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Mixed Media: What went wrong at INX?

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Mixed Media: What went wrong at INX?

It’s difficult to believe that he was once the CEO of India’s most successful television network. He turned around the company and took it from a wannabe to numero uno. His last phase at Star may not have been the happiest, but the media didn’t care much about it and backed him when he and his wife set out to launch a slew of channels with the help of some investors.

The music channel was a superhit, though more due to the lapses of competition. But it’s with the entertainment and news channels that the couple messed up big time, which is perhaps why one wonders whether it’s the same dude called Peter Mukerjea, who was once the star at Star. There were horror stories emerging from INX. Bad staff selection, monies being incorrectly spent or overspent, a general disdain for good corporate practices… the list was endless. But we dismissed most of these because the Mukerjeas, we felt, could do no wrong. Indrani was one of the three Indians to feature in Wall Street Journal’s list of ‘50 women to watch out’. But, as one wag put it, even tainted Satyam chief Ramalinga Raju was in last year’s India Today Power List at #30.

NewsX was hit even before it took off. A squabble with Vir Sanghvi, one of the nine founders of INX, ensured the channel was killed even before its launch. Sanghvi quit and many of his recruits were shown the door. INX News was eventually sold to a company set up by the NaiDunia group’s Vinay Chhajlani and former Businessworld Editor Jehangir Pocha. Having acquired it, the new owners now know what they need to contend with. Among the various things being mulled is a name-change and possibly go off air for a bit after the polls and come back in a spanking new avatar. There is evidently much dirt.

As for 9X, the less said the better. While it did occupy #3 slot for a wee bit, it’s in a pathetic state as you read this. After July last year, most general entertainment channels have been hit by the outstanding performance of Colors, which is interestingly headed by someone at least three to four levels junior to Peter at Star. 9X was worst hit, and the channel hasn’t recovered ever since. The workers’ strike in November 2008 was the last straw. From then on, ratings tumbled and so did the company’s fortunes. Staff quit, producers alleged they had not been paid, and finally the news channel was hived off.

Re-runs rule the 9X airwaves with just one new primetime show in four months. Last week’s GRP roster showed the channel ahead of debutant Real and Zee’s beleaguered second GEC, Zee Next. In fact, the moment the PR team announced that it will only show repeats – not even newer episodes of its existing programmes – one was aware that it was on the block.

Last week, Peter and Indrani Mukerjea relinquished management control. It happened on the first day of the Holi festival, which, as per Hindu mythology, signifies the triumph of good over evil. Media warhorse Pradeep Guha has been asked by INX’s investors to step in as consultant and assess the state of the channel. His mandate includes hiring a new CEO, but my guess is that if he thinks he can do it, he may well step into the shoes himself. There is no greater joy than resurrecting a dying brand.

While 9X has huge liabilities – monetary and in reputation – a turnaround is not impossible. It requires lots to clean the mess that exists, but Guha can do it. Just one great idea, a few good shows, and a well-managed operation can rid the company of all that was wrong till last week.

To answer the question that I’ve posed in the headline: what went wrong at INX? Well, everything. But I think it had a lot to do with the two people at the helm – Indrani and Peter Mukerjea. Much may emerge only when the new management pores over the papers. Perhaps it never will. These things never do come out in the open.

It took the channel four months to air a new offering. I am sure maker Sunil Agnihotri didn’t have to look too far for the story and the plots. It’s a horror show called ‘Black’. I thought the name ought to have been INX!

(The views expressed here are my own. Email if you agree/disagree with what’s written.)


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