With the launch of English music channel 9XO on 24 April this year, 9X Media Group has six music channels in its portfolio. According to Punit Pandey, senior vice president and business head, 9X Media, the Group has focused its energies on building the music vertical since late 2009, two years after it started operations.
1In 2007, the Group, which was called INX Media then, had three offerings, one each in the GEC (9X), music (9XM) and news (NewsX) spaces. Pandey recounts, “Post that, we went through a year and a half of turbulence, with our GEC not working and so on. We went back to the drawing board and withdrew our offering of 9X, and sold NewsX to another party. There was also a change in management. We started afresh at the end of 2009, early 2010. The initial part of our attention went to the consolidation of 9XM, because that was the only offering we had, and it was really doing well as a channel.”
In 2011, the focus shifted from consolidation to building the Group’s music vertical. Opportunities were identified in the regional and international music space, as well as within Hindi music. The channel has launched five channels since August 2011: 9X Tashan (Punjabi, August 2011); 9X Jhakaas (Marathi, October 2011 – claims to be a first mover); 9XM in the UK and 9X Jalwa (timeless Bollywood hits, February 2012); and 9XO (English, April 2012).
2Core to the programming of the channels is humour, which takes the shape of animated characters cracking jokes in between songs. Pandey says, “When we asked the viewer back in 2007 what they would like to see, the message was, “Where’s the music?” Hence, the format. We also saw that VJs are no longer considered cool. So we thought about animated characters, and this construct became our differentiator.” There are separate teams that work on music and humour, and like the music, the jokes get customised for the audience in that market. “For Tashan, we have a character called Ullu Da Patha, and for Jhakaas, we have a character called Kombadi Komedi,” says Pandey. “After a good song, there’s humour, and that reduces snack out time, which helps us to build time spend on the channel.”
3Music also provides a springboard to other opportunities. Pandey says the Group has aggressive plans for digital and each channel has its own website. “For 9XO, for instance, users can create their own playlists,” he explains. Through Mezza9x.com, the Group has forayed into the merchandise business. “Characters like Bade Chote are popular not just with the core audience, which is 15-24, but also with kids. We saw that as an opportunity to build a franchise. It’s at an early stage and we’re motivated to build it further,” states Pandey.
4All the channels are sold separately to advertisers. Pawan Jailkhani, executive vice president and head of revenue, 9X Media Group, explains that like many other channels, the 9X portfolio is still largely dependent on spot sales, though there are some properties that are innovation-led. On whether the regional channels see more of local clients, Jailkhani says 99 per cent of the advertisers on 9X Tashan are national brands, while 9X Jhakaas sees 30 per cent of advertising from local clients like builders and automobile companies.
5On the immediate future, Pandey says, “We’ve launched five new channels. Now is the time to consolidate everything we’ve done.” While praising 9X Media’s present strategy on all counts, Sujata Dwibedy, associate vice president, VivaKi Exchange, feels that it is likely the Group will have to watch out for competition. She draws attention to the fact that the share of music channels as a genre has gone up from 2.36 per cent in 2009 to 3.18 in 2011 (TAM Peoplemeter System, TG: CS 4+yrs, Market: All India). Also, music channels are attractive for advertisers as they are cost-effective, offer good frequency and are open to innovations, she notes. “Music as a format, whether it’s regional, national or international, will work. Other players could see the opportunity. Why would Sony get into the music space otherwise?” she asks.