From Zee to Meta — The New World of Subhash Chandra


Even as Subhash Chandra puts out the fires created by mischievous creditors wanting to pay off thousands of crores in debt, he is already thinking about his next empire. India’s first media baron may be on the verge of losing control of Zee Entertainment Enterprises, after leading it for 30 years, but he’s not sad. “I made a mistake, I have to accept it, and if I have the courage in me, I can do it again. There is no shortage of opportunities in this country and at this stage of my life, I am not there. for the money. My motivation is to create something new,” says Chandra.

The next big bet

The industrialist has set his sights on the Web 3.0 revolution, more precisely the metaverse, to script his comeback story. But Chandra calls it “Mayaverse” – a testament to her ability to design entertainment concepts that appeal to the masses. From pioneering 24-hour regional entertainment, OTT offering for Tier 2 and Tier 3 markets, Chandra plans to set up movie theaters equipped with virtual reality headsets across the country and provide a immersive movie viewing to the everyday consumer.

Chandra is very clear that he wants to venture into the media business again, with a particular focus on new technologies, thus reinventing himself for the second time. In his interactions with the media, Chandra has outlined four key areas he will focus on – Zee Digital, which is the digital publishing arm of the Zee Group, Metaverse, its international news channel WION, and finally Zee Learn.

In many ways, Chandra was a pioneer in Indian entertainment, where the risks he took paid off. A rice merchant at the time, Chandra launched India’s first satellite entertainment channel in 1992, betting big on the growth of television. With a payment of $5 million, Chandra outbid established media in the 90s to launch India’s first private satellite channel. Zee became a 24-hour entertainment channel within a year of its launch and remained the market leader until the 2000s, even when other channels had been launched in the meantime.

A budding space

Now, again, Chandra is early in identifying the business potential of the metaverse – his ideas range from immersive cinema viewing to mentoring young entrepreneurs to develop new use cases.

But unlike satellite TV, which was a technology that had been around since the 60s, the Metaverse is still in its infancy. “What Metaverse or Web 3.0 is now is what the Internet was in the early 90s,” says Jehil Thakkar, partner at Deloitte India.

Thakkar believes that while use cases may be promising now, it’s hard to predict success or failure. As was the case with the Internet bubble; entire business models will be undone on the brink of innovation before viable use cases emerge decades later.

Also, it may be too early to use the metaverse in media and entertainment on a large scale: “Not only is it about building software and the whole ecosystem, but you also have to think about the cost of building entire venues and materials at low cost. to really offer these services on a large scale and conquer the market. Although metaverse is the buzzword, it remains to be seen how much of an opportunity it is for scale, how profitable it will be,” says Thakkar.

Digital edition

Chandra’s success in digital publishing could also prove difficult. Chandra has big ambitions in Zee Digital, which he believes could bring him capitalization, valuation and growth. Chandra plans to grow its unique user base from 300 million on Zee Digital to one billion over the next two to three years, through data monetization.

However, digital publishing is increasingly crowded “The buzz in this market has gone down from a funding perspective,” said one industry veteran. “Execution will remain key here for businesses to grow and monetize in this space. A key market that still remains untapped here is the digital publishing of regional content. Chandra’s experience here could prove advantageous,” says the expert.

“Chandra has built a media business that caters to Bharat and he can also create future products that cater to the masses. Chandra will bring his experience in building a successful business for Indian consumers (especially Bharat) and he understands the consumer psyche well,” said Anuj Kapoor, Assistant Professor of Marketing at IIM Ahmedabad.

Industry watchers agree that Chandra is on the right track as it jumps on the future tech bandwagon, however, being the first to move forward alone won’t pave the way to success. “You live in a time when funding is more accessible and established entrepreneurs can’t even predict where the next innovation will come from. From now on, product revolutions come from the most discreet and modest players. Chandra will have to completely change his thought process,” says Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst and founder of Greyhound Research.

“Additionally, Essel needs to be ready for investment cycles that span decades and change its thinking process about how fast those innovation cycles need to be. It’s important to hire people who have a deep understanding of technology,” Gogia said.

But experts agree that Chandra’s vision has potential. By establishing WION, India’s first international news channel, Chandra’s business crosses borders into developed markets where monetization is easier and advertisements abound.

Coming out of the pandemic, Chandra’s physical education company, Zee Learn, is also expected to grow. “Markets such as K-12, K-12 International and Preschool have immense potential for growth in India, anyone in this space is likely to see significant growth as a result,” says Dr. Avantika Tomar, Associate Partner at EY -Parthenon.

“Chandra has a long-standing relationship with VCs such as Blackstone, which bolsters her fundraising potential. Chandra understands regional content, he understands distribution. With all of that, he certainly has the potential to successfully remake himself, it all comes down to how he executes it,” concludes Gogia.

Published on

March 27, 2022


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