Television

The man has come of age

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When Peter Mukerjea took over as Star TV India chief from R Basu in 1999 nobody thought he would in anyway steer Star Plus into numero uno position in less than a year of taking over. After all, his predecessor had failed to improve the network's performance in India. And Basu had pedigree behind him: he had successfully led DD's fightback against the onslaught of private satellite television channels, had good connections within government, and many more years of experience under his belt. Peter was just an ad sales guy who grew with the organisation and did not really have programming experience, said the wags. Others said that Mukerjea was a quite an amenable gent, meaning he would be willing to appease the 'gwalos' (Chinese for white man) while at the same time keeping his senior Indian executives happy.





But Mukerjea has proved all the naysayers wrong. Today, Star Plus leaves competitors like Sony Entertainment and Zee TV yards behind in terms of single channel viewership, though the other two lead in revenue terms. Star may well change that if it attains its target of Rs7 billion for the network by June 2001.





The turnaround came with the success of the Amitabh Bachchan hosted game show Kaun Banega Crorepati - the Indianised version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? Reams have already been written about the show's success. Star Plus is not stopping there: other shows such as "Kyunki Saas Bi Kabhi Bahu Thi" and "Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki" are racing up the TRP charts and have inched out offerings from other channels. While credit for programming on the network goes to programming head Sameer Nair, a lot of the blame lies at Peter's door for backing him all the way.





"He has the knack of knowing what will work and what won't," says corporate communications head Yash Khanna, who has been with Star TV for the past seven years.





"Peter is a man manager par excellence," sums up executive vice-president (ad sales) Sumantra Dutta who has worked with him for nearly six and a half years and was responsible for setting up Star TV's Calcutta office when he joined the company then. "He is an extremely fair boss. And he does not put you under any pressure; he builds the environment for you to drive yourself. He keeps motivation within the company at very high levels."





Agrees Tina Taylor his executive assistant for the past six years. "He has not changed much. He is very down to earth and an excellent boss."





That is reflected in the low attrition rate at the company. Most of the senior people in the company have stayed with it. Arun Mohan, distribution head, Raj Nayak, Sumantra Dutta, Sameer Nair and executive vice president Jagdish Kumar.

Reliance Entertainment chairman Amit Khanna says the past year has seen the emergence of Mukerjea, the crack television executive. "The year gone by is the coming of age for Peter Mukerjea," says he. "He needed the success and he has got it."





On a personal level, Peter is known to be a modest individual, he often drives around in a Toyota Prado with his driver Prashant at his side or at the back, while he pops elaichis (cardamoms) in his mouth every once in a while. He likes to dress well and can be seen in Armani suits and picks up his shoes in London. At one point he used to quaff Old Monk rum but has since progressed to sophisticated Red wines. Recently, he was named as the first Indian Tennessee Squire by Brown & Foreman, the makers of Jack Daniels whiskey and he basked in it.





He loves to work out and has a gym in his house, works out on his treadmill for 40 minutes daily or plays squash and cricket. "He plays hard and works hard," says Khanna.





Additionally, he is pretty media savvy and is a darling of media hacks who have grown to appreciate him even more as he takes the Star TV network to newer heights of success.





But Mukerjea cannot afford to rest on his laurels. Says he: "Television is a cyclical business. What goes up must come down. Zee was up yesterday; today it is down. We have to be guarded against the same happening to us. We have to continue to produce quality programming, so that we can lead the rest of the industry pack."





He has other challenges too: steer Star TV into the stormy and bumpy DTH arena, and into cable TV and broadband via Hathway Cable & Datacom in which a 26 per cent stake was acquired recently. "It is an interesting time for the industry," he says. "The challenge is to continue to live up to the pace and growth we have set."





That is the perfect environment for indiantelevision.com's TV executive of the Year 2000 to prove his mettle.

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