Subhash Chandra, founder and head of India’s vast Essel Group, is fond of saying “the world is my family.”
His Mumbai-based conglomerate spans a variety of industries around the globe, including packaging, education, precious metals, infrastructure, technology, media and entertainment.
Germany had been one of the few blank spots on Essel’s world map, but not for long. By the middle of 2016 at latest, the group’s television station ZEE TV will launch a free-to-air channel, brining Bollywood movies and melodramatic soap operas to German audiences, Handelsblatt has learned.
“We will produce entertainment shows, introduce our stars and cover the phenomenon of Bollywood in documentaries. ”
Zee runs 34 channels and owns the world’s largest Hindi film library — some 210,000 hours of programming and over 3,500 film titles.
In addition, the group operates two online video platforms, Ditto TV and India.com. Up to 960 million people in 169 countries on five continents can receive Zee programming.
But most Zee TV channels are broadcast only in Hindi, even beyond India. The group produces its own programming only for a limited number of markets.
So far, Russia was the only country in Europe that Zee TV provided with content specifically tailored to the local population. Germany will be the second.
“We will produce entertainment shows, introduce our stars and cover the phenomenon of Bollywood in documentaries,” Neeraj Dhingra, the TV group’s European head, told Handelsblatt.
“Bollywood” — the name given to Hindi language film production in the Indian dream factory of Mumbai — will define the channel. And that’s not limited to the stuff of love and heartache the world knows mostly from films of the genre’s star, Shah Rukh Khan.
“Bollywood also covers action, crime, and comedy,” Mr. Dhingra said.
The new channel will cover the genre’s complete range, he added, but his target group will be women between the ages of 19 and 59.
What the channel is called has not been determined, only that Zee will be part of the name. The new Indian channel for Germans will be based in Munich, where media manager Friederike Behrends will be in charge. Initially, it will employ 10 to 20 people.
Ms. Behrends comes from the Swedish streaming service, Magine. When it entered the German market in 2014, she supervised the move as senior strategy advisor. Before that, she was managing director of the full-service provider, WDR media group digital.
The new Zee TV channel will be available to three-quarters of all German households. Mr. Dhingra rejected being broadcast over analog cable, since he considers it to be a model with no future.
Zee’s European chief wouldn’t say how much the expansion into Germany might cost. According to industry insiders, the Indians would likely invest somewhere in the tens of millions of euros. Further investments probably would follow.
“In the medium-term, we want to start even more stations in Germany,” Mr. Dhingra said.
Ultimately, the new channel’s success will be determined by how excited Germans are for Bollywood productions.
In the past, the German station RTL II showed some Bollywood films. At first, viewer ratings were high. In 2005, for example, RTL II garnered a 12.2 percent share of the 14- to 49-year-old advertising target group with the Bollywood film, “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham,” or “Sometimes Happiness, Sometimes Sadness.”
Interest declined after that, however. Just six years later, the same film’s market share was only 4.5 percent.
Does that mean Germany’s interest in Bollywood has died out? Or was the reason for lousy ratings because RTL II simply rebroadcast the same film too often, as the Internet media magazine, DWDL, said at the time?
The last time a media mogul from abroad dared enter the German market, many industry experts were also skeptical.
That was back in 2008, when Rupert Murdoch took over the Premiere pay TV channel, which was in a bad state of affairs at the time. He managed to turn it around into profit-making Sky Deutschland.
Now perhaps the man referred to as Asia’s “mini-Murdoch” can repeat that success, this time with an Indian flavor.
Kai-Hinrich Renner is Handelsblatt’s media reporter. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org