youth-focused premium brands can choose from a repertoire of high-quality content to drive association with and reach a premium subscriber base, given a sharply segmented audience that English entertainment on television attracts.

At present, some of the top categories active on Zee Café include FMCG, Auto, Music and Video Streaming apps, Smartphone Brands, and E-Commerce.

Road to Recovery and the way forward for the English cluster? How do you see the industry shaping up in the post-COVID-19 world?

Interestingly, India is the second-largest English speaking country in the world (BBC India Report – 2012). Thus, in the long run, regional markets will continue to fuel new user growth for English entertainment. There is a whole set of the audience moving from regional to English content as they become more comfortable with English as a professional, conversational language.




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