Arati Rao
Aug 14, 2010

“Consumers will trade up on their essentials”

So says STAR CJ CEO Paritosh Joshi in a conversation with Arati Rao, and adds that TV shopping needs respectability

“Consumers will trade up on their essentials”

Paritosh Joshi has been a marketer for the most part of his career, but his first job was that of a management trainee in the human resources department at Richardson Hindustan Ltd (which went on to become Procter & Gamble). Back then, as a fresh-from-the-oven IIM-Ahmedabad graduate in 1985, he expressed curiosity in what the function entailed at the interview and was offered the job on the assurance that he could switch to marketing whenever he wanted it. “My career planning has mostly been done on that phrase ‘What the heck?’” Joshi said candidly. 

The shift did come after about a year. And from then on, minus a brief flirtation with advertising, came more explorations of the world of marketing, occasionally just for a lark, as Joshi admits: working on Sundrop oil at ITC, where he regrets  that he can’t take credit for the “cartwheeling kid”; everything from radio to tea gardens at The Maharaja Organization, a Sri Lanka-based conglomerate, which required him to live in Colombo for a stretch; the online commodities marketplace that was E-Commodities, an idea Joshi feels was ahead of its time;  and discovering the allure of fragrances at perfumery business Quest India, a job he says altered his culinary skills for the better. 

Then, in early 2005, Joshi got a call from a headhunter who said that a media company was looking for a “pretty senior level appointment”, which turned out to be for Star India. Joshi figured, “One of the things this will get me to do is meet two people who are celebrities in themselves, Peter Mukerjea and Sameer Nair. Just meeting them is a good enough reason to go for the interview.” He soon joined Star as president of advertising sales and distribution, and five years down the line, still likes what he does.  “TV was, in 2005, already quite magnetic for people like  me.  I like being in TV, I really do,” he said. “I think there is loads of steam left in this engine which will power this for a long time.” Joshi has deep “philosophical as well as political” disagreements with talk about the domain being fragmented. “[Star] has allowed me the space to learn enormously about how media, in general, and TV, in particular, in India works, and now I’m discovering a new cusp in it,” he explained.

That cusp is the intersection between television and retail which is the driving force behind Joshi’s latest charge – Star CJ Network, whose 24-hour home shopping channel, Star CJ Alive, launched via DTH and cable in August this year.  It’s a collaboration between Star and CJ O Shopping Co Ltd (CJ), which was the first home shopping company in South Korea and is said to be a globally well known home shopping media brand. “The Koreans believed that India was the right market for exploring opportunities. They came and met Star and soon Star had an MoU with CJ,” said Joshi.  He entered the picture in 2008, and was appointed chief executive officer in 2009. “It took us from early 2008-September 2009 to actually get the business started.  We got the six-hour slot on September 22, 2009 [on Star Utsav] and launched on August 1, 2010. It’s been a long time coming; good things sometimes take time,” he said.

Everything was a challenge initially. “First, to find an answer to regulatory issues; as foreign direct investors, Star and CJ could not start retail operations in India,” said Joshi. “So we had to find a model, and confirm that the model would have solid legs to stand on in both a legal and a commercial sense.” There was also a long-drawn search for an Indian partner. “Eventually, in early 2009, Star and CJ agreed that they had arrived at a model that worked for both of them and that was it. The company was formed with only two partners instead of three,” he explained. 

The basic underlying notion behind the channel is that for the hundred million or more people in the Indian middle class, their purchasing power is growing faster than what inflation can take away. “As this discretionary gap continues to widen, consumers will trade up on their essentials in consumables and durables,” believes Joshi. The other trigger point for Joshi on why the channel will do well is that TV cues people’s minds into ideas of lifestyles that they did not possess earlier. “I have this strong and deep seated notion that Star managed to do something quite extraordinary with the combination of KBC and the K-serials. As a society we were austere until KBC came along and took the lid off everybody’s darkest fantasy – instant prosperity. And the K-serials showed you a lifestyle beyond everyone’s fantasy,” he said. “TV creates appetites, retail fulfils them.”

 As much as to the investment into the hardware, in-house studios and more than 500 people in the value chain, right from the warehousing team to the anchors, attention has also been paid to the products that will be seen on Star CJ Alive. “Consumers have long associated TV shopping with really hideous things. My name for them is predatory marketers because they prey on your insecurity,” said Joshi. “So we have to change that. If you want to give TV shopping respectability, TV shopping must represent the same quality that the high street does.”

In the week since the launch,  according to Joshi , the call centre executives have been fielding more than 10,000 calls a day and conversion rates are slowly improving from decimal figures to double digits. He is also convinced the market will grow at an exponential rate, but sizing it is premature at the moment. “If the other guys are making,  say,  Rs 300 crores, then it wouldn’t be unrealistic to assume that a second entrant would double that size,” he estimated. Much of that growth will come from the new metros, whose “appetites are roaring”. And the chief executive isn’t unduly perturbed by the idea of copycats. “I would be delighted if that happens, because the category is so small that there should be all efforts to expand it,” he said. “Once people are convinced that TV shopping is not hocus-pocus, but legitimate, genuine and trustworthy, the growth will be discontinuous, not linear.”

The Lowdown

2009 CEO, Star CJ

2005 President, ad sales and distribution, Star India

2002 General Manager (fragrances) for South Asia

2000 Director – Marketing, E-Commodities

1997 Director – Marketing, The Maharaja Organization

1996 Vice President - Marketing at Business Standard

1991 Brand manager – ITC

1991 Account group manager, Lintas India

1985 Product executive at Richardson Hindustan Limited and then Brand Manager and Product Manager at Procter & Gamble India Limited 

Campaign India

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