India’s ZEE5 Unveils 111-Strong 2023 Slate, Executives Reveal Content Strategy (EXCLUSIVE)

South Asian focused streamer ZEE5 has unveiled a 111-strong 2023 slate on the occasion of its fifth anniversary.

The lineup is across the Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Bangla, Punjabi and Marathi languages. The content is from top producers including Dharma Productions, Salman Khan Films, Oscar winner Guneet Monga’s Sikhya Entertainment, Bhanushali Studios, The Viral Fever, Applause Entertainment, Rose Audio Visuals, Vikas Bahl, Vivek Agnihotri, Nagraj Manjule and Sudhir Mishra.

A-list performers in the shows and films include Manoj Bajpayee, Pankaj Tripathi, Huma Qureshi, Arya, Parambrata Chatterjee, Vijay Sethupathi, Nawazuddin Siddiqui and Radhika Apte.

Titles revealed so far include films and series including Manoj Bajpayee’s “Sirf Ek Bandaa Kaafi Hai”; Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s “Haddi” and “Love is Blind,” Pankaj Tripathi’s “Kadak Singh”; Huma Qureshi’s “Tarla”; Sunny Deol’s “Gadar 2”; Vetrimaaran and Vijay Sethupathi’s “Viduthalai – Part 1”; Arya’s “Kathar Basha Endra Muthuramalingam”; Nagraj Manjule’s “Ghar Banduk Biryani”; Guneet Monga’s “Gyarah Gyarah”; and Sudhir Mishra’s “Crime Beat.”

Returning series include “Sunflower”; “Taj: Reign of Revenge”; “Humorously Yours”; “Aam Aadmi Family”; “The Kashmir Files Unreported”; “Duranga”; “Mithya”; “The Broken News”; and “Silence.”

“This diverse collection of exceptional stories spans across languages, genres, and formats, guaranteeing not only entertainment but also a sense of familiarity that brings them closer to home,” said Archana Anand, chief business officer, ZEE5 Global.

Of the 111, some 30 are original series in the languages that ZEE5 commissions in – Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Bangla – and half of these are in Hindi, including returning seasons. The rest is a mix of direct-to-digital films and films that will bow on the service post their theatrical releases, Manish Kalra, chief business officer, ZEE5 India, told Variety.  

India and the Indian diaspora being a vast, diverse and multi-lingual market, there is no one size fits all formula for content commissioning. ZEE5 is sitting on a lot of data, but that comes into play when greenlighting subsequent seasons.

“I personally use data as the compass and not a map,” Nimisha Pandey, chief content officer, Hindi originals, ZEE5 India, told Variety. “New commissions aren’t so much data driven as much it is need-scope driven, as much as it is the appetite of viewers driven.”

“And who are the people telling those stories? Is there is a story relevant enough, resonant enough and are the makers passionate enough? What’s their craft like? And ultimately, does it make commercial sense for the platform? I have to be honest, there have been times that I have loved something creatively, but it has just not made commercial sense to make that. And so we haven’t. And it’s when all of these things add up, is when we commission an original piece of content,” Pandey added.

“It’s a mix of data and intuition and many times intuition wins over data and we all learn in the process,” Kalra said.

The ambition of the global streamers is to go as deep into India as possible to tap into the largest population in the world. ZEE5 has a head start in that respect thanks to its legacy of linear channels. India has more than 4,400 towns and cities and Kalra reveals that ZEE5 has paying subscribers in each of those centers.

“The intention is obviously to cater to the real India, I always believe the real India is actually beyond the metros. When you go deeper, let’s say a small city in Uttar Pradesh, their aspirations might be slightly different versus a lower income group in Mumbai. So creating those stories, connecting with them, ensuring we talk to them in the language – that’s why this slate has nine languages,” Kalra said.

Kalra declined to put a number to ZEE5 subscribers as that is not company policy, but Sony, with whom the Zee group is merging in a $10 billion deal, has 33 million subscribers for its SonyLIV streaming service, as revealed by India head NP Singh on Thursday. Kalra says the ZEE5 number is in the tens of millions.

ZEE5 and SonyLIV together account for 13% of India’s premium VOD market, per a recent Media Partners Asia report.

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