How Star shone bright in India

Nandana James | Updated on March 28, 2021

Title: Star Struck: Confessions of a TV Executive Author: Peter Mukerjea Publisher: Westland Business Price: ₹699

A first-hand and in-depth account of the channel’s rise and the media business in India

From eagerly awaiting a popular show on television at a fixed, stipulated time — painstakingly chosen by media companies to fit the ‘prime time’ slot — to binge-watching shows on your smartphone into the wee hours, media consumption and the business models underpinning the same have undergone tumultuous changes over the past few decades.

The heyday of television business has given way to the nascent — yet burgeoning — streaming services business. In his memoir, Peter Mukerjea — who, as the CEO of Star India for several years, is credited for changing its fortunes — traces this journey of the television, whilst also offering a comprehensive account of how an obscure and foreign-owned TV channel slowly metamorphosed to appeal to the masses and become a household name in India.

Mukerjea states in the preface of his memoir, Star Struck: Confessions of a TV Executive, that it is a “personal recollection of my experiences at the coalface in the formative years of the satellite television industry in India and a super-fast changing media landscape.”

The book does live up to this objective quite well, and traces his professional journey from the early 1990s, well up to 2007 when he quit Star, with anecdotal examples aplenty of how decisions and strategies were arrived at.

For instance, he describes that for Rupert Murdoch — owner of News Corp, which owned Star, or the most daring media mogul in the world as Mukerjea calls him — “India was way too insignificant a market” back in the early 1990s. Star Struck chronicles how Star TV (now Disney) started off with American shows like Baywatch that did not really strike a chord with the masses, and later went on to launch the iconic ‘Kaun Banega Crorepati’ (KBC), hosted by Amitabh Bachchan, that saw Star TV’s revenues multiplying fivefold and catapulting Star Plus, its Hindi GEC channel, into dizzying pinnacles of success.

The book is chock-a-block with information that sheds light on the many important decisions, strategies and changes the media conglomerate undertook that underscored this transformation, which also saw it going from a loss-making entity to amassing unprecedented profits and out-rivalling competitors like Zee and Sony.

The birth of Star Plus, NDTV’s stint with Star, the repositioning of Star as a new media business — which also led to its re-branding from Star TV to Star — the advent of KBC as well as Tata Sky are some of the key events that the book provides extensive details about, all from Mukerjea’s perspective.

Behind the scenes

A distinctive and remarkable feature of the book is that it vividly describes the intricate behind-the-door workings of the TV business over these years, as well as the hitherto unknown details and plans that went into the making of what turned out to be iconic moments in the TV business.

Mukerjea says it was an instinctive decision by Murdoch, who wanted to go all guns blazing to catapult Star to the top, that led to the birth of the KBC show.

Mukerjea delves into nuanced details about striking multimillion dollar deals, the strategy behind inking sponsorship deals and wooing lucrative advertising deals, how the well-oiled advertising machinery worked to ensure a strong revenue flow, the vision behind some of the most landmark shows India has ever seen, as well as how the competitors’ business decisions were also inextricably linked to Star’s every decision.

The memoir would appeal to anyone interested in learning about the growth stories of famous businesses — especially those that started from scratch and in uncharted territories — or aspiring to run a business. Star Struck could also be the right choice for anyone simply eager to know how the media business in India reached where it is today, alongside the story of how Star made it big in a country where Doordarshan enjoyed a monopoly at the time of its advent. It also contextualises how the current media consumption business came to be and the evolution of customer needs and trends over time.

Without giving too much away, the memoir has a generous sprinkling of his pearls of wisdom and many dos and don’ts of doing business. True to his word, the memoir is strictly about his professional life and does not offer even a whiff of the murky controversies his personal life later got mired in. However, to Mukerjea’s credit, while the memoir steadfastly sticks to talking about his professional journey with Star, he makes sure there are also a few instances that are bound to elicit a few chuckles.

While he does explain the regulatory frameworks and the impediments this threw up in the media business back then, he could have probably delved more into them — as well as offered more explanations about how he manoeuvred through them — as this is something media executives are concerned about to this day.

Also, at times, the book dwells unnecessarily into details like why a particular executive was hired, Mukerjea’s thoughts about an employee’s acumen, and several other routine decisions. Instead, he could have probably written about his insights on the socio-cultural impact of TV, especially given the role Star played in the evolution of the TV business in India.

He does fleetingly touch upon how several women in formal functions would quiz him about Ekta Kapoor’s shows on Star Plus, which were seen as regressive and reinforcing — rather than questioning — established tropes and stereotypes about Indian families and their values, but that’s about it.

Along with exploring the financials of how these shows worked and how it took Star to the masses, assessing the impact of the TV business and the content it took to millions from a sociological and cultural perspective would have been interesting. Even a glimpse into the flamboyant and glitzy side of the media business could have been interesting. Dwelling on these facets of his experience with the TV industry in India could have probably added more to the interest quotient.

Published on March 28, 2021

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