Zee is set to launch its regional HD movie channels Zee Thirai HD and Zee Picchar HD on or after 5th September 2021, subject to further changes. The former is the second Tamil HD movie channel in India, after the Sun network’s KTV HD, while the latter is the first-ever Kannada HD movie channel. Zee Picchar has already started its social media promotions, teasing viewers about the impending launch of its HD version. Zee Thirai is expected to do so shortly. It is likely that leading DTH platforms Tata Sky and Airtel Digital TV have a good chance of adding the two new channels.
After this launch, Zee will have 19 HD channels (14 Zee-branded and five &-branded channels), which is the second-highest of any Indian broadcaster after Disney-Star’s 27 HD channels, followed by Viacom18’s 12 and Sony Pictures Networks’ 10. These launches also take the number of HD channels in India (satellite channels from major broadcasters) to 100, hence crossing the 3-digit mark for the first time since 2019. Coincidentally this launch comes a day after the 5th anniversary of the Zee network’s Telugu movie channel Zee Cinemalu, which was launched on 4th September 2016. Both Zee Picchar and Zee Thirai are much younger at nearly 2 years old, as they were launched in early 2020 before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zee already has two regional HD movie channels, Zee Cinemalu HD in Telugu and Zee Talkies HD in Marathi. With this, four out of six regional movie channels of the Zee network will be available in HD: Zee Thirai, Zee Picchar, Zee Cinemalu and Zee Talkies. The outliers are Zee Bangla Cinema (Bengali) and Zee Biskope (Bhojpuri). However, no Bhojpuri channel today is available in HD, and HD feeds are considered to be premium offerings for urban markets, whereas the Bhojpuri-speaking region of Bihar and Jharkhand consists mostly of rural viewers who use DD Free Dish and/or watch free channels. Therefore it is really only Zee Bangla Cinema which can potentially have an HD version but does not, and nor does Zee have any plans to launch Zee Bangla Cinema HD in the near future. As it stands, the only Bengali HD movie channel today is Jalsha Movies HD from the Star network.
Except Telugu, regional HD movie channels are not especially numerous
Zee has the first-mover advantage in the Kannada market with Zee Picchar HD, the first Kannada HD movie channel, and through Zee Thirai HD it will finally offer competition to KTV HD from the Sun TV Network, which has been the only Tamil HD movie channel since its launch nearly a decade ago, in December 2011. Of course, broadcasters in South India tend to premiere new movies on the main GECs instead of movie channels, unlike Hindi channels, where movie premieres are usually done on movie channels, not GECs. Since all major South Indian GECs have been available in HD since 2018, broadcasters may have hitherto considered it redundant to also have regional movie channels in HD. Hence in Tamil, KTV HD is the only HD movie channel, while neither Kannada nor Malayalam have HD movie channels.
In other large regional markets outside South India, namely Bengali and Marathi, there has not been more than one movie channel available in HD. In Bengali, Star has Jalsha Movies HD, as mentioned above, while Zee Bangla Cinema, Colors Bangla Cinema and Sony Aath do not have any HD versions planned. In Marathi, meanwhile, Zee Talkies is not only the sole movie channel with an HD feed, but also the only one from a large broadcaster (not counting sister channel Zee Chitramandir, which was exclusively launched for DD Free Dish). Neither Star nor Viacom18 nor Sony Pictures Networks is officially planning to launch any Marathi movie channel, let alone an HD version. However, Disney-Star has filed for the trademark of Pravah Picture, an expected Marathi movie channel, and it is likely that it will obtain an HD licence for it in the near future, since Asianet Movies HD and Vijay Super HD are in the pipeline as discussed further below.
The big exception here is the Telugu market, where, due to the huge popularity of the Tollywood industry, all the four major Telugu broadcasters have dedicated HD movie channels since at least 2017: Gemini Movies HD (Sun), Star Maa Movies HD (Star), Zee Cinemalu HD (Zee) and ETV Cinema HD (ETV). However, the last is not available on any DTH platforms, which is a common problem with most of the ETV Network’s HD channels, barring the main ETV HD channel. These complement the flagship Telugu GECs which show most of the Telugu movie premieres: Gemini TV, Star Maa, Zee Telugu and ETV, respectively.
The below table summarises all the regional movie channels from major broadcasters across the six biggest markets after the launch of Zee Thirai HD and Zee Picchar HD.
|Star||Vijay Super||Star Maa Movies (HD), Star Maa Gold||Star Suvarna Plus||Asianet Movies||Jalsha Movies (HD)||Pravah Picture (planned)|
|Zee||Zee Thirai (HD)||Zee Cinemalu (HD)||Zee Picchar (HD)||Zee Bangla Cinema||Zee Talkies (HD), Zee Chitramandir*|
|Sun||KTV (HD)||Gemini Movies (HD)||Udaya Movies||Surya Movies|
|Viacom18/ETV||ETV Cinema (HD)||Colors Kannada Cinema||Colors Bangla Cinema||Colors Marathi Cinema (planned)|
- Green = Available in both SD and HD;
- Orange = Available in SD, HD being planned;
- Red = Available only in SD, no plans for HD;
- Blue = Not yet launched but planned.
*Zee Chitramandir is available only on DD Free Dish and so cannot have an HD version.
Expect Sun and Star to follow suit soon with new HD channels
This situation is expected to change, and soon. Both Sun and Star have obtained licences from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) for several new HD channels, including movie channels. Sun has got licences for the movie channels Udaya Movies HD (Kannada) and Surya Movies HD (Malayalam), as well as Sun Bangla HD, the HD version of its Bengali free-to-air GEC, and Sun News HD (Tamil), the first and so far only HD news channel in any regional language. Sun has reportedly even started testing these channels on the C-band satellite, though when they will be launched — and, more importantly, added by platforms and into bouquets and packages — is unknown for now.
Disney-Star has also been planning to launch a slew of new channels, for which it has got licences from MIB recently. On the cards are the regional HD movie channels Vijay Super HD (Tamil) and Asianet Movies HD (Malayalam); the first-ever regional HD sports channel, Star Sports 1 Tamil HD; a renaming of the free-to-air Hindi movie channel Star Utsav Movies to Star Gold Family; and, perhaps most exciting of all, the new Odia GEC Star Kirano and its HD version Star Kirano HD, which could well be the first-ever Odia HD channel. All these launches have been delayed for many months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the MIB gave the green signal to their launch in July. Also planned for a long time is the HD kids’ channel Disney Channel HD, but it is yet to receive its licence. The long-delayed launch of these channels is expected to be announced in the coming few months by Disney-Star.
Whenever they do happen, these new launches from Star and Sun will spice up the regional HD movie market. In Tamil, KTV HD and Zee Thirai HD will have to face up to Vijay Super HD, while in Kannada, the HD version of Udaya Movies, already the most popular Kannada movie channel, will give Zee Picchar HD a run for its money. Here Disney-Star is at a disadvantage, as it does not have any HD feed currently planned for its Kannada movie channel Star Suvarna Plus. However, Malayalam viewers will stand to benefit the most, as from zero HD movie channels they will soon have two: Asianet Movies HD from the Star network will go head-to-head with Surya Movies HD from the Sun network. This is an area where Zee is currently lacking, as it does not have any Malayalam movie channels. Indeed, until a few years ago Zee had no presence in the Malayalam market at all, until it launched its GEC Zee Keralam in November 2018. Zee Keralam continues to premiere a number of movies to give competition to the market leader, Asianet from Disney-Star, so Zee might consider launching a Malayalam movie channel in the future.
While this is speculation at this point, this could also spur Viacom18, another large regional broadcaster, to consider launching new movie channels in Tamil and Marathi, as well as HD versions of its existing movie channels Colors Kannada Cinema and Colors Bangla Cinema. While an HD feed for Colors Bangla Cinema may sound far-fetched at this point — not to mention Colors Gujarati Cinema, which serves too small a market to warrant an HD feed — Colors Kannada Cinema would benefit greatly from getting an HD version, as it will soon be up against tough competition from Udaya Movies HD and Zee Picchar HD, and possibly Star Suvarna Plus HD if Star decides to get a licence for an HD version and then launch it. Viacom18 has also long been planning to launch Colors Marathi Cinema, but it has so far kept mum on the topic.
All these developments mean that it is soon going to be better than ever for movie buffs in regional languages, who will be able to enjoy their favourite stars in crystal-clear quality on more dedicated HD movie channels than before, in addition to GECs.
Disclaimer: Views expressed above, including speculation, are the author’s own. ‘Disney-Star’ is not an officially used terminology, but rather refers to the ownership of the Star network by Disney.