Television

'We see GEC as a long-term game. We are playing a Test match and not a T20' : Indrani Mukerjea - INX Media Pvt Ltd founder-CEO

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From starting as a human resource (HR) consulting firm in 1996 to entering the fast-growing broadcasting space, INX Media has travelled a long way.

INX's music channel 9XM has notched the top position in its genre while the general entertainment channel (GEC) 9X is making slow but steady strides.

Next in the roll-out pipeline is NewsX. Despite controversies dogging the news channel venture with the exit of Vir Sanghvi and his senior editorial team, plans are being put in place to launch the channel in March. Regional channels are also part of INX's growth agenda.

In an interview with Indiantelevision.com , Mukerjea talks about her company's growth plans.

Excerpts:

INX was a recruitment search consultancy company that you ran successfully for years. What pulled you to the broadcasting space?

Despite being a human resource consulting firm, INX has been very inclined towards media placements. In the last 10 years, a majority of our placements have been in this sector. Besides, Peter (Mukerjea - husband, chief strategy officer INX Media and former Star India CEO) has 14 years of experience in the television industry.

But isn't the mainstream broadcasting space too cluttered?

More and more channels are launching and doing fairly well. There is clearly a new emerging audience. You have seen how our music channel 9XM has grown ever since its launch. What is happening is that the gap between the number one and number two channels is decreasing. We are even seeing it in the GEC (general entertainment channel) space. The viewer base is also expanding; more and more TV sets are being bought. Moreover, viewership is getting fragmented; different viewers are liking different genres of entertainment.

Though 9XM has shown rapid growth in the ratings game, it is a channel that runs songs without breaks. What does the revenue front look like?

I think viewers like to watch full songs. That is why we are getting good ratings. When it comes to revenue, there are Coca-Cola and Vodafone who have joined 9XM as platinum partners. Also, though we have not put in so much of commercials, we still follow the pattern of 12-minute break. We use this duration to show our channel promos. As more ads come in, the same space will be used.

Isn't the growth of 9X, your flagship Hindi general entertainment channel, on the slower side?

If you notice, we started with only two hours of prime-time programming and have added another half an hour in the last fortnight. Only by the end of June, we will be completing our four hours of prime-time programming. And that is the strategic decision we took very consciously.

We see GEC as a long-term game. We are playing a Test match and not a T20. We want to build this block by block. The critical part is to stay there. It is very important to sustain. So, we have a five-year plan in the horizon to which we are sticking, and this is what I believe is going to make us sustain.

So you are thinking of breaking even after five years?

No no, breakeven will be before that. We are talking about long-term plans with short-term goals. And we are executing all our plans; you'll see it in the coming three months.

'We're well funded. So it's easy for us to make long-term plans'

But there are other channels like NDTV Imagine that have shown faster growth in a short term?

We have been funded very well, and that's why it is very easy for us to plan ahead. When you are backed by strong financers, you can make long-term plans. We don't have to run and do full-time programming.

Your programme 'Mission Ustaad' failed commercially?

We did Mission Ustaad as part of our corporate social responsibility (CSR). We were very clear from day one. The priority was also to establish the brand first. Now people know that there is a brand called 9X. You go to any part of the country, and people know about 9X.

Aren't you pumping in a huge amount of money for distribution and promotion?

Absolutely! For us, 9X is an institution and not just a channel. It's very important to establish a brand, and once that is done, it becomes important to keep the hammer ready. This is what happens when any new channel comes into play: first, it establishes the brand; then it waits for the right moment to strike "big".

Also, whoever goes up quickly has a tendency to go down as well. So we are patient. Our investors are long-term players. It's not that if we pull out a programme, things will crash. We have not launched a channel based on one programme.

And now, as we've established ourselves, I think we need at least another five months to bring in full programming. Strategically, it's like a baby in my mind: a baby takes shape in nine months and we feed it when it's born.

On the ratings front, only one show has TRP of over one. Besides, isn't it true that the channel's GRPs are mainly being driven by movies?

No, the report which we've got from Tam shows that 32 per cent of our GRPs are from movies while 54 per cent are from serials and 14 per cent from other shows. At the end of the day, when you are planning a channel, you have to think about overall GRPs, and we have taken a conscious decision not to bombard viewers. Now we have Chak De Bacche, Yeh Hai Jalwa and other programmes lined up. We are also having some serials which we will announce in due course.

As a syndication deal, have you paid Sony Rs 400 million for 60 movies?

That's absolutely wrong information. The actual amount is not even half of it.

What do you think about syndication of movies as a business model?

It is a very good decision because at the end of the day the viewer is entertained and we, as a result, stand to gain. For example, with Jab We Met, we got fabulous advertisers, ratings. If I am calling it a family channel, I will have to provide content for the entire family.

Mythologies seem to be coming back on Indian television. Is Ekta Kapoor doing Mahabharata for you?

No, Ekta is not doing Mahabharata for us. I have also heard it, but Ekta and I have not spoken about making Mahabharata.

But what do you have to say about the invasion of mythos?

Mythological content has always been a part of Indian television. Be it Sai Baba, Sri Ganesh, Jai Maa Durga, Jai Hanuman - they have always been there. But it's important for a channel not to overuse such content. You have to have a combination of movies, serials, soaps, fantasy, reality, etc. A good mix is essential.

When are you launching NewsX?

Our test signals are already on, and we have roped in Karan Thapar's firm Infotainment Television (ITV) as editorial advisor to the channel while Arup Ghosh is our newsroom head. We will hopefully launch the news channel sometime in March; I can't specify the date, but it will be in March.

What content will the channel focus on?

It will be analytical, in-depth news.

How will it be different?

You have to watch it to notice the difference. Our main studio is in Delhi; our Mumbai studio is under construction and is almost done.

Are we going to see more channel launches from INX Media in 2008?

The first priority is to complete the schedule and get NewsX up and running. We will also be launching regional channels.

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