As the government of India emphasises on businesses and individuals to adopt a ‘Make in India’ strategy, a success story of the past stands out for its sheer nerve…
For anyone who has ever been interested in the evolution of the media landscape in India, the Zee story is unmissable. At a time when the Murdochs of the world were taking over markets with the satellite television phenomenon, in India, Subhash Chandra was very clear on where his company and he stood. His famous response to a Murdoch buyout bid was ‘India is not for sale’. It left many inspired.
Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEEL), which is part of Essel Group, has probably seen it all. A tough beginning; a sour relationship with an international player that was considered on top of its game and the constant pressure to make ends meet — ZEEL faced every test of time. And numbers indicate that it has often had a befitting reply.
Some of the early decisions that led to the formation of Zee, and then its continued growth, were nothing short of highly ambitious. Today, ZEEL is among the highest revenue grossers in the Indian media industry. Its strategy moved between trying out the new, moving on to the platforms that clicked while constantly innovating, and adding to its strengths.
There are many lessons from the high points of the ZEEL story. However, one of the most relevant is what a ‘Make in India’ company can achieve for the country. There are several levels on which that can be answered.
In the case of ZEEL itself, among the many things to its credit, perhaps one of the first was the manner in which it changed the perception of India. There was a time, much before the bright star that India has become today attracting international dollars and playing home to some of the smartest minds and forward looking companies of the world, when it was seen as a land of snake-charmers and elephants. There is nothing wrong with either, but it was a platform like ZEEL that presented the changing India to the world.
Not only ZEEL’s content but several of its international initiatives and also the proud Indian in Chandra played a critical role in relaying a growth story of India that defied myths. ZEEL became the first Indian media owner to step out of the country to international markets. ZEEL took Indian content to the South Asian Diaspora in the US, Europe, across the Asia Pacific and the Middle East and Africa. In some markets, it even acquired local companies and set up arms to create original content — a move none of its peers have initiated even today.
While advertising businesses in India were selling out to global companies, ZEEL was acquiring businesses — case in point is Veria Living that changed its name to Z Living and has become a wellness business to reckon with.
Chandra’s success has been lauded on several platforms. In 2011, he was awarded the Emmy Directorate Award in New York. In 2016, he received the Global Indian Award from the Canada Indian Foundation.
Essel Group’s larger story that apart from ZEEL boasts of businesses such as real estate company Suncity, Dish TV, Essel World or Essel Propack, which is among the world’s largest laminated tubes manufacturer, is a narrative of a true ‘Make in India’ story. To think that this story began from trading grains in a small town in North India reiterates what nerves of steel can accomplish when it sets sight on a goal that is much larger than an individual, a family or a company.