In India’s crowded general entertainment TV scene, where even the likes of News Corp.’s Star and Sony Entertainment Television are struggling, there is one more new entry.
Star India’s co-chief Peter Mukerjea, who ankled in March, has headed straight back into the battlefield with the launch of his broadcast group INX.
Formed with his wife, Indrani, INX in November gave its flagship web 9X what was said to have been the biggest channel bow India has ever seen — a launch that included the expensive but guaranteed ratings winning India vs. Pakistan cricket series.
Mukerjea admits he is “getting in with the big boys” and confesses that “it is difficult to be different” in the general entertainment sector. But, he says, “We absolutely need to be in that market and have a part of it.”
Without that it would be difficult to be taken seriously by advertisers, he argues.
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He is not the only new entrant. Time Warner’s Turner Intl. unit recently announced that it will launch a general entertainment channel and Mukerjea’s former Star co-chief, Sameer Nair, will bow Imagine on behalf of NDTV later this month.
INX is not making it easy for itself. The company is built on a free-to-air only model for the first 12-18 months with no pay or subscription income. And it will pay carriage fees to the cable and satellite platforms that carry INX channels.
Mukerjea expects to soon launch an English-language news channel (a general election is skedded this year) and quickly build a further six or more channels spanning city news, regional language programming, entertainment and music.
The group has scored an early success with 9XM, a music channel that was launched alongside the TV net. Operated with a staff of eight, the channel plays hits and has replaced annoying VJs with animated characters.
9XM became India’s best-rated music channel within three weeks of its bow, ahead of MTV, Zoom, SAB and Music India. Mukerjea claims it became profitable in days and now acts as a draw to other INX offerings.
9X is also trying things a shade differently. It is working with familiar names such as UTV and uber-producer Balaji Telefilms, which is supplying the series “Kahe naa kahe.” Balaji has nearly 20 shows on air and is a close associate of Star.
But Mukerjea insists 9X’s skeins, unlike other channels’ will not run on tiredly for years.
“Casting and script details detail has been very good. These shows are not wallpaper,” he insists.
It is notably backing the drama debuts of producer Siddhartha Basu (in “Jiya jale”) and Bollywood star Vinod Khanna’s TV bow in “Mere apne.”
Mukerjea sees this only as a starting point and is keen to further “change the dynamics of the business” through alliances between producers and distributors that would cut the shows’ costs and give more broadcaster input. “I could see us allying with Endemol or BBC World,” he says.
Despite the numerous launch costs Mukerjea expects the company to start making profits in three years and branch into movies — still India’s predominant entertainment format.
“We have a very committed group of investors, who see things the same way as we do,” Mukerjea says.
They include Singaporean state-investment vehicle Temasek, Indian financial services giant Kotak and U.S. private equity firm New Silk Route.
What makes his investors optimistic and allows Mukerjea to see room for still more TV channels are the changing TV market fundamentals. These include a steady conversion of under-reported cable subscriptions thanks to the government mandated introduction of set-top boxes, the arrival of IPTV and, most telling of all, more satcasters.
Backed by huge local congloms and telcos the new satcasters could comfortably add 8 million or 10 million paid subscribers by the middle of next year.