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Building on the rapid growth of the Zee Entertainment’s OTT service Zee5 in India — which saw its domestic user base at the end of 2018 expanded to 56.3 million within 10 months of its launch — the international platform Zee5 Global debuted across over 190 countries in October 2018 to cater to the South Asian diaspora around the world. But taking note of worldwide mainstream audience’s appreciation of India-originated content, Zee5 Global announced a broadening of its strategy and added five international languages to its initial content offering 12 languages, to capitalize on the demand for Bollywood films and Indian TV shows from non-South Asian audience.
The Zee5 Global service offers films, TV shows, and live news aggregating over 100,000 hours of on-demand content. The five new languages announced are Malay, Thai, Bahasa, German and Russian. The introduction is also accompanied by a new campaign slogan “Extreme Emotion” for a universal appeal to replace the inaugural one at its launch, “Dil Se Desi,” that targets audience of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi descent.
“The population that watches our content is not restricted to Indians at all,” Zee5 global chief business officer Archana Anand told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview at the APOS media conference in Bali, Indonesia. “It’s Indians, plus Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and Nepalis, they all tend to watch. There has also been some strange phenomena because Indian content has crossed over and is being watched by people all over the world. Nobody has understood why Rajinikanth, who is a South [Asian] superstar, is so popular in Japan. We’re all very confused about what drives that.”
She further added: “Indian content has managed to make its way through cultural disconnects across the globe. Therefore what we’re betting on is not just the Indian or the South Asian audience but a larger one. To ease that out that’s why we’re going into the local languages.”
The streamer rose to the top within three months in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, during the first phase of marketing after its international bow. “It gave us a lot of confidence that the content has created affinity and likability,” Anand said. The service has since widened its focus to Australia, Singapore and Malaysia, and will in a month begin its push in the Middle East, Africa and Europe. “You will find a lot more aggression in these markets where we go after local audiences,” she added.
Zee TV has a global linear presence since the mid-1990s. Owing to its pre-existing contract with Dish, the global streaming service has not yet been launched in North America. While the contract expires in around two years, Anand said it will be an open conversation with partners to decide on a way to go forward. The content offering on the streaming service is also less conventional than Zee’s broadcast TV channels.
“Our approach for linear has always been to position ourselves as a family channel. So that in itself puts some restrictions on ourselves. And then there is very strong censorship rules about the way TV is distributed in India. So that also restricts us in the nature of content. But because digital gives us a little more width and room, we’re far braver, far millennial, far edgier on the kind of content that we put on our digital platform.”
Anand also explained that things like Karenjit Kaur — the biopic of one of the most popular porn stars [in India] — “captures popular fascination but has a much more edgier quality and appeals better to the millennial audience.” “All of that is on the digital. That’s the differentiator,” she added.
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