This is not a time for ‘Buy me’ but a period for ‘I’m there for you’: Prathyusha Agarwal
Prathyusha Agarwal, Chief Consumer Officer, ZEELZEEL
How organizations are navigating the new normal

This is not a time for ‘Buy me’ but a period for ‘I’m there for you’: Prathyusha Agarwal

How organizations are navigating the new normal
  • In our latest interview series, we talk to organizations to understand how they are coping with the new normal and their strategies towards navigating these difficult times.
  • With people confined at home, television viewership has seen a massive surge, pushing broadcasters to think out of the box
  • Prathyusha Agarwal, Chief Consumer Officer, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd tells us how things have panned out at the organization in these past few weeks, and all that it has been doing to ensure their viewers get the best content.

The ongoing Covid-19 crisis has led to unprecedented changes in our lives. We are all confined at home and that is leading to a huge change in the way we consumer content, media or even everyday things in our lives.

While a lot of industries have suffered, coming to almost a complete standstill, there are some sectors that have seen a spike, due to our changed routines. Television and OTT viewership is at an all time high as people are trying to find engaging content. News channels are also observing a huge spike in viewership as people are constantly trying to stay abreast of all that is happening around them.

However, while TV viewership has seen a spike, the challenge has been to offer viewers fresh content that will keep them hooked to a particular channel. GECs that are heavily reliant on daily soaps, however, have had to innovate, considering production has been stopped completely since the lockdown.

We thought it would be interesting to understand how things have been for one of the biggest broadcasters in India, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZEEL), and understand how they’ve been tackling the crisis, and prepare for the future. We got some interesting insights from Prathyusha Agarwal, Chief Consumer Officer, ZEEL who told us how the organization quickly adapted to the evolving situation while also ensuring production of content remotely over mobile and professional cameras by using video and audio production technologies to support broadcast, digital & social platforms to make sure they can offer something fresh to their viewers.

Edited excerpts:

Q) While the lockdown has come as a blessing in disguise for the broadcast industry, how have things been for ZEE as an organization, in terms of working remotely and business continuity?
The current COVID-19 situation has triggered an unprecedented shift in consumer sentiment and behaviour, which has impacted the way businesses are functioning across the world. Confinement at home has families turning to their trusted TV set and dependence on television as a source of entertainment has seen a surge, reflecting in the viewership data. Our channel teams geared upto this surge in viewership since the lockdown came into effect and have been customising content to cater to this changing consumption need of the viewers which ensured that ZEE strengthened its leadership further in a growing category. As an organization, we were always agile and as teams, strongly connected, so the transition to WFH operations was both swift and smooth ensuring minimal disruption to our viewers and complete business continuity. ZEE ensured business as usual for its in-house operations and transmission functions by leveraging technology and implementing various solutions across its key functions.

Our Broadcast Operations team developed remote clients through which systems could be operated remotely, including from home, which is a first in the industry. Initially, continuing studio activities such as editing, graphics, audio, and online applications was a challenge. But within two weeks, we implemented a WFH edit capability using proxy-based workflows with edit-over-cloud solutions. Moreover, to ensure a continuous flow of entertainment to our viewers, the teams have also enabled remote production of content over mobile and professional cameras by using video and audio production technologies to support broadcast, digital & social platforms.

For the Silver Jubilee celebrations of ZEE’s singing reality show SaReGaMaPa, we have taken an industry-first initiative - ‘Ek Desh, Ek Raag’ summoning our network strength with a 25-hour Fund Raiser Music Concert with over 350 performances across the network’s social assets, culminating in a pan India music concert on TV featuring the most notable talent from SaReGaMaPa across 19 ZEE channels. This mammoth initiative will be completely executed using remote WFH solutions by teams and artists.

Q) There are different sets of challenges for GECs and news channels right now. While GECs are trying to come up with innovative ways to keep audiences engaged, news channels cannot really work remotely. How did ZEE as an organization react to these challenges?

The lockdown has led to more people consuming content on TV. The habit of TV viewing has never been stronger, with 46% of the viewers watching TV all 7 days a week, an increase of nearly 50% from the pre-COVID period. Rather than challenges, we viewed these as opportunities. To cater to this demand surge, we have customised the best of content across our channels taking into consideration specific shifts in consumption behaviour.

The viewership trends over the weeks have indicated the surge in daytime viewership. To address that, we’ve brought back some of the all-time favourite shows that enjoy a strong consumer connect across channels. For instance, Zee TV extended its on-demand nostalgia band in the afternoon featuring popular shows. We have also seen higher viewership among males and kids with the entire family now at home and as a strategy, we’ve enhanced our weekend offering which sees high affinity amongst these audience segments. The viewership growth is also being driven by nearly 60-70% growth in the Movies genre through the lockdown period and as people look to keep themselves entertained, our movie portfolio endeavors to maximize the experience for every movie aficionado.

Our agility has helped us emerge as the leading entertainment network during the challenging and dynamic lockdown period, with a 15.1% share (sports & news not included), widening the gap between itself and its next competitor to nearly 1%.

Q) What is your objective when you communicate with your consumers in adverse times like today? How are you ensuring consumer stickiness when the competition is fierce and you are not able to produce fresh content?
As a medium, people place a lot of faith and trust in television and as a brand, we need to meet and further that expectation. Therefore, even in our communication, we need to build and maintain our consumer’s trust with unambiguous authenticity. While our communication is deeply seeded in customer-centricity, during times of crisis, historically, brands that have connected with the consumer are those that communicate with empathy and relevance to the need of the hour. ZEE being a responsible media & entertainment organization came to the forefront by employing its network strength and outreach, to launch several pioneering campaigns to promote social distancing and generate awareness for maintaining adequate hygiene. From providing a behavioural trigger to its audience to wash hands for 20 seconds through our #BreakTheCoronaOutbreak initiative; uniting the country to pause and applaud the essential services’ workers during the Janta Curfew to deploying the strength of our network to encourage every viewer to not venture out and stay at home with their families through #HumAndarCoronaBahar initiative, we have stayed focussed on our role as a media platform and not just an entertainer.

The need of the hour is constant innovation and adaptation to the rapidly changing consumption patterns driven by a shift in content preference of different consumer cohorts throughout the day. During the lockdown, we are seeing a higher affinity for light-hearted, comedy shows, stories that reflect hope, positivity and patriotism and can entertain the entire family together. We have curated our content offerings across different genres of channels whether it’s through one hour comedy specials on &TV, or inspirational movie premieres like Saand ki Aankh on Zee Cinema, to serve these evolving needs and content preferences.

Q) What have your key learnings from the past few weeks been? Do you think you are better prepared now to face unforeseen challenges in the future?
Agility, Adaptability and Empathy have been our biggest learnings during this period. Being nimble about understanding the changing viewer behaviour and adapting our content offering to the same helped us to continue to lead as a network through this period. There will be a lasting impact of this extended period of behavioural change in the consumer's mind and we are gearing up to service this changed mindset. As broadcasters, this uncertain situation has taught us the need to innovate the way we create content and maximise its potential, pushed us to leverage technology solutions quickly and collaborate as teams. It has changed the way we communicate to our consumers, even leading to innovations through our first of its kind filmed from home campaigns. I would certainly say we are better prepared to deal with any type of situation in the future.

Q) As a marketer, what are a few things that one must keep in mind while communicating with consumers?
First and foremost, brands should think of consumers as fellow humans as we all come together to fight this pandemic. Empathy and compassion will go a long way. This is not a time for ‘buy me’ but a period for ‘I’m there for you, irrespective, and this is how I can make your life better/ easier to deal with what’s happening’. It is essential to be meaningfully salient through this time and say something only if you have something useful to say to the consumer. Especially for non-essential and currently out of consumption categories, connecting is critical as those who are present for the consumer now will be in their consideration sets during the revival phase when consumption opens up.

Additionally, the definition of value for people is changing and it will be critical in the short term for brands to identify what is valuable for their consumers right now and then find ways of fulfilling that value and communicating that proposition effectively. In the long term, marketers must anticipate the big shifts in consumer attitudes and plan their role in consumer’s life accordingly as this is a once in a lifetime experience for everyone and people are likely to completely rethink their mental models.