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Why is this cable guy investing in 9X Media’s music channels
MUMBAI: In a genre that is struggling to stay profitable, Sandeep Bansal has picked up 36 per cent stake in two of 9X Media’s regional-language music channels. And he is greedy for more.
So who is this man and why is he bullish on music channels? Are these vanity projects for a cable guy who wants to make his mark as a niche broadcaster? Or is there a business sense in owning a clutch of pure-play music channels?
Based in the ‘City Beautiful’ Chandigarh, Bansal had a humble beginning as a struggling cable operator. Building his business from scratch, the man slowly moved up the ladder foraying into cable and distribution, before finally hitting big by setting up Divya Broadcasting Network Ltd and starting the Punjabi music channel 9X Tashan with 9X Media (erstwhile Inx Media).
Today, apart from running Divya Broadcasting, Bansal juggles various hats, is a distributor of Fastway Transmission in Chandigarh and owns 36 per cent stake in 9X Tashan and 9X Jhakaas (Marathi music channel). Besides, he has a joint venture with Siti Cable called Chandigarh Network Systems Pvt Ltd where he is a 49 per cent stakeholder.
The spiritual music channel Divya, launched five years ago by his company, has also stabilised and is today seeing growth. Aiming to act as a platform for bhajan singers, the 24-hour free-to-air religious music channel has taken a more music-based route than airing ‘pravachans’. Available across all Hindi-speaking markets (HSM), the channel will launch on DTH platform Airtel Digital TV in April.
However, the journey to success has not been an easy one for Bansal. With no close family members or friends in the industry, Bansal started from scratch battling the struggles of setting up Divya and 9X Tashan.
Reminiscing about his journey, he tells TelevisionPost.com, “None of my family members or friends had a broadcasting background so I started from zero. Right from getting the licence to setting up the channel, I learnt everything on my own. At that time, I did not know how to uplink a channel. So I must say, the journey and experience have been good and today things have stabilised.”
Bansal always wanted to set up a news channel or a general entertainment channel but never had the money for it. Thus, he set up the spiritual channel, but with a different approach. The money needed for the channel came from his own earnings as a cable industry businessman.
For one year, the channel aired only on a local cable network as he wanted to experiment and understand the audiences’ response. Only after a positive response did he undertake distribution for the channel pan India. Bansal was also running a one-man show handling everything right from distribution to programming and legal for the channel.
“Being a low-cost channel, we had a small team and managed everything on our own. I handled everything right from legal aspects to the distribution of the channel,” he adds.
He also faced a lot of struggle on two aspects—carriage fees and ad sales. At that time, for a small channel 60–65 per cent of its cost went towards carriage fees. Apart from that, another challenge was getting advertisers as the niche genre was not attracting consumer ads.
A lot of struggle also went in the way with the channel’s inventory never being sold completely and resorting to teleshopping or slot selling. Although the situation has slightly improved now, it is far from completely sorted. Divya is now ranked as the No. 3 religious channel after Aastha and Sanskar.
He explains that audiences are now moving steadily towards regional music and it has its own space to grow big in future. Moreover, with digital and second-screen platforms coming into play in a big way, it will only add to content consumption.
“Punjabi music is very famous across the world and as a pioneer in the Marathi music space, Jhakaas will hopefully get a first-mover advantage. It has made a brand image and its ratings have also improved now, so in the next fiscal, we should be seeing good growth for the channel. While ad revenues might increase, digital will also contribute substantially,” he says.
But with the ghosts of ad cap regulation and content regulation threatening to eat up a big share of the music pie, Bansal states increasing the rates is the way to go ahead by offering something more than music.
He says, “Since we are doing well in Punjab, we will increase the rates. We are also looking to get in more programmes and air not only music but something more. Music channels are mainly a low-cost, low-revenue model. So the genre has space to grow.”
Moving ahead, the team looks to expand 9X Media’s presence in Bengal with a Bengali music channel whose licence is awaited.
Having set up the broadcasting business in Punjab successfully, Bansal’s heart also beats for the cable and distribution sector which he states has changed a lot in the past 10 years.
Remembering his early days, he says that when he was a cable operator, it was all analogue and there were around 60–70 operators in Chandigarh alone. They were then slowly brought under the umbrella of Siti Cable and Hathway Cable & Datacom. Now with cable having gone digital, the industry has changed a lot as there are more channels, more choice for consumers and less cable wars.
Coming back to the present, Bansal says he manages to juggle between Divya and Inx Music with ease as both the companies have stabilised and are now showing good growth. However, he is constantly on the run and sits with cable operators even in his free time.
“There is no free time as such,” he chuckles.