ZEE Live’s Swaroop Banerjee: ‘This is an Extremely Crucial Year for Live Entertainment’
The Chief Business Officer of ZEE LIVE company talks about the journey of properties such as Supermoon, how the pandemic shifted focus and what’s in store in 2022
ZEE Live is one of India’s leading Live Entertainment, IP and Special project vertical of ZEE Entertainment, which has over the years dabbled in Live Original Content, Livestream and on-ground festivals spanning across art and culture, comedy, music and poetry. ZEE Live’s Chief Business Officer Swaroop Banerjee says over a Zoom call, “ZEE has been an intrinsic part of audiences’ lives for over 29 years, talking to them in India and the Indian diaspora overseas through its television channels, through its OTT platform, and through its music and films. So, live entertainment in a sense completed the circle of entertainment for ZEE.”
ZEE Live’s journey began in late 2018, Banerjee is clear that they’re working akin to a startup in terms of work culture, strategy, and execution in the live entertainment industry. So far, ZEE Live has engaged audiences in the music, comedy, broader Indian arts and culture and social media space. The properties launched so far include tour series Supermoon, poetry event India Shayari Project, women-centric community platform It’s A Girl Thing and cultural festival Arth – A Culture Fest.
While ZEE’s core ethos is rooted in Indian culture, Banerjee recounts that while setting up ZEE Live, they were working with the DNA of the parent company and finding current relevance was key. “That DNA helped in some circles [but] we needed to get in new audiences.” Although they’ve ramped up associations with labels like Kalamkaar and Big Bang Music, entertainment company One Digital Entertainment and others, Banerjee says ZEE Live and its properties have always been “fan first.”
“When you do fan first curation, you realize, ‘Oh, if [Sri Lankan singer-songwriter] Yohani is trending on the internet [then she can tour in India]. This is a Sri Lankan artist who, at the time, had probably done no gigs outside of her country and had a big hit,” Banerjee says, referring to her version of the song “Manike Mage Hithe.” ZEE Live brought in Yohani for their Supermoon #NowTrending series, performing between September 30th and October 3rd.
Right after, Supermoon teamed up with BookMyShow for select shows of Punjabi-Canadian artist A.P. Dhillon’s Takeover Tour in November. Banerjee says that Dhillon’s Gurugram show was used as a blueprint by promoters on the rest of the tour. Even as Kalamkaar (and its co-founder, hip-hop star Raftaar) and Punjabi pop artist B Praak have become associated with Supermoon, among the tour’s earliest leaps was with singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad at the end of 2019. “We were clear that the Supermoon audiences are his [Kuhad’s] audiences, we said, we will go ahead and invest in this, and we will do a 10-city tour,” Banerjee says.
B Praak talks about his association “I am extremely excited about my King of Hearts Tour. I would rather call it my dream tour, as I have waited for many years to make this happen. This time around, I hope to pack the on-ground experience with all kinds of elements. The concert will be in a symphony format with some exciting numbers and to engage with thousands of fans across cities. This is a never-done-before concert and I thank the ZEE Live team for putting together such an amazing show.”
Raftaar adds about his experience, “ZEE Live’s Supermoon is doing some fantastic job of bringing the best of live entertainment to the fans. I had such a great time touring with them during the Kalamkaar India tour. What really made me happy is the fact that the tour gave us an opportunity to connect with our fans directly and feel the energy that they bring with them. A special mention should go to all the people there at the ZEE Live team, led by Swaroop, for his grand vision and decoding of what a true touring format is.”
In December last year, Raftaar and Kalamkaar artists like KR$NA, Rashmeet Kaur and others joined in a three-city tour, one that looked beyond the usual stops and went to Hyderabad and Goa. Even Kuhad’s Supermoon tour in 2019 saw him perform in cities such as Surat, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and more. Banerjee says, “The journey to smaller cities, what we call ‘non-metros’ has been very interesting. Literally every North Indian artist wanted to go to Hyderabad, the maximum number of shows were happening there. It was happening in Jaipur. The fans are paying the same amount of ticket money, too.”
It brings him back to the point of ZEE Live being “fan first and “audience first.” Banerjee adds, “They simply tell us, ‘This is what we want.’ The Internet helps – that’s one market that’s proven itself whether it’s Prateek Kuhad or [comedian] Russell Peters. We’ve taken some really insane bets and they’ve paid off.”
Heading into different cities beyond the major stops in Mumbai or Delhi NCR, Banerjee says promoters and tour organizers are looking at the equation differently now that there’s a proven audience in all parts of India for live entertainment. Where there’s an added investment for equipment, Banerjee says no promoters should have to complain about a lack of spaces for live shows in India. “We can do a show in Lucknow or Kanpur or Indore or Jaipur, because the audiences are welcoming. You can see the gratitude that they feel when they know that you’ve bought a show to them. I think it’s amazing,” he adds.
While the pandemic made the live entertainment industry come to a halt and rewire their plans for at-home, virtual events (ZEE Live went on to leverage its reach with its OTT platform, ZEE5), Banerjee says the trajectory has come back to a point where there’s a new status quo. On-ground events exist alongside digital events, drawing in younger audiences who were perhaps adapting to the fact that they couldn’t go out for gigs and now enjoy digital concerts with friends. “That adds to the business,” Banerjee says.
Overall, he says artists have “come back with a bang” and the live events in India are in a “happy place” once again. ZEE Live has much more to add to the calendar in 2022. Banerjee hints that “some of the largest world festivals” will come to India, plus the return of international artists to perform in the country.
ZEE Live will be taking Supermoon to college campuses this year, while It’s A Girl Thing will be hosted as an on-ground live event, akin to the YouTube FanFest (which, incidentally, is sticking to a digital format this year). Banerjee adds, “There are independent names that are coming up. And we’re very excited about that as well. It’s amazing that the campuses, the colleges themselves want a lot of indie artists, we’re thinking of something to do in indie. A comic [artist] for us is coming in a big way.”
The company will continue to branch into clubs, arenas and indoor theaters, plus digital events throughout 2022. “You will then see larger destination festivals like Arth, It’s A Girl Thing and India Shayari Project. Then, you will see about two or three instances of international names, who are very nostalgic to a lot of people, that are probably going to perform as part of [our] Dubai calendar and India calendar.”
Where previously the monsoon may have led to events being operated with caution, it’s full speed ahead in the coming months for ZEE Live. Banerjee says, “We’re getting a lot of calls from indoor places and not just clubs. A lot of malls have amazing spaces. Plus, there are brands that want to ride up on all that. What was before just a concert, is now a proper community of platforms. That’s really exciting for us.”