With around US$240 million on the books, which are debt-free, and cash profits running at about US$30 million per quarter, Indian broadcast network Zee Entertainment Enterprises has a sizable warchest to potentially power organic or inorganic growth in the future.
The scope to make a major acquisition within India is dwindling, particularly now that regional TV network Eenadu has been snapped up by Reliance, though a major overseas deal is a possibility. However, that is unlikely to take place soon, should it happen at all.
“We would not acquire something, unless we understand that market,” says Zee's MD & CEO, Punit Goenka. “The critical thing is for us to understand that market first, and then see whether it’s an organic or inorganic entry.
"In this country we have evaluated practically all the deals that have happened in the last five years. We have backed out of all of them for one single reason: they want better multiples than what we trade at.”
Nonetheless, Zee is ramping up investment outside India to broaden its revenue base, with plans to start producing original content for an international channel, a first, while also looking to create a custom English-language product in English for second and third generation Indians living abroad.
Having launched India’s first international channel, Zee UK, 17 years ago, Zee has pushed its library to the limits with the Indian diaspora, though executives see scope to continue to grow the global audience, from 650 million today, including English, to a billion by 2017. This means Zee must bring more non-Indian viewers into the fold.
The broadcaster has already programmed original channels for the Middle East and Russia, two large markets with growth potential but underdeveloped domestic production. These early forays rely heavily on dubbed content from Zee’s library, as well as some acquired content, but also serve as potential springboards for further expansion.
After launching Zee Russia less than two years ago, Zee has secured a decent footprint of about five million Russian homes, in what is still a predominantly analog market.
Middle Eastern portfolio
However, the success of four-year-old Middle Eastern channel Zee Aflam, a subtitled Bollywood offering which broke even last year, has paved the way for the launch of a general entertainment sibling, Zee Alwan, in July.
Alongside shortened versions of sprawling soaps beloved by Indian audiences, edited down to a fifth of their original running time, Zee Alwan will soon include five to six hours of local drama content per week, made specifically for Zee.
“It has taken three years to launch,” Goenka says. “The challenge has been doing extensive research to find out which of our stories work in that market, then crunching 300 episodes down to 60 episodes.
"There are also aspects like comedies work best in the Egyptian accent, romantic stories work best in the Syrian accent," he continues. "This is all based on research we have done in those markets."
The channel launched in July, and will start local production by the end of the year, Goenka adds.
Africa and Indonesia
At present, there are no further plans for original production outside the Middle East, a mainly free-to-air market where advertising makes up 80% of TV industry revenues. However, Zee is studying the potential for tailored channels elsewhere, focusing for the moment on Indonesia and South Africa.
At the same time, the company is working on an English-language offering to appeal to South Asians living abroad who may still watch Bollywood, but no longer connect with homegrown soaps and dramas.
“A lot of research is being done on that right now,” Goenka says. “By the end of this year, we will be finalizing our plans when to launch it, and in which markets.”
This is an edited extract from the Q3 2012 edition of The Asia Media Journal. The entire issue can be downloaded as an iPad app here.