KAREN RUTTER reports

Did you know that one of the largest voice-dubbing operations in Africa is based here in Cape Town? And that one of the biggest businesses making use of the studio has over 700 voice artists on its books? Moreover, that the studio is busy pretty much every day of the year?

Zee TV

This was some of the interesting stuff we found out about at a recent media session with Zee TV – an Indian satellite and cable TV channel based in Mumbai, which broadcasts in India and globally. There are Zee channels, including the popular Zee World and Zee Bollymovies, which are available in SouthEast Asia, the Middle East, North America – and Africa. In fact, Zee spans over 173 countries and has more than 1.3 viewers globally. Zee TV South Africa was established in 1996 with its African head office based in Johannesburg. And South Africans, as well as Nigerians, Tanzanians and Kenyans, have taken to the channel in a big way. Which is where the dubbing comes in. All the English dubbed Indian content has been adapted especially for African audiences, and that includes what type of accent is used.

Cape Town is it!

“After much research, we found that the Cape Town voice was the most user-friendly and appealed best to our audiences,” says Ratna Siriah, Business Head for Zee TV Africa and Indian Ocean Islands, who says they first tried an “Indian accent” and then a “British accent”, before Cape Town got the thumbs up. “So our studios here are working seriously hard to accommodate all the dubbing we need to do.”

Zee TV

Zee’s presence in Africa represents a serious long term commitment. Before even thinking about launching, there was a two-year research period with focus groups and much background study, with a team determining if, in fact, there was a space for Zee. And who would be watching it.

“This is not a short term investment,” says Siriah. “For example, when we wanted to start dubbing here in Cape Town, there wasn’t a studio that could handle the amount of work that we wanted – which is almost 2000 hours every year. So we brought 15 engineers out from India, and they spent six months training people in South Africa, and then they left with the studio up and running.”

Zee TV Africa is available via DStv, Kwese TV and GOtv, and the content includes Bollywood movies, love stories and telenovelas, reality shows, food shows, sport, music and dance.

Good, clean fun

One of the reasons South Africans, and a broader African viewership, has taken to the content is that it is predominantly upbeat, family-orientated and aspirational – good clean fun, in other words.

“Our viewership is predominantly affluent black females aged between 25 and 45,” says ZEE TV Africa and Indian Ocean Islands CEO Harish Goyal. “We’ve built a very strong brand, and constantly make use of focus groups to get feedback and direction.”

Zee TV

Siriah explains that viewership patterns in Africa are often socially specific. “For example, in some households there may be up to three generations watching a show all together – so that show must be age-appropriate – and also entertaining, of course.”

Other interesting scenes-behind-the-scenes info concerns the use of background noise, which has to be added to African content. “In India, there is so much ambient noise when one is watching TV that often there is no need to add a backing soundtrack – the wind blowing, or somebody walking on gravel. But it is strange to watch TV here without those sounds, so we add it,” says Siriah. “Also, the translations need to be checked – for example, one cooking show was referring to a ‘tissue paper’ – and what they meant was a serviette.”

The programmes are drawn from Zee’s library of Indian content, which consists of more than 242 000 hours of material including 3500 movie titles. And African viewers get to watch the latest content as soon as it has been translated and dubbed. It’s a tested formula that has been growing each year – Zee TV has its eyes firmly set on 3 billion viewers in the next six years, and that will include its loyal African, and South African, base.

So next time you watch King of Hearts or Twist of Fate on Zee – listen out for those Cape Town voices. You may even recognise a few of them!

Watch: Zee Bollywood movies can be found on Channel 114 and Zee World is on Channel 166 on DStv

WS