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Parul Goel, Business Head of ZEE UK: “I’m sure that the UK has yet to see the best that ZEE has to offer”

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, ZEE Network UK’s Business Head, Parul Goel has managed to outshine its rivals with innovative and successful strategies. Launching a news channel in HD during the pandemic, luring 15 sponsors for its flagship singing reality show ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’ and being recognised by CII and Grant Thornton, are just some of the highlights over the past 12 months under Goel’s leadership. caught up exclusively with Goel to find out more.

You’ve had quite a journey at ZEE Network UK, with over 13 years of brand loyalty and now overseeing the international business including UK, Europe, and America’s finance, how does it feel?
Working for ZEE is a dream come true. As well as being a pioneer in the media and entertainment industry, ZEE will be completing 27 successful years in the UK in 2022 and that makes me feel incredibly fortunate to be a part of the ZEE Entertainment family. With everyone’s immense support at ZEE, I feel I have been able to contribute to the company’s growth and keep the ZEE flag flying high. Ours is a company which is a part of millions of people’s lives every day and working for the biggest South Asian Mainstream Media company in the West has been an extraordinary opportunity. There’s much to be learnt daily and this gives me the impetus to take on greater challenges and deliver on ZEE’s goals and vision. I truly enjoy my work and I am passionate about my role at ZEE. I am very perseverant and never give up. I am really grateful to my family for their continuous support throughout.

What’s been the biggest challenge for you during your tenure as Business Head over the last year or so?
Firstly I’d like to thank our management for entrusting me to turn around the business and put it on an upward growth trajectory. It was also important for us to rekindle partnerships and affiliations with Sky and Virgin and of course, focus on the growth of our OTT platform ZEE5.

After having to remove few channels a few years ago, the biggest challenge was to change the perception about the potential of the UK territory both internally and externally. We had to focus only on the profitable products and somehow that created a negative perception in the market. It is my firm belief that with passion and determination, any goal is achievable. As we believe, so can we achieve. It’s this same motto which empowers me and drives me to always create the extraordinary.

Secondly, it is important to recognise the contribution of our people at ZEE, the custodians of the brand and the face of the company. As much as I am at the helm, it is without a doubt our employees who have been the eyes and ears of the company, passionate to a fault about the products and services we provide and gives me and the company valuable insights on the ever-changing dynamic market conditions.

With this incredible backing, we approached each and every client and partner and ensured that we delivered, and the result speaks for itself. It is important to remember that it is because of ZEE’s generosity and incredible reach that many brands in the UK in various sectors such as travel, food, banking, hospitality are where they are today. We have also set up new revenue streams in digital which has shown incredible results. All this is to say that we are here to stay and will continue to deliver on our promise of providing quality entertainment to our viewers both on linear and digital.

The South Asian diaspora comprises of 5% of the UK’s population but the BARB viewing data doesn’t reflect on more than ~1% of the share.

There is room for improvement when it comes to local content but with the right resources and substantial investments, I believe that will be a long-term strategy and sustainability goal. The Indian content on linear channels is shown as it is, and we have seen some decent revenue and we are in the process of innovation and taking up local initiatives.

As an industry, I firmly believe in ourselves and our necessity to work together towards the goal of increasing the Asian media share. The South Asian diaspora comprises of 5% of the UK’s population but the BARB viewing data doesn’t reflect on more than ~1% of the share. It goes without saying that in the UK, content is not free. Our free-to- air channels even come at the cost of paying a TV license. We don’t have mainstream sponsors on Asian TV shows and the UK is a predominantly pay market. If we work together as an industry with a common goal of increasing our market share to 2% of UK’s total media share, then we are looking at least £200 – £250 mn altogether. Together, we create the extraordinary.

As the Business Head, you’ve managed to carry out initiatives others during this period would be deemed risky, including launching news channel, WION – in HD, what made you take this approach?
I believe that fear stems from disbelief and a lack of clarity, so I have never been fearful of any challenge. WION was launched by the ZEE Media Corporation Limited in March and is first English Global News Channel from India. We have had to build brand perception and report the news from across the globe from India’s perspective.

The data from August showed that WION had 122mn video views worldwide, making it the No.1 English News channel globally on YouTube’s digital. WION is competing with the mainstream English global news channels like Al Jazeera, CNN, RTL, France24 and Russia Today (none of which are BARB rated) who are able to generate very decent revenues with quality news content and win the trust of viewers across the globe. We trust that WION will rank in the top 3 global news channel in the coming years. WION is becoming to be a respectable news channel across the globe and has a world class team behind it.

Your flagship reality show ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’ has notched a whopping 15 sponsors, that surely is giving out a message to the industry that “business is truly open” despite the challenges of the pandemic, how have you managed this?
There cannot be a more resounding response to “business is truly open” than 15 sponsors partnering with us on our flagship property ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’s 30th season. This is the first time in the history of ZEE in the UK that we have partnered with as many as 15 sponsors for India’s longest running and most loved musical reality show. We worked diligently around the clock to reach a target of bringing fifteen sponsors on board in short time. I must thank all our partners and sponsors for showing confidence on SRGMP and ZEE Network Europe. With ZEE’s strong presence in Europe, all our partners and advertisers are not just reaching UK but also continental Europe. If the industry works together, then there is a definite market for mainstream clients to come on board as sponsors.

ZEE Cinema remains the UK’s leading Asian movie channel and things are about to take an exciting turn with the premiere of ‘Radhe: Your Most Wanted Bhai’ being shown over four days – another innovative strategy – surely sponsors and viewers will be welcoming this move?
ZEE Cinema owns a movie library of over three thousand plus movies and we premiere one, maybe two big-ticket films a week. Innovation and positivity are the keys to success and Radhe was the first astoundingly successful movie to premiere on OTT. The response of the film on its first day was humongous, so much so the mindboggling attraction crashed the ZEE5 servers. We decided to premiere Radhe as part of the overwhelming response to the film as well as we like to innovative with our scheduling to keep up with the extensive film preferences of our audiences. We want to try and innovate before saying it’s won’t work.

It is our intention to take on the likes of players like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and any other mainstream OTT player which also has an audience like ours.

How confident are you in the linear business despite the rise in digital outlets?
Currently as the market scenario suggests, digital is the future but linear still caters to a large traditional television viewing audience. Our flagship channels ZEE TV and ZEE Cinema are currently being distributed on Sky, Virgin, Talk-Talk and streamed through ZEE5. In the UK market, linear channel viewing is still around 80% which is being driven by appointment viewing. Even though our Asian viewership market share is battling it out at 1%, it has not decreased. It is a much more fragmented market than the mainstream one. In the age of second screen viewing, our ZEE5 and linear services complement each other and cross-platform technology has evolved to enable us to provide content to the end consumer whether on television or digital.

Parul: We firmly believe in increasing the revenues rather than reducing the costs.

ZEE5 is the home of the most original South Asian content and remains among the most popular, what are your plans next for the digital streaming giant?
The UK market has a 100% TV penetration and ~55% pay TV market. ZEE5 has given us a massive advantage to target viewers on both the pay and free platforms. ZEE5 is undoubtedly the biggest India streaming platforms with over 120+ originals, thousands of movie titles and over 70 TV channels. Our operative model is a freemium one which is hugely successful in the UK. The viewership numbers conflict with BARB data even though it is the official television viewership measurement in the UK and the currency for media and entertainment companies. The ZEE5 app is available across all digital platforms and reaching the viewers is a task as we are aware the digital marketing costs are extremely high. Despite challenges, we have started advertising our ZEE5 streaming app on Sony, Colors, B4U channels and we are glad that all our partners supported that initiative. We see a continuous growth in viewership on ZEE5 across UK and Europe which is helping to reach out to more people and expand the market. It is our intention to take on the likes of players like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and any other mainstream OTT player which also has an audience like ours. Our consumers will be able to experience many more originals, movies and exclusive content on ZEE5 in the coming months.

All of this and ZEE TV has been named the fastest growing Indian media company by CII and Grant Thornton, how have you managed this despite the market challenges?
We are thankful to CII and Grant Thornton UK for acknowledging our hard work for the last two to three years. We have grown our revenues and improved the bottom line by focussing on businesses which are profitable. We firmly believe in increasing the revenues rather than reducing the costs. Our focused and optimizing costs and workflows have seen tremendous results.

With regards to the team which drives the business; inspiration through a clear vision, setting of challenging goals and constant motivation to win big are the key drivers to ensure that we reach our ambitions.

This all in the past year, so what does 2022 hold?
The vision is to become the leader in Indian Media and Entertainment across all platforms by creating intrinsic value for every user and viewer of a ZEE product. Picking up from the momentum we set this year in 2021, the only way is up. Our mission is to be a trailblazer and disrupt the market with our ZEE5 AVoD, SVoD and renewed commercial deals with our distributors and partners. We are working on the ZEE 4.0 plan, and we know that 2022 will present more challenges than ever, due to temporary hiccups in the UK economy. The trajectory of the UK economy is moving upwards and looking positive. Despite our many accolades from launching a channel, being awarded by CII and Grant Thornton, BAM awarding ZEE Cinema as a best Hindi movie channel, securing 15 sponsors on SRGMP and my instatement as a Bank of England’s Decision Maker panel, we will not be resting on our laurels. I can safely say the team at ZEE is highly motivated, extremely positive and passionate in our vision to become a leading media and entertainment company in the UK. I am extremely sure that the UK has yet to see the best that ZEE has to offer and I firmly believe in being ‘Extraordinary Together’.

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