Jan 13, 2009

Business - India;NewsX sale part of a larger INX plan

Dhaleta Surender Kumar & Sapna Nair

It’s confirmed: The newly formed Indi Media has bought NewsX, the English news channel of INX News. Thus, contrary to speculation, the buyer is neither the Bhaskar Group nor Deccan Chronicle.

Indi Media has been formed by two media veterans, Vinay Chhajlani, one of the promoters of NaiDunia, the Indore based Hindi daily, and Jehangir Pocha, former editor of Businessworld magazine.

According to Chhajlani, Pocha and he met in September 2008 and discussed their desire to do something together in the English news or English business news space. The options of print and electronic were left open. When the NewsX opportunity came by, they grabbed it.

“For us, the economic slowdown came as a blessing in disguise because, as a result, the cost of acquisition is low, the cost of equipment is low and even the cost of manpower is low,” says Chhajlani.

Chhajlani sees value in NewsX because, according to him, the English news genre is uncluttered and NewsX is young and fresh and has not been ‘typecast’ as yet.

“Most news channels have strong identification with one man, like NDTV with Prannoy Roy and CNN-IBN with Rajdeep Sardesai. Aroop Ghosh, the editor of NewsX, is the face of the channel, but there is no brand identity associated with him. NewsX is not typecast in that way and is not a channel of choice. So, it provides a clean slate to start with,” he says.

Both Chhajlani and Pocha are working to see if the channel should have multiple identities, in terms of a number of distinct shows, or go with a single identity. Though Pocha, who's a shareholder and director in the company, might do some shows, neither he nor Chhajlani would like to be the face of the channel. Meanwhile, Ghosh will continue as the editor of the channel.

The other positives, Chhajlani says, are that NewsX is HDTV (high definition television) ready which several others are not.

There are challenges of course. The channel is only No. 5 in the English news genre as of now. “We'd like to improve that rating first of all, and get the brand recall up there,” he says.

Some programmes on the channel, according to him, are doing well in the metros; the challenge will be to get them going in the smaller towns as well. Being the common promoter of NaiDunia and NewsX, he says he would like to leverage the strength of NaiDunia and its presence in smaller towns.

“NaiDunia's credibility for balanced news and its presence in smaller towns will certainly help us build the brand recall of NewsX,” he says.

NewsX will retain its brand name and its team. “Both Indrani and Peter Mukerjea (the former promoters of NewsX) made their mark on the channel. Our primary job will be to quell the anxieties of the staff – they will function in the same capacity as they did before this. Nothing's going to change from that perspective. That is going to be a challenge, too. But we would also like to look into the programming structure soon,” Chhajlani adds.

He declined to reveal the financial details and the arrangement between him and Pocha. On when they expected the company to break even, he says, “I'd be in a position to tell that only by March as only by then would I have done the calculations.”

The media fraternity believes that NewsX had a good enough beginning and had managed to create a perception of being a “clean” and “uncluttered” channel. So what went wrong for INX Network, its earlier owner?

“NewsX started off well despite stiff competition. But the problem was that as a corporate entity, the network had spread itself too thin by launching three channels at once,” says a Mumbai based media planner.

Sources say that INX Network is looking to channelise the funds it gets from the sale of NewsX into 9X, its Hindi general entertainment channel. This will help INX Network strengthen its GEC offering and also help it in its other long-term expansion plans.

INX Network is reportedly seeking investments in 9X and might even consider offering a significant stake in it, say the sources.

INX Network had two divisions, INX Media (9X and 9XM, the music channel) and INX News (made up of the news channel). The Mukerjeas together hold a 50 per cent stake in INX Media. The remaining stake is held by private equity firms such as Temasek Holdings, New Silk Route and New Vernon Private Equity.

An official communiqué quotes the founder and chief executive officer of INX Media, Indrani Mukerjea, as saying, “Having created NewsX as a premier English news channel brand in such a short span of time, I hope the channel will continue to grow from strength to strength and retain its credibility as it always has.”

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