Zee Media Corporation Limited (ZMCL), the news broadcasting division of the Essel Group*, has secured a licence for Zee News HD — the HD version of its flagship Hindi national news channel, Zee News — from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) with four more channels coming up soon.
Last month (December 2022) it had got the trademarks of four of its upcoming channel logos registered with the Government of India’s Intellectual Property Office: Zee News HD, Zee Hindustan HD, Kesar TV J&K/Ladakh and Zee 24 Ghanta North East. Of these, Kesar TV J&K/Ladakh (which surprisingly does not use the Zee brand in any way whatseover, despite being completely owned by ZMCL) already has a functional Hindi website with news headlines, but has so far not been promoted across social media.
Additionally, in late November 2022 it had also obtained a licence for WION HD, the HD version of its English news channel WION, from the MIB; its logo trademark had already been registered. Now that it has got a broadcast licence for Zee News HD — in addition to WION HD, which already has a licence — it should not be too long before it also gets licences for the three other planned channels and prepares to launch its new channels in due course.
This comes a year after the broadcaster further entrenched its presence in multiple regional markets through a new satellite news channel, Zee Delhi NCR Haryana, and five new digital-only news channels, consisting of four in South India plus Zee Odisha News, which came at the expense of the Zee Odisha satellite news channel.
*Note that ZMCL, India.com, DNA (Daily News and Analysis) and other news-related properties are completely owned by the Essel Group, due to Indian regulations requiring majority ownership of news broadcasting companies by Indian-registered entities, with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) capped at 49%. As such, they are completely separate from Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEEL) and will not be participating in ZEEL’s merger with Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN), which is now officially known as Culver Max Entertainment. Sony Group Corporation will hold a majority stake in the combined entity.
Logos of ZMCL’s HD channels are somewhat different from ZEEL’s
Now there are certain design differences in the corporate identities of ZMCL and its larger entertainment counterpart, Zee Entertainment Enterprises Limited or ZEEL. The registered logos of the HD channels, as seen below, follow a rather different format from that of ZEEL’s HD channels.
The first logo for Zee News HD below has a similar format for the HD wordmark as most of ZEEL’s HD channels — also the norm at rival broadcaster Disney Star — with the word ‘HD’ immediately after the word ‘News’, with the same size and font colour. However, another trademark for Zee News HD filed later (the second Zee News HD logo below) has the word ‘HD’ in a much smaller font and golden gradient below ‘News’, which is also the case for Zee Hindustan HD. WION HD modifies it further by placing the HD wordmark in a black box.
Differences between ZEEL and ZMCL are also visible in other areas: for example, ZMCL’s channels place their logos in the top right corner of the screen — the standard for most Indian TV channels, especially news channels — barring WION, which uses the bottom left corner instead, rare in India (aside from the ABP network) but popular among international news channels like Al Jazeera and BBC World News.
This is in contrast to most of ZEEL’s TV channels placing their logos in the top left corner of the screen (which was rather rare on Indian TV before) since their mega-rebrand in October 2017 for ZEEL’s 25th anniversary celebrations — except for the flagship Zee TV, which oddly and unexpectedly moved its logo back to the top right corner exactly a year ago, as well as &TV, &privé HD and the to-be-divested Big Magic, which use the top right as well. (Music/youth channel Zing, however, moved from the top right to the top left during a much-needed rebrand in May 2022.)
New channels a big boost to underserved regions, and to a news sector short of HD channels
New HD channels a first for ZMCL; HD news channels are scarce otherwise
ZMCL’s new channels are a welcome addition to the Indian news media landscape. The three new HD channels signify a long-overdue entry into HD satellite broadcasting from ZMCL, which already has HD live-streams of most of its channels on YouTube, ZEE5 and other platforms.
Zee News HD will be one of very few Hindi national news channels in high definition, along with Aaj Tak HD, Times Now Navbharat HD and the state-owned DD News HD and Sansad TV HD. While ABP News was originally planning to launch an HD feed, there has not been much progress on the same, while other important Hindi news channels such as News18 India and TV9 Bharatvarsh are a long way off from launching HD satellite versions. Similarly, none of the Hindi business channels — CNBC Awaaz, ET Now Swadesh and ZMCL’s Zee Business — intend to launch HD feeds.
That Zee News would launch an HD version is a natural and obvious decision, but why Zee Hindustan — which has a much smaller profile than Zee News — would launch Zee Hindustan HD does not seem evident at first glance. The answer lies in the fact that it is about to undergo a major restructuring due to repeated losses, and intends to be repositioned as a documentary channel, though further details are not known at this stage.
It has undergone several rebrandings and logo changes in the past, including its previous avatars (as mentioned above) as Zee Sangam and India 24×7. In late 2022 its financial struggles, aside from overlapping with Zee News in several areas, even reached a point where its promoters were considering shutting down the channel altogether. Zee Hindustan’s latest attempt at reinvention, as a (possibly political) documentary channel, may explain why it is considering launching an HD feed.
As for English HD news channels, they too are very limited in number: the only ones on air currently are Times Now World (formerly Times Now HD), DD India HD and CNBC-TV18 Prime HD, which at 11 years old is far more well-established than the other two. ZMCL will now join this group with the launch of WION HD, several years after the channel went on air in 2016. WION has made a mark for itself with its different style of news coverage, which focuses more on global issues from an Indian perspective as compared to the nationalist agenda of most other Indian news channels (Zee News included!) except NDTV, so launching an HD version will be a much-welcomed upgrade for the channel.
None of the other major English news channels, such as India Today, NDTV 24×7, CNN-News18 and Republic TV, intend to launch HD versions at this stage. NDTV in particular has been considerably behind the times by not launching HD feeds for any of its channels, or even upgrading their aspect ratio to 16:9 — despite its enduring legacy as the pioneering news broadcaster of the country, with a long history of ‘trust, credibility and independence’ (as described in a recent news statement) for over three decades.
ZMCL only the second national network after News18 to enter Assam
The two new regional news channels, Kesar TV J&K/Ladakh and Zee 24 Ghanta North East, signify an expansion into hitherto unserved regions. It is evident that Zee 24 Ghanta North East will be an Assamese-language channel: Assamese is the largest language in Northeast India and is covered by plenty of news channels, with several recent launches, in contrast to other Northeastern languages which have only Doordarshan channels.
Also, the Assamese script is almost entirely identical to Bengali, and hence the new channel’s logo has been taken from that of Zee 24 Ghanta, ZMCL’s Bengali news channel — which, incidentally, did not use the Zee logo and branding until 2018. Furthermore, Zee 24 Ghanta North East will be only the second Assamese channel by any national broadcaster in any genre, after News18 Assam/North East; not a single national broadcaster has any Assamese non-news channel, unlike any other major Indian regional language.
Kesar TV J&K/Ladakh to place emphasis on a region indirectly covered by Zee Salaam
There are currently a small but noteworthy number of channels serving the Union Territories of Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh, much of which is done through Urdu-language channels. Doordarshan operates DD Urdu and DD Kashir in the region, while Reliance-owned Network18 has News18 Jammu Kashmir Ladakh Himachal (previously known as News18 Urdu) and the Sahara Samay network has Aalami Samay.
ZMCL, too, has had a presence in the form of Zee Salaam, which is bilingual (Urdu and Hindi) with on-screen text in both languages, though since their spoken forms are virtually identical, there is not much difference between the two apart from script. These channels devote significant attention to the two northernmost regions of India, along with Gulistan News, an independent news channel.
Joining them now will be Kesar TV J&K/Ladakh, which unlike Zee Salaam explicitly mentions the regions being served in its name. The channel already has a functioning news website which publishes headlines and news stories in Hindi, though currently it does not show any direct connection with ZMCL. For reasons unknown, the name of ‘Kesar TV J&K, Ladakh’ is very different from the other Zee-branded news channels, as it is only ZMCL’s second channel after WION not to carry the Zee brand. This is especially strange since Kesar TV was not acquired from any other broadcaster, but is ZMCL’s own channel.
By way of comparison, ZMCL had acquired filmmaker Prakash Jha’s TV channel Maurya TV in 2013 and rebranded it to Zee Purvaiya, the predecessor of today’s Zee Bihar/Jharkhand; and Zee Hindustan was previously known as Zee Sangam and India 24×7, among other names. Similarly, the names of several of ZMCL’s channels have been standardised before, so to see a completely new brand name with no apparent connection to the Zee brand — despite completely being owned by ZMCL — is an interesting move.
A crucial time for Indian journalism after several high-profile anchor changes in ZMCL and beyond
All these developments by ZMCL come at an especially critical juncture for Indian TV journalism, which has recently witnessed a number of top-level exits and transfers, many of which have directly impacted ZMCL. Sudhir Chaudhary, CEO of Zee Media and the anchor of Zee News’ primetime show Daily News & Analysis, quit the channel in July 2022 and moved to Aaj Tak, where he now hosts Black & White.
Palki Sharma Upadhyay, the distinguished journalist who hosted the acclaimed primetime newscast Gravitas on WION, left ZMCL in September 2022 and has now moved to Reliance (Ambani)-owned News18, where she will host a show called My Take for its news website Firstpost.
More recently, some days ago, Aditi Tyagi tendered her resignation as Deputy Editor and Senior Anchor of Zee News — having worked for the channel for over a decade — and will now move to a startup news channel, Bharat Express. But not all these changes have been exits for ZMCL: it has now welcomed Deepak Chaurasia into its fold, who has worked with multiple news channels before — most recently News Nation, one of the smaller national news channels, from where he stepped down in late 2021 — and is now likely to be a primetime anchor for Zee News, though initially he too was intended to join the fledgling Bharat Express.
Outside ZMCL, perhaps the biggest shakeup in Indian news broadcasting in the past few months has been NDTV’s acquisition by the Adani group, which now owns 64.71% of the broadcaster after its promoters, Prannoy and Radhika Roy, sold much of their stake in the company in December 2022. So much so that Ravish Kumar, the Ramon Magsaysay-winning Hindi journalist who was deeply associated with NDTV for much of his career, shockingly quit the network to start his own YouTube channel. This raised questions over what implications Adani’s acquisition will have for NDTV — long viewed as one of very few neutral and independent news channels in India — now that it has been acquired by Gautam Adani, the richest man in Asia, with strong ties to the government.
Amid all these shifts in Indian broadcast journalism, Zee Media’s plans to launch new channels and cover more remote regions of the country will be a crucial milestone in its history, and launching not one but three HD channels will provide a significant boost to not only its own broadcast portfolio but the overall TV news landscape. Especially with the NTO 2.0 regulations fast approaching, it may only be a matter of time before the new channels are announced, consolidating ZMCL’s position as one of India’s largest news broadcasters with an unparallelled bouquet of channels covering multiple languages and states.