ZEE5, a home-grown video streaming platform has been collaborating with various content creators to bring engaging stories. It recently announced a partnership with digital content firm TVF (The Viral Fever) and a partnership with award-winning filmmaker duo, Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari, to launch ‘Break Point’, an untold story of the titans of tennis – Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes. In an interview with THE WEEK, Nimisha Pandey, head, Hindi Originals, ZEE5 India, spoke about the platform’s content catalogue, ever-evolving audience tastes and more on the show, Break Point. Excerpts:

Q. Tell us about the war-film genre and the kind of traction witnessed among subscribers? Do you plan to launch new shows based on similar themes?

A. As the multilingual storyteller for millions of entertainment seekers, we at ZEE5 aspire to narrate stories across languages and genres that are real, relevant and resonant with multiple consumer cohorts. We believe people should have access to new voices, cultures, and perspectives. As a result, we are diving deep to explore more genres and craft characters and storylines that enlarge the ambit of the audience we cater to. With respect to the war-film genre, we have a strong slate of existing shows and films on the platform including Zidd, Naxalbari, Uri, Jeet Ki Zidd among others, which celebrate the stories of the Indian armed forces, some of which are based on true events. The viewer response to our series State of ‘Siege: 26/11’ was very encouraging, and the success of the film inspired us to tell another NSG story. ‘State of Siege: Temple Attack’ is based on the heroic tale of NSG commandos, who led the counter-insurgency operation at Akshardham temple in Gujarat in 2002. The film recently released on our platform, marking the digital debut of Akshaye Khanna and it delivered impressive numbers, further strengthening our belief in the genre.

Q. Tell us about ‘Break Point’ and the concept of this new and much-awaited show.

A. We are very excited to present this story to the audience. Break Point is a human story of a partnership, a friendship and a rivalry that impacted the careers and lives of two of India’s most prolific players. It’s a candid disclosure of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi’s relationship and how it evolved from the most enviable partnership to the most unbelievable break-up. A layered narrative which brings to fore their individual perspectives about each other and their take on what went wrong, combined and conflicted with the perspectives of their friends, family, and colleagues. Consequently, what comes to the fore is the fact that a relationship can have so many dimensions and that it can be viewed differently by everyone. Through this 7-part series, the viewer will experience the beauty of the game and true sportsmanship, but we also see the vulnerability of success. The best part is that we have the industry’s most prolific storytellers – Ashwiny Iyer Tiwari and Nitesh Tiwari – telling this complex and immensely engaging story. The form they have chosen is refreshing and unique and, most importantly, true to the concept.

Q. This is a new kind of genre/category ZEE5 is entering in. What kind of audience are you targeting?

A. Our focus is on both, reflecting trends on what viewers consume in India as well as in setting new trends and portraying content with a sense of responsibility. OTT enables creators to have a canvas to narrate and present stories in their truest essence without confining them to any specific format or genre. This makes it extremely empowering and liberating for content creators to be able to tell these stories without having to follow rules of a particular format. That is what inspires us while curating the content slate for ZEE5; we are focusing on catering to a diverse section of audiences. Our content portfolio is truly reflective of this diversity, with engaging shows from ‘State of Siege: Temple Attack’ to ‘Sunflower’, and from ‘Break Point’ to ‘Engineering Girls’ season 2, we want to make sure that every show reaches its right audience.

Q. How have Hindi originals been competing against popular international shows in foreign languages, especially English?

A. India is a land of varied cultures and sub-cultures, hence a one-size-fits-all content approach does not suffice the entertainment needs of multiple consumers. We thrive on having a deep understanding of our consumers, their changing content preferences and consumption patterns across platforms. We received a great response to ‘Friends Reunion’ which was in English, and while foreign language shows have their own set of audiences, you cannot possibly dismiss the fact that we are a country that prefers to consume content in their native language. We take pride in giving consumers entertainment in the language that they truly resonate with. At ZEE5, our UI is in 12 languages and a library of 150+ originals across 7 languages. There is different segment of viewers for varied content offerings and its more about co-existing than competing with each other.

In fact, a recent FICCI-EY report stated that regional languages will comprise around 50 per cent of streaming video consumption in 2025 from 30 per cent in 2019, signifying the immense appetite for consumption growth in one’s native language. Another study by KPMG revealed that 30 per cent of Indians consume content on OTT in languages other than Hindi and English. With rapid proliferation of internet users, video and vernacular have become essential to the way Indians consume content and catering to this consumer need will be essential for all platforms going forward.

Q. How do you plan to compete with global players such as Amazon Prime Video, Netflix and others?

 A. At ZEE, we have a rich experience of catering to Indian audiences with entertaining and engaging content across 12 languages for nearly three decades. Our innate content creation capabilities and an insatiable desire for ‘consumer delight’ has been the driving force behind ZEE’s rise as the leading content company. On ZEE5 as well, we are focusing on our strengths by consistently creating diverse and authentic content to cater to a wide range of audiences. We have a strong understanding of what Indian viewers want to watch or consume, basis which we are consistently diversifying our content strategy. As far as competition is concerned, it is important for any industry to grow as it makes everybody push their game up and the consumer is the end winner.

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