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We challenged orthodoxy to attract viewers: Peter Mukerjea

We challenged orthodoxy to attract viewers: Peter Mukerjea

We challenged orthodoxy, took big risks, made shows like KBC with a big host, big prize money and great production values along with a few other soaps, says Peter Mukerjea, a former CEO of Star India.

Peter Mukerjea, former CEO of STAR India Photo: Bandeep Singh Peter Mukerjea, former CEO of STAR India <em>Photo: Bandeep Singh</em>
Star launched in India in 1992. The STAR Plus that you see today was born out of the changing media landscape in India. In the early years, STAR was unable to provide any localised programming because of an agreement with Subhash Chandra's Zee TV. The agreement was a big roadblock as it prevented STAR Plus from becoming a Hindi channel. [Both channels were beamed into India through the AsiaSat transponder, owned by Chandra's Asia Today, in which STAR had a stake.

Their contract stated that STAR would concentrate on providing only English content.] We tried dubbed Hindi programming but realised it was not the solution. Around 1996, the relationship between STAR and Zee soured, and in 1999 the ties between the two companies ended completely (Chandra bought out STAR's stake in AsiaSat). This marked the advent of STAR  Plus as a 24-hour Hindi channel.

The management initially chose to go down a certain path, acquiring Doordarshan's library of programmes and having reruns on STAR Plus. But the audiences were so different that the programmes did not gel with the channel, though they did lift STAR Plus's performance slightly.

STAR India needed to attract more viewers across the country
Launched mega shows such as KBC. Provided content in Hindi and other languages

When I took over as the CEO around 2000, we realised that we needed to change the rules of the game. We needed to be up there with Zee. We were driven by the belief that if Zee could do it, we could too. We only needed to think it through, make the right investments and get the right programming. Whilst in this process, we came across Who Wants to be a Millionaire, which was a big hit across Europe. However, we could not run it as an English show as we were now a 24-hour Hindi channel.

But, the same show in Hindi? To be honest we were not sure if it would work until we put it on air as Kaun Banega Crorepati (KBC), with Amitabh Bachchan as the host. The show was received well and delivered good results. It was a combination of good programming, a big Bollywood star, right scheduling and good telecast timing. To achieve all this we had to take a major decision: to pull out our cash cow, the 9 p.m. English news produced by NDTV, and replacing it with KBC. It was a big gamble and it paid off well.

The key lesson we learnt was that viewers, not programmers, had to be central to the programming strategy. Another lesson was that we had to provide content to viewers in Hindi and other regional languages - being only an English language broadcaster was not good enough. The same learning was used when launching STAR News, after the split with NDTV. We pulled out a successful news show and replaced it with something untested before on Indian television. The strategy worked.

We challenged orthodoxy, took big risks, made shows like KBC with a big host, big prize money and great production values along with few other soaps. And we attracted viewers.

As told to Anusha Subramanian

Peter Mukerjea is a former CEO of STAR India

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Published on: Jul 17, 2012, 12:00 AM IST
Posted by: Navneeta N, Jul 17, 2012, 12:00 AM IST