Swaroop Banerjee, COO and Business Head, ZEE Live, is one of India’s most respected professionals in live – and now virtual – events and entertainment. He brings close to two decades of experience in creating and establishing integrated revenue models in live entertainment in the genres of music, sports, comedy, lifestyle and culture.
Over the years, Swaroop has conceptualized and developed more than 15 business models with Live Original Content IPs at the core of the businesses — at MTV Asia, Star World & Movies, Viacom 18 INS and the Laqshya Media Group. He has also worked with international talent for arena-sized entertainment events in Amsterdam, Dubai, Singapore and Australia.
In an exclusive interaction with MediaBrief, Swaroop, speaks about how ZEE LIVE swung into action in the new normal, the novel and interesting IPs it has launched, how it is revolutionizing the events space in India, how Zee is pioneering the PPV format, and more.
Swaroop believes that the future will be a perfect blend of the hybrid model where events will be organized on ground as well as virtually to reap the benefits of both.
The Real LIVE entertainment industry doesn’t seem like it will come back to life till the lockdown is completely lifted. What have the losses been like for the sub sector?
There is no denying the adverse impact of the pandemic on the experiential industry. It has pretty much changed everything. It has been a time where we’ve witnessed the disruption, transformation, and reinvention of everything that we once took for granted.
One of its benefits has been the organized live events segment, (as per the EY Report of Live Events 2020) has witnessed a 67% increase in digital events, more than double (27%)compared to 2019. The report also states that growth would be witnessed across all types of events, but would be led by digital events, and would grow by over 20% over the next two to three years.
Global organizations and brands have to continually reinvent and adapt to new ways of working and hosting events or meetings. What we see in the new normal, with one unable to witness and experience on-ground events up-close and personal, are that livestream and digital events have unified people from across the world onto one common platform.
Having said that, we have also explored a Hybrid Model where we organised our flagship IP, Arth- A Culture Festival in Kolkata and Delhi where the Stage was set at a venue, but the audience could attend the event digitally. That has too worked well for us.
How is technology coming to the aid of the live entertainment industry – from what you’ve heard globally and from your own experience and rollout at ZEE LIVE?
As far as the future of the experiential industry goes, we believe that it is important to be ‘digitally – abled’. Going forward, we can expect a heavy dependence on technology and see an increased usage and importance of AI, ML &VR to create and enhance audience engagement.
We can also expect hybrid models and pay-per-view platforms to become increasingly popular. Live streaming has come up in a big way, bringing millions of young fans a tad bit closer to their favourite artists without having to worry about being permitted to attend the live show. One of the biggest examples is BLACKPINK – the world’s biggest K-Pop girl band. Be it debuting studio albums, multiple music videos, collaborations with Lady Gaga and Selena Gomez as well as hosting–the most virtually-enticing concert, THE SHOW at the beginning of 2021 they’ve enhanced the experience of digital events to a level that one could have never imagined.
Live streamed on YouTube from Seoul, the concert managed to recreate the exemplary pop showmanship, and unrivalled choreography that makes them such a global phenomenon. The exclusive virtual gig which was available only via paid membership on YouTube for an average ticket price of USD 30-40 attracted 280,000 viewers and estimate revenue of USD 10.5million.
Closer to home, we, too, have been live streaming our shows and providing our viewers the very best of artists and entertainment in the comfort and safety of their home. We transformed our on-ground marquee property, Arth- A Culture Fest to online which enabled us to think, innovate and widen our horizons, and, at the same time, keep us connected to our fans and cross geographical borders and increased our viewership. I believe that in the coming months, the continued adoption of the virtual route will be crucial for every player in the live entertainment industry.
How was the 14-month period for ZEE Live?
While many would think that introducing a new IP, is not the wisest thing to do, we identified a need gap – the need to create an engaging and interactive platform that empowers and inspires young women and encourages them to chase their dreams and ask questions.
We collaborated with Branded and launched a new IP in India- IAGT (It’s a Girl Thing – India). We were able to create a platform with a purpose, and built a community of wonderful young women, that featured/included over 150 creators, artists, influencers who have made a mark in their way.
Speakers such as Akriti Kakar, Aranya Johar, Barkha Singh, Dia Mirza, Dolly Singh, Fatima Sana Shaikh, Harsimran Oberoi, Kusha Kapila, Mandira Bedi, Ritabhari Chakraborty, Riya Sen amongst others who were successful in reaching out to over 10 million young and impressionable viewers.
In the past few months, Zee Live has showcased an impeccable sense of pro-activeness and agility by taking cognizance of the situation. As soon as we realized that the pandemic is here to stay, we shifted gears and switched to a digital ecosystem and kept the momentum going via live streams.
Being extremely clear and focused on creating original content from the very beginning, ZEE Live engaged with over 200 best artists and creators under our flagship IPs of Supermoon Live to Home.
With an aim to enhance the movie viewing experience of moviegoers in the new normal, we also launched Supermoon Drive In – the first of its kind drive in theatre experience that premiered the movie Khali Peeliin Gurgaon whilst following the safety SOPs and following social distancing measures. All the shows were completely sold out and the experience that we provided was loved and appreciated by the movie aficionados.
Add to that, we extended the legacy of celebrating the true essence of “Indic thought and philosophy” with yet another successful edition of Arth – A Culture Fest, this time on the virtual realm. The two-day festival helped inspire people to rediscover the diversity and richness of Indian art and culture over a series of discussions.
Will technology be successful in bringing people closer to on-ground events through personalized virtual experience? A big part of Industry events is the networking, that is now not available. Comment.
While it’s true that virtual events cannot completely replace on-ground events, IP creators are innovating themselves every day and doing everything possible to recreate what an on-ground show offers. With the help of technology, IP creators have tasted success and are adapting to new, innovative techniques that will further make the fans feel closers to their favourite artistes.
As far as limited-capacity events are concerned, for example digital stand-up gigs, the engagement level has been even higher because the artist is now interacting with everyone rather than focusing only on the act.
Popular comedian Vir Das has been a game-changer in this regard as his stand-up specials, that are seen by fans all around the world, bring out a personal touch and make the viewer feel all the more engaged and involved while watching him bring a smile to their faces. The manner of such digital viewing coupled with the artists’ impeccable narration or performance is what has brought netizens all the closer to such properties and offerings.
Coming to live-sport, 2020 NBA season struck bulls-eye by recreating the energy and edge-of-the-seat excitement of a live game by leveraging the potential of the digital space. By live-streaming the game via a video conference call-setup, passionate fans were able to relive of being right in the midst of the action as a spectator in the stadium.
It was the perfect synergy of camera placements at vantage points, the presence of ambient sounds that helped curate an immersive audio experience that was novel for the viewer, and at the same time unmatched.
We believe the future is going to be a perfect blend of the hybrid model where events will be organised on ground as well as virtually as both these options have their own benefits.
What has ZEE LIVE been doing on the events front in the 14 months of lockdown so far?
All our IPs have been live last year, be it Arth- A Culture Festival or Supermoon in a new avatar to keep the entertainment going. Arth- A Culture Fest is one of ZEE Live’s marquee properties that aims to rediscover, reconnect, and revisit the different narratives connected with India and its culture.
We hosted the 3rd season of this unique multi-regional culture melange, back in February and March, celebrating our nation’s rich culture, heritage, traditions, languages and most of all, our true history.
The highly successful studio to screen event panned a wide range of themes from Indology, religion and spirituality, Indic sciences and traditional knowledge, the arts and crafts, to society, economy and our diplomatic relationships with other countries.
Honourable Governor Jagdeep Dhankhar, Smriti Irani, Babul Supriyo, Nusrat Jahan, Swapan Dasgupta, Dilip Ghosh, Bhaichung Bhutia, Ila Arun, Imtiaz Ali, among others were a Part of Arth Kolkata and Honourable Minister of Road Transport & Highways and Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises – Shri Nitin Gadkari, Honourable Minister of Railways and Minister of Commerce &Industry – Shri Piyush Goyal, Ashutosh Gowariker, Pandit Birju Maharaj, Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Sudha Murty amongst others were a part of our Finale.
Each of these eminent personalities/luminaries were able to reach out to a global audience, watching from their homes, via live-streaming of the event on the respective Facebook and YouTube channels of Zee News, Zee 24 ghanta and Arth- A Culture Fest.
Similarly, Supermoon Live to Home in collaboration with ZEE5, through Supermoon “Live to Home” offered a daily dose of content on entertainment, fitness, and food by roping in as many as 55 renowned artists like Chef Kunal Kapoor, Chef Pankaj Bhodouria, Chef Shipra Khanna, Jasleen Royal, Jyotica Tyagi, Mandira Bedi, Mame Khan, Palash Sen, and Sukhbir amongst others.
We also organised Supermoon House Party— a digital House Party in August 2020 that saw best of artists in comic and music perform on a Virtual Stage. In Music, BPrak, Divine, Hari Sukhmani, JyoticaTangri, Lisa Mishra, Prateek Kuhad and Raftaar performed and entertained our audience. And in Comedy, Appurv Gupta, Gaurav Gupta, Harsh Gujral and Saurabh Pant made everyone laugh at the comfort of their home.
After the success of its first edition of, IT’S A GIRL THING (IAGT), we launched its regional edition within six months with four regional chapters (Bengali, Marathi, Punjabi and Kannada) and a national finale on International Women’s Day.
Of those, how many were external events you did for others? What kind of services does ZEE LIVE offer outsiders?
ZEE LIVE is the live entertainment and IP vertical of ZEEL which creates Live Original Content, on-ground IPs in Culture, Education, Comedy & Music, Gaming and Kids. ZEE LIVE also has a branded original content division focused on client owned consumer properties.
We aim to take our homegrown on-ground content overseas and collaborate with global producers to bring a series of iconic live entertainment experiences home. Some of the flagship IPs of ZEE LIVE include: Arth – A Culture Fest and Supermoon. Zee Live has partnered with Branded to host the global festival ‘It’s A Girl Thing’ (IAGT) for the first time in India. After successfully gaining a huge fan following in Singapore and the Philippines
All our events are created or organised by the ZEE Live team in association with brands and organisations that come on board as partners. We did organize Supermoon Live to Home International for Zee International and presented 12 weeks of original content, catering to 1.3 billion viewers in 173 countries with engaging acts with over 24 renowned artists and bands.
We have entered the branded content segment as well and have created a branded anthem for SBI YONO app with a renowned rapper.
Do you think India is ready for a PPV like the other countries and will the PPV model be a game-changer for the experiential industry?
The PPV model is definitely catching up in India and is being accepted swiftly. We have already seen the success of this model with the release of Justice League – Snyder Cut that was an instant rage amongst netizens. It is in its nascent stage when it comes to India but will soon pick up. We, at ZEE Live, are planning to drop a large act by bringing on board some extremely popular names and will be piloting the PPV model in the near future.
How do you see Hybrid events changing the face of the Live Entertainment Industry? Will it stay post things go back to normal?
Looking at the rapid proliferation of internet and an improving digital infrastructure, the future of Live Event Industry will be heavily dependent on technology, live streaming and the hybrid model gaining more popularity. This emerging trend now will soon become the new norm and the industry will see Pay-per-view becoming more popular.
The kind of viewership and engagement that the virtual events we hosted received is testament to the fact that a 360-degree digital and technology transformation is the key to stay relevant in the current times. As we will see normalcy getting restored, both On-ground and On-line shows will co-exist thereby maintaining the Ecosystem of Live entertainment and open up the flood gates to the younger audiences from the safety of their homes.
The numbers clearly do the talking as this resounding growth is clearly visible in the Market Analysis Report, which states that the global virtual events market size was valued at USD 77.98 billion in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 23.2% from 2020 to 2027. Driven by the need to innovate, engage and enhance the viewing experience, things are only going to get better for the live entertainment industry leading to further dividends.
At Zee Live, as mentioned above, we have already hosted our very first Hybrid event Arth- A Culture Fest that celebrated our nation’s rich culture, heritage, traditions, languages, and most of all, our true history.
Are digital events contributing to revenue growth as well? How has been the response from sponsors/ advertisers?
With time, advertisers are willing to invest in online shows and they understood that virtual events are the new future and started collaborating with us. From our end, we provide deeper, meaningful, and seamless integrations that enable them to connect with their target audience. This in turn has enabled a conducive working ecosystem for both us and our brand partners.
We are extremely happy to say that even in such troubled times, the biggest advertisers of the country – the likes of Unilever, P&G, Johnson & Johnson, ITC, Skoda, Jeep, Thailand Tourism have shown faith in what we do and have been engaging with us and enabled us to deliver engaging and inspiring content to the audience.
Apart from the usage of AR/ VR in experiential industry, according to you what will be the next big thing(s) and why?
We believe ‘Sound’ is going to be the next game changer in our industry, which the Belgian techno music festival TOMORROWLAND proved it, with its in-house team of 200 people, VR specialists-stYpe – created a modern-technological marvel. Complete with festival’s stage effects, crowd cheers, the two-day festival drew over 1 million participants with 8 virtual stages, 60 artists, laser shows, interactive chat platforms, and many more.
We are witnessing this trend even in many of your sporting events. Be it the NBA or the IPL, each one of the global-franchises and highly watched events are using ambient sounds of the game to provide for an immersive experience to their viewers.
While these events showcase the happenings around the world, the industry can only take the next step towards greater heights by being constantly up to date with emerging technology, best in-class examples, ever-changing consumer preferences, mediums used by audiences, etc.
Reaching out to the viewer will never go out of fashion but doing so on the right platform and in the right manner in what will separate the best from the rest. Add to that, they will also have to leave no margin for error towards ensuring that on-ground events in the future are absolutely safe and sanitized. Right from the entry to the exit point, providing a sense of comfort and assurance to the audience will take paramount importance.
If you, as an expert in Experiential and live events, were asked to reimagine from a lockdown lens, three, any three, tentpole events in India that were traditionally held live, what would you suggest to the organizers of the events?
The only suggestion would be to be prepared for the future and believe in the digital transformation. Furthermore, I’d tell them to be open to innovations as well as learn and unlearn as the proliferation of watching live events on the digital realm would very much become the new normal. Soon enough, we will witness a sizeable percentage of the audience consuming content from digital platforms.
The collaboration will be the next most important thing – collaboration to co-exist will be the key to thrive and grow – right from government bodies, tourism boards, artists and their managers, creators, venue owners, etc.
Last but not the least, understand what is trending just not in India but globally, keep a watch on the best practices, what is working and what is not and apply it in your business model to get the best result.