WThere was a time when music channels meant only MTV and Channel [V]. Today however, many more names are jostling for space in this category, with the genre itself having changed significantly between then and now.
9X as a group is now a profitable business says a confident Pradeep Guha
It was precisely during this period of transition that 9X entered the fray. Launched in 2007 as INX Media, the company started operations with 9XM, later adding a Hindi GEC 9X, followed by an English news channel NewsX.
In 2009, the English news channel was bought by Indi Media while the Hindi GEC was sold to Zee Entertainment Enterprises a year later. In August 2010, INX Media was renamed 9X Media with the focus completely on its music business.
Looking back at what he calls a strategic decision, 9X Media managing director Pradeep Guha says: “Given the age demographic of India, music to my mind has immense potential both to connect with relevant audiences as content as well as engage with them as a medium. 9X as a group is now a profitable business.”
Cut to the present: 9X Media is the country’s largest music network with five music channels including 9XM (latest Bollywood hits), 9XO (international music), 9X Jalwa (all time Bollywood hits), 9X Tashan (Punjabi) and 9X Jhakaas (Marathi).
What ingredients make this successful recipe?
9X Media executive vice president and new business head Punit Pandey analyses: "Three important things were taken into consideration. One the format, the fact that we deliver a unique format of music and humour with animation was and continues to be a key differentiator, something that the viewers took an immediate liking to. Secondly, Music curation, one of the most important factors towards viewers bookmarking their favourite music channel and lastly adoption of the second screen. We have been able to successfully adopt the second screen as core TG is the youth who consumes music not just on the television but also on their computers and mobile phones."
The network wanted to be unique and hence, chose to go vertical by building a robust music network rather than going horizontal. The network knew it had to fulfill the needs of hardcore music enthusiasts and hence, the objective was to build a robust music vertical. Presently, over 15 people are working hard to deliver the best results in the digital space.
Among other achievements, 9X Media won Gold at the Communicator Awards, Silver at the W3 Awards and Bronze at the IDMA 2013 for its gaming app called ‘Stop that Silly’.
The network launched its first offering, 9XM, in 2007. 9XM targets youngsters’ needs and attitudes and has created a niche for itself in music and entertainment. It airs the latest Hindi film songs interspersed with jokes and anecdotes belted out by its animated characters, including Bade and Chote, Bheegi Billi, Badshah Bhai and The Betul Nuts.
About the thought process behind these characters that have created a special place in viewers’ hearts, Pandey explains: “Back in 2007, when we thought of constructing a music channel, we clearly saw a huge gap in terms of a pure music channels. The so-called music channels then, were airing reality shows and all other content but music. We said lets construct a music channels which delivers best curated music and to build stickiness, we introduced humour with animation.At the end in a music channel, you don’t appoint yourself to watch a half an hour show. You tune into a video, you like or you don’t like it, and walk out.”
Presently, 9XM has nearly 3.5 million fans on facebook, thanks to it being a one-stop shop for Bollywood news, humour and gossip presented in a different manner. On twitter though, 9XM has just over 15,000 followers and on YouTube too, it has a bit more than 14,000 subscribers.
9XM was the country’s first music channel to stream content live on its website, www.9xm.in and across mobile TV platforms. The channel launched games and applications for iPad and iPhone users, with fans of its animated characters able to download their favourite games including the Angry 9XM Heroes, Silly Chicken and Talking Silly Chicken from the IOS App store.
9X Media launched its other Hindi music channel last year. Touted as a ‘timeless Bollywood music channel’, 9X Jalwa plays back to back Bollywood music from the mid-sixties till 2000s, coupled with humour-led interstitials by characters and trivia-based slate shows.
What is important in today_s world is to adopt all the screens that your consumers have adopted, says Punit Pandey
9X Jalwa’s official facebook page boasts more than 73,000 likes while there were only 580 followers on twitter at the time of penning this article. Apart from the usual animated characters, there are two specially designed for Jalwa called Halkat Sawaal that feature on the channel’s YouTube page.
So why does 9X Media focus on the digital platform? “What is important in today’s world is to adopt all the screens that your consumers have adopted. Having a website is a plus point, but that is not how you build your community. You have to build your community in the digital world, through creating facebook pages and keeping your YouTube pages eye-catching,” reveals Pandey, adding that they are pretty well-established in the space.
Speaking of a 9X Media staple - animated characters, apparently, all the ideation, scripting, jokes and PJs are done by the channel whereas animation and lighting is handled by Prime Focus. Says Prime Focus senior vice president - films and commercials India Niraj Sanghai: “We have a team of 60-65 members dedicated to work for 9XM. The creative team at 9XM is doing a good job, ideating the whole script, characters and jokes that they are working on and the PJs that they crack. We are basically transforming their ideas into reality. We deliver 75 hours of animation content every month. We are tremendously happy with the response we are getting from people. The fact that people love these characters and adore them is a sign of our efforts being appreciated.”
9XM is spending an estimated Rs 10-12 crore per year on these characters and plans are afoot to introduce yet another character by the name Billi Don.
9X Media’s first offering in the regional music space, 9X Tashan, targets free-spirited Punjabi viewers, playing hit contemporary Punjabi music 24x7.
What was the thought behind going regional? “Content growing out of a region is extremely liked. A consumer wanting to consume content originating from their region has become very popular. Taking this into consideration, we thought of expanding our footprint in the regional space also,” reasons Pandey informing about the regional animated characters called Bhabhi and Jhat and Jhaat.
9X Tashan’s official facebook page boast around 273,480 likes with over thousands of people talking about it. By contrast, it has only 848 followers on twitter.
The network launched Maharashtra’s first Marathi music channel on 31 October, 2011. 9X Jhakaas airs the best Marathi film and non-film songs including lavanis and other traditional forms, apart from rib-tickling short-format animated shows that are extremely popular among viewers. Targeted at confident and go-getter Maharashtrians across India, 9X Jhakaas promises its audience a Jhakaas experience. One of the talking points is the channel’s animated character Chochya.
9X Jhakaas is available across cable and satellite homes and also streamed live on the website www.9xjhakaas.in. While it doesn’t have much of a presence on twitter, its official facebook page has 118,299 likes.
The sixth and only international music channel from 9X Media, 9XO airs contemporary music from across the globe and is targeted at up-scale urban youth. The channel’s website www.9xo.in engages users by helping them create their own playlists with selected songs and share them with others.
Significantly, 9XO has more than 23,000 followers on twitter while its official facebook page boasts an outstanding 253,780 likes.
Brands piggyback on animated characters
9X Media’s animated characters are a big draw for advertisers, who want to cash in on them to promote various brands.
We are basically transforming their ideas into reality, says Niraj Sanghai
“Animation provides an out-of-the-box feel to the brand, increasing the brand’s recall value. Animated characters break the monotony created by the innumerable human faces and their equally high number of associations with a variety of brands. Besides, animated characters come out as neutral, unbiased entities,” says Pandey.
A majority of big brands including Cadburys (Gems), Coca Cola India (Coke), Idea Cellular, ITC (Vivel Deo Soap), Gelusil, Dabur (Hajmola), Lux Cozy Innerwear, Veedol, HUL (Cornetto and Ponds), etc have effectively used 9XM’s popular character episodes for product integrations.
For instance, Bheegi Billi is often seen strumming his guitar and talking about his experience with brands like Cadbury’s Gems, Sprite, Minutemaid, Kwality Walls Cornetto and Lux Cozi. Similarly, the Betul Nuts are also seen doing sher-o-shayari about Gelusil Antacids, Coke etc.
Coming to the moot question, how has the journey been for the network so far? “9X Media is doing decently well since 2007. We are on track as far as our plans are concerned,” says Pandey.
On the other hand, a highly-placed music professional feels that the network is capable of producing content a lot more. “I feel the network has not reached that stage where we can say yes it is the best from the rest. They need to focus more on their regional outlets, where the network is currently not doing so well. If that happens, then I am sure it will work wonders for them.”