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Will Bollywood lure Germans?

Srinivas MazumdaruJuly 28, 2016

A new TV channel is bringing Indian films packed with singing and dancing, as well as flamboyant TV shows, to German viewers. But it's unclear if the channel will be able to entice Germans into watching its programs.

Indischer Bollywood-Star Shah Rukh Khan
Image: picture alliance/Dinodia Photo

For most Germans, the word Bollywood is associated with Indian films featuring colorful costumes, lavish musical numbers and extravagantly choreographed dances.

One of India's largest TV networks, Zee TV, now aims to bring these films and other Indian programs into the living rooms of Germany. Zee, which claims to have viewers in over 165 countries, is starting a new channel from Thursday, July 28, in the European country.

The channel - which will be available for free via cable and satellite - is broadcast round the clock, and it is part of the network's strategy to expand its presence internationally.

Talking to DW earlier this year, Zee TV chairman Subhash Chandra said the channel's programming would primarily be made up of Bollywood content. "However, it will be specifically tailor-made for the German market and adapted for the country," he noted.

Germany already boasts a vast number of TV channels and has a reputation as a difficult market for foreign media content. Still, Chandra remains confident viewers in Germany would want to watch Zee TV as "the positioning of our content is happy and celebratory, and it caters to people of all ages."

The channel particularly wants to target women audiences in the 19-59 age group, who it believes would be more receptive to Bollywood, filled with emotional drama involving elaborate stories of love and longing as well as dance sequences and songs.

Indien Film Bollywood
Songs and dances are a common staple of Indian cinemaImage: picture alliance/ZUMA Press/ India Today

Growing presence

Few German TV channels and cinemas currently show Indian movies. However, a few years ago, Germany witnessed a surge in interest for Bollywood films when a private German TV station, RTL II, began airing them on a regular basis.

At present, Germany is considered to be the second-biggest market in Europe for the films, trailing only the UK. And Indian movie personalities such as Shah Rukh Khan enjoy a significant fan base in cities like Berlin.

In 2012, for instance, when Khan was due to arrive for the premiere of his film "Don 2" in Berlin, a crowd of over 1,000 people waited passionately in freezing temperatures outside the Friedrichstadtpalast in the German capital to catch a glimpse of the actor.

But overall, the number of Germans interested in watching Indian films continues to remain very limited, as many are not excited by the prospect of watching three-hour long emotional sagas interrupted by dance numbers.

Jakob Kube, a 25-year-old student from Bonn, said he has so far not watched a Bollywood movie. "I watched the movie Slumdog Millionaire and liked many Bollywood aspects of the film, but I personally don't see the need for a Bollywood TV channel in Germany," he told DW.

But Friederike Behrends, CEO of the new channel in Germany, told the DPA news agency that Germans have so far known only a very small part of Bollywood. But it's actually one of the largest film industries in the world, boasting a wide variety of offerings, she stressed, adding: "And that is what we want to offer our audience in Germany."

Bollywood vs Hollywood

Bollywood, a term that apes Hollywood, refers to the Hindi-language film industry based in the western Indian city of Mumbai (previously called Bombay). Films are also produced in other parts of the country in various languages like Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.

Overall, India produces more films than any other country in the world, with the South Asian nation estimated to churn out about 2,000 films a year, nearly four times that of Hollywood. However, when it comes to box office revenue, the Indian film industry lags far behind its American counterpart, with US films earning around five times as much as the total revenue of Indian movies.

Nevertheless, over the past several years, Bollywood has been following in Hollywood's footsteps when it comes to doing business, striving to push for more professionalization and corporatization of the industry. It's also increasing efforts to expand the sources of revenue with the help of in-cinema advertising, merchandising and the sale of cable and satellite rights.

At the same time, there has been growing interest from Hollywood studios to co-produce films in India and partner with Indian production houses.

In recent years, Bollywood has also focused more on expanding its worldwide presence, with attempts to woo foreign viewers in overseas markets to watch its films.

'A difficult market'

As a result of these developments, Bollywood films have become more popular outside of the Indian subcontinent, and Indian celebrities are making their presence felt at international film events.

Overseas revenue collection for Indian movies rose as high as 11.5 percent last year, according to the FICCI-KPMG Indian Media and Entertainment Industry Report 2016. However, the growth is predominantly driven by Indian expatriates, who are ferocious consumers of Indian entertainment products, including films.

Logo Zee TV
Zee aims to bring Bollywood into the living rooms of Germany

This is where the challenge for Zee TV lies on the German market - because unlike a country such as the US, where over 2 million Indians live, Germany has a far smaller Indian community, which stood at around 80,000 in 2014.

That means in order to succeed, Zee will have to win over the German audience and cannot rely solely on Indians living in the country.

Chandra, the network's chairman, underlined that they are aware of the likes and dislikes of the German viewers and "we will select interesting content for them."

"Germany is very important, because it is a difficult market for foreign media content. Hence, we feel that if we can succeed in this market, then we can succeed in any other market across the world."

Additional reporting by Murali Krishnan from New Delhi.