"Creating content at par with international standards was a challenge": Prashant Chothani


By Papri Das

Celebrated playwright George Bernard Shaw’s famous quote: “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing,” resonates deeply with TravelXP HD and Media Worldwide Limited CEO Prashant Chothani, who began his career as a cable operator.

From climbing numerous floors every day to set up cable connections in houses, pioneering the movement to get cable TV legalized, formulating the revenue system for film and music advertisement in television, to launching a TV channel on a patriotic spur – his last two decades in the industry have shown him some dramatic crest and troughs.

In this heart to heart chat with Indiantelevision.com's Exec Lifestyle, Chothani opens up on his early days in the industry, launching India’s first HD travel channel, and why he will always be a "Zeeian," even after parting ways with the Zee Network.


You are credited with launching India's first and only High Definition travel channel TravelXP. How did you come up with the concept?

TravelXP is close to my heart for more reasons than one. When we conceived the concept of an Indian travel channel, we didn’t see it as a business venture. The idea came to us from an unfortunate personal experience that my family and I faced while travelling in one of the European countries. There, we came across someone who had strong negative opinion about India and was unabashedly vocal about it. This left a lasting impact on us, specially our son, who naturally asked me why others have a very one dimensional view of our country.

After some thought, I realized it wasn’t the foreigner’s fault for not being informed about India’s beauty, when most international and even national media show us in bad light. While there is a need to report the bad, there should be a platform, which focuses on the good, beautiful and updated India as well. TravelXP comes from this very thought. 

What challenges did you face when launching a travel channel in India?

Since a travel channel was far removed from what we had been doing so far, it was a huge risk to take with so much at stake. We needed to understand the market well and also the viewers. Getting the right infrastructure to create content that is at par with international standards was the first of many challenges. We travelled across India extensively, and shot big - small, known - un-known, all kinds of places. In the process, I was surprised to find many hidden gems of sites that India has to offer to travellers.

This came through to our viewers both here and abroad through our shows. I am proud to say that TravelXP is probably the only Indian travel channel, which has a vast international reach with a completely Indian production team.

Many don’t know that you left home to pursue your dreams. Tell us about your early days in the industry.

Following the tried and tested career path didn’t sit well with me, so I left home and started working as a cable operator. Those days, I used to climb 300 floors every day, to fix networks for different providers in Mumbai. It was around that time that the film industry started raising issues over screening movies on the small screen, and the matter even went to the court. I was part of the group who stood up against the film industry’s monopoly over entertainment and rooted for legalizing cable TV. In 1988 a case was filed in the Mumbai High Court -- film industry and others VS me and others -- on the same issue. After a long struggle, the court ruled in our favour that cable television was not illegal and cable operators would have to get a copyright license to air movies on their network. That was a crucial decision that determined the future of cable TV, and was also a turning point in my career.

After seeing the industry going from being  legalised to organised, I should have been in the broadcast business since the legalisation of cable TV, why only in 2004? I question myself on this sometimes. But looking back now, it was worth it. 

Who is your role model in the industry?

I always consider Subhash Chandra from Zee network as my role model, and a father figure. When he launched Zee Television Network, Subhash ji was of the opinion that we should be supportive of the film industry. He was of the opinion that a lot of talent would flow to Bollywood from the television industry and that is exactly how it is today. What he envisioned years ago has fallen into place now. His show Dr Subhash Chandra Show on Zee News is one of the shows I watch even today. Not just in media, but anyone who wants to be inspired to do something special must watch the show.

You had a long standing relationship with Zee Network before launching your own channels. What was working with the Zee Network like?

Another landmark in the broadcast industry was when Subhash ji launched Zee Television network, and I had the opportunity to associate with it since day one. Since Zee was facing similar challenges that we faced with cable TV legalization, they approached me with an offer to address the problem together. My suggestion was to formulate a system that assured the industry that television and films could co-exist. Providing air time to film trailers at a cheaper rate to promote films was one of them. We introduced the concept of airing trailers and songs from movies on television. The feedback was tremendous and production houses soon realised that rather than fighting against us, accepting us and making use of the platform to their advantage was a wiser decision.

This started our long running association with Zee Network, till 2006. I and my wife who joined me later, were never employees of Zee, but independent associates by the name of Celebrities Management Private ltd (which runs TravelXP now), and looked after the film and music business of the entire Zee Network, including the regional ones. But Zee was like home to us.

Are you emotional about parting ways with the Zee Network?

In 2006, when we parted ways with Zee, it was an emotional moment for me and my wife. We felt like kids whose parents have kicked them out of home. It was one of the saddest moments of our lives, and it took us a month to get over it. During our long running stint with Zee, we had offers from other channels to provide the same service that we did for Zee, but we felt morally committed to Zee. So not as employees but as another independent company, we held on to Zee. Now, from a business point of view it might have been a naive decision, but I don’t regret it. We could have continued the same business with a different network, but we chose otherwise. We wanted to keep that moral commitment to Zee intact. And then we entered into broadcast on our own with Music India.

What is your current equation with Zee Network?

My relationship with Zee, Subhash ji or Puneet (Goenka) never soured. We never had differences on a personal level to begin with. It was more functional. And after 15 years, you can’t call them disagreements. Granted, people did try to take advantage of the situation, but by God’s grace, we never got taken in by that, and neither did anyone in Zee. I always say that a Zeeian dies a Zeeian.

How did Sangeet Bangla and Sangeet Bhojpuri come about?

While I was still with Zee, there were many occasions when I would fly to Kolkata and meet producers like Shree Venkatesh Films, SK Movies etc. I had always found Bengalis very musical, and was surprised to know that almost every household had a harmonium. It always made me wonder why there wasn’t a regional music channel there. In fact, I even suggested to the then business head of Zee Bangla Aditya Ray, to consider starting a Bengali music channel under Zee’s banner. But the plan never saw the light of the day. When we wanted to start something of our own, we called back on that idea and zeroed down on a Bengali music channel.

I called for a meeting in Kolkata with artists, producers and people from media, and asked what they expect from a Bengali music channel as a platform to showcase their talent. I could feel their excitement and after a discussion we soon crystallized the concept for Sangeet Bangla. The biggest challenge was to turn the young Bengali’s attention to their regional film music instead of Hindi songs and Bollywood. It took a great deal of effort but I can proudly claim that over the last 10 years, Sangeet Bangla as a channel has been instrumental in shaping Tollywood and Bengali commercial films to what it is today.

Our idea behind the other venture, Sangeet Bhojpuri was also the same, which has yet to show the same result like Sangeet Bangla, but we are working on it.

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