A lot has happened in the Indian media industry over the past few months, as several developments concerning the much-anticipated merger of Zee and Sony, the uncertain fate of Star under Disney — which could include selling a part of the business — and the grand ambitions of Reliance (which owns Viacom18 and JioCinema, among others) have come to the fore. As we inch closer to the mega-merger, which has faced numerous hurdles both from the companies’ boards and from external regulators, we continue our ‘DreamDTH Explains’ articles, now focusing on these broadcasters, having covered all the major national channels across multiple genres over the past year or so. This article touches on Zee and Sony’s marriage, and the next on the other two giant broadcasting forces in India: Disney Star and Viacom18.
Though we had previously mentioned that we would cover the Zee–Sony merger after discussing regional channels, now — in the face of major decisions and rulings across both corporate boards and courtrooms — is probably the best time to publish these analyses of the biggest broadcasters in the country. In these two articles we dissect and analyse not only the TV channels of these broadcasters and how they fit into the big picture, but also their OTT platforms and other assets including film production, music labels and several other properties. After that, we will move on to regional channels across three broad areas: South (Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam), East (Bengali, Odia, Assamese, Bhojpuri) and West & North (Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Urdu) with dedicated articles for each.
Zee and Sony’s merger: Will there finally be a happy union after numerous roadblocks?
A brief background of the boardroom battles
It was back in September 2021 that Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEEL), the country’s oldest pan-national homegrown broadcaster, announced its merger with Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN): another veteran in the Indian TV landscape, which later changed its official name to Culver Max Entertainment while SPN remains the consumer brand. Thus far, Zee was a part-subsidiary of Subhash Chandra’s Essel Group, which also owns the Dish TV and d2h satellite TV operators, plus news outlets like Daily News & Analysis (DNA) and India.com — which are part of Zee Media Corporation Limited (ZMCL), Zee’s news media division — while Sony has always been fully owned by the Japanese electronics and entertainment conglomerate of the same name, which will also have a majority stake in the combined group.
On the face of it, it could not have been a better match: Zee brought to the table its vast regional presence across nine non-Hindi languages, Sony its enviable sporting portfolio — which, ironically, had mostly been acquired from Zee — and both had a strong presence in the top-line Hindi GEC and Hindi movie genres, with some overlap in other genres. Despite their immense size and stature, both Zee and Sony have been underdogs of sorts in a market ruled by Disney Star, many of whose top brass have now jumped ship to Reliance-owned Viacom18 — above all former Star CEO Uday Shankar — and are trying to recreate such a dominance there, with particular emphasis on the JioCinema streaming service, and acquiring big sports properties like the IPL (digital only) and the BCCI cricket and ISL football rights (broadcast and digital).
In the years leading up to the COVID crisis in 2020, SPN shuttered several niche channels like Sony Ten Golf HD, Sony Le Plex HD and Sony ESPN, and even withdrew completely from two genres: English GEC (where it had AXN) and Hindi music (Sony Mix, also briefly Sony Rox HD). This was likely in anticipation of a rumoured merger with Viacom18, which operates far more popular channels in these genres: Colors Infinity and Comedy Central among English GECs; MTV, MTV Beats and Vh1 among Hindi and English music and youth channels. However, this deal did not come to pass, and since SPN was in need of a strong and stable partner — especially with its Hindi movie channel, Sony Max, losing movies rapidly and also being attacked by the South-actioner-driven Goldmines (then called Dhinchaak) channel owned by Goldmines Telefilms — Zee was by far the best option available.
Since then, the Zee–Sony merger has faced setback after setback, much like the troubled resurrection of full-service airline Jet Airways, which has still not materialised amidst disputes between lenders and promoters. At first, in October 2021, Zee faced tremendous opposition from Invesco, one of its major shareholders. To cut a long story short, Invesco demanded that Punit Goenka, MD and CEO of Zee and son of its founder Subhash Chandra, be removed from the board. Among other things, it emerged that Invesco had tried to broker a deal with the very same Reliance Industries that owns the competing Viacom18 network. This ultimately collapsed, and over time Invesco withdrew completely from Zee’s board. In December, 90 days after it was announced, both companies’ boards approved the merger.
However, more recent and problematic is an order passed on 12 June 2023 by the SEBI, or Securities and Exchange Board of India, which prohibited Goenka and Chandra from holding any managerial position in Zee’s board, as a result of allegations accusing them of diverting funds for their own private interests. This was a major setback for the Zee–Sony merger, as it was widely expected that Goenka would lead the merged company. Nevertheless, on 10 August, the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) finally gave its go-ahead for the merger, and soon enough news broke that the entire process would be wrapped up by March 2024 at the latest. This has raised hopes that Zee and Sony might finally enjoy the fruits of their union, and challenge the unconquered dominance of Disney Star.
Interestingly, this comes at the same time as another big Indian merger: that of Air India and Vistara, the Tata Group’s two full-service airlines, and the only ones left in the country after the collapse of Jet Airways in 2019, which has been trying to relaunch but has been unsuccessful thus far. Coincidentially, the Tata Group acquired Air India and Air India Express from the government on 27 January 2022, the very day after India’s largest DTH operator rebranded from Tata Sky to Tata Play. Much more recently, Air India’s own rebrand on 10 August 2023 — which saw it introduce a new logo, plane livery and brand identity, which will be implemented over the next few months — was on the same day as the NCLT’s green signal for the Zee–Sony merger. And if Zee and Sony indeed merge by March 2024, it will be in the very same month that the new Air India brand will completely replace Vistara (with Tata’s low-cost airlines AirAsia India and Air India Express having merged by October–November 2023) — talk about coincidences!
Now we present a comprehensive table of all the Zee and Sony channels that will be participating in the merger. On the next few pages, it is followed by a detailed genre-by-genre breakdown and analysis of the combined entity’s offerings. For your convenience, you may open this and the next three pages in separate broswer tabs, so as to compare this table of channels side-by-side with each genre’s analysis.
Table of Zee and Sony’s channels after the merger
Before proceeding to the impact of the merger, we first publish a list of Zee and Sony channels, like we have done for Disney Star when it was preparing to launch its new channels in March 2023. Note that we do not include the news channels operated by Zee Media Corporation Ltd. (ZMCL) here — including Zee News, Zee Business, WION, Zee Hindustan and many others — as they are a completely separate entity and will take no part in the merger.
|Hindi||Zee TV (HD), Sony TV (HD), Sony Sab (HD), |
&TV (HD), Zee Anmol,
Sony Pal, Big Magic1
|Zee Cinema (HD), Sony Max (HD), |
&pictures (HD), Sony Max 2, &xplor HD,
Zee Anmol Cinema, Sony Wah, Zee Classic1, Zee Action1, Zee Bollywood
|Sony Sports Ten 3 (HD)||Zing||27|
|English and Multilingual||Zee Café (HD)||&flix (HD), Sony Pix (HD), &privé HD||Sony Sports Ten 1 (HD),|
Sony Sports Ten 2 (HD),
Sony Sports Ten 5 (HD)
|Sony YAY!||Zee Zest (HD), Sony BBC Earth (HD)||18|
|Tamil||Zee Tamil (HD)||Zee Thirai (HD)||Sony Sports Ten 4 (HD)*||6*|
|Telugu||Zee Telugu (HD)||Zee Cinemalu (HD)||Sony Sports Ten 4 (HD)*||6*|
|Kannada||Zee Kannada (HD)||Zee Picchar (HD)||4|
|Malayalam||Zee Keralam (HD)||2|
|Bengali||Zee Bangla (HD), Sony Aath||Zee Bangla Cinema||4|
|Marathi||Zee Marathi (HD), Sony Marathi, Zee Yuva||Zee Talkies (HD), Zee Chitramandir2||7|
|Bhojpuri||Zee Ganga||Zee Biskope||2|
*Sony Sports Ten 4 (HD) is a bilingual (Tamil/Telugu) channel, and even though it has been considered separately under the Tamil and Telugu categories, it has not been duplicated while tallying the total number of channels.
1Big Magic, Zee Classic and Zee Action will be sold after the merger, as Zee has too many Hindi GECs and movie channels.
2Zee Chitramandir was launched exclusively for DD Free Dish and so is not available on any other platform.