Television

A seasoned veteran at 34..... - Yogesh Radhakrishnan

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Young Turks. The fourth in indiantelevision.com's series profiling the brightest and the best among the youth brigade in the Indian television industry, focuses this time on Yogesh Radhakrishnan, the dynamic promoter of ETC and now Zee Cinema and Zee Music head.

Just 34, Radhakrishnan inspires the respect and awe of young and old alike in the industry, having been one of the founding fathers of the cable industry in the country. His career graph reads like a veritable history of the cable evolution in India. His ambitious go getting ways, his visionary outlook - all these mark him out as a potential leader of the television industry. Life continuously moves at a frantic pace for this 34 year old, who often works like there's no tomorrow. But then he is one of the few in the country who have correctly foreseen the morrow of the TV industry when he was just a teenager in southern Mumbai. We present here, a sketch of the man behind the professional.....

When Yogesh Radhakrishnan says he's been there and done that, you know he means every word of the phrase.

ETC promoter and Zee Cinema - Zee Music head are only two facets to this personality who has been one of the pioneers of cable revolution in the country.

At 34, Radhakrishnan is a veritable veteran in an industry where the white heads still rule. He belongs to a generation that grew up watching television evolve in the country, observing while videos made inroads into a closed economy and itching to get into the know of things. As a kid, remembers Radhakrishnan, he loved recording tapes and selling them among his friends and exploring the newly discovered world of VCRs and video libraries. Even at that age, he didn't believe the apparently indestructible world of video libraries would survive beyond a point, knowing only too well that piracy would soon begin plucking holes in the existing copyright laws.

Today, as he negotiates his day between ETC, which he helped spawn with partners Jagjit Singh Kohli and Yogesh Shah, and the swank offices of Zee where he is currently grappling with the task of turning around the somnolent Zee Music and rejigging the low profile Zee Cinema, Radhakrishnan still exudes a childlike zeal that marked his entry into the world of media nearly 18 years ago. It was in 1985 that Radhakrishnan with his friends set up the first CATV and MATV systems in the country, in the downtown Malabar Hill area of Mumbai. The young entrepreneurs ( these included Zubin Gandevia, currently Asia head of National Geographic) installed VCRs, and attaching the cables to individual antennae, started what was in the pre-legislation days, the first form of cable TV to take shape in Mumbai.

It was in 1985 that Radhakrishnan with his friends set up the first CATV and MATV systems in the country...

The success of the indigenous innovation spread like wildfire and within two years, had the Mumbai suburbs in its hold. From one movie every Saturday to three cable films per day in 1987, Radhakrishnan saw the handful pioneering cable ops in the city grow to 200 in a span of less than three months. The bubble of optimism burst shortly though, when the IMPPA decided to haul the cable ops for broadcasting films without rights. 15 to 20 per cent cable ops in the city downed shutters, the first judicial setback to the fledgling industry that has thus far flowered without any legal shackles.

The pioneers persevered, and Radhakrishnan came up with another initiative - Encore C Ads, a company that targeted corporate houses with the tremendous ad potential of cable TV. Retail cable advertising was born in Mumbai when Radhakrishnan and his team gathered brands like RealValue's Cease Fire, Viren Shah's Roopam and Popley Jewellers on to the innovative idea. In association with Gold's Dhirubhai Shah, another cable visionary, Radhakrishnan set up the Encore Cable Association under which was born the ubiquitous Cable Master brand on cable TV. Despite legal shackles, the cable ops steeled themselves with self-imposed restrictions on the 30 copyrighted cassettes sourced officially.

By the time the Gulf war erupted in early 1991, Radhakrishnan and his team were ready to launch the satellite revolution in the city. Encore Electronics Ltd, his firm that manufactured fibre glass moulded dish antennae was ready with the first dish antenna at down town Grant Road - and Mumbai had the first taste of what the satellite dish could offer. Armed with an all India license and software, Radhakrishnan next targeted Delhi and eight other cities, sparking off the cable revolution in northern India. All that was being beamed down in those days included MTV, Prime Sports, the Star channel and a Chinese channel, which too had its avid viewership.

The near clairvoyant streak in him also spurred Radhakrishnan to propose an innovative Microwave Multichannel Distribution System to the central government, back in the days when satellite TV was just a blip on the horizon. Barely out of his teens, Radhakrishnan tried to convince the I&B honchos of the necessity of cashing in on the growing satellite TV business, to act as a nodal point for the inflow of satellite channels from abroad, act as a regulator and to collect its due via the MMDS. Needless to say, the project was turned down.

Barely out of his teens, Radhakrishnan tried to convince the I&B honchos of the necessity of cashing in on the growing satellite TV business, to act as a nodal point for the inflow of satellite channels from abroad....

By then, he was ready for his own satellite channel, having sensed the keen demand among the public for a channel that would play music closer to their culture and hearts rather than a foreign channel playing western pop. Among the geo stationary satellites available was one on Asiasat, headed by Richard Lee who, according to Radhakrishnan was the only one who understood the Indian Ocean region well then. Asiasat, back then, had only transponder up for grabs while among those in the fray were the Times of India group with its proposed Times TV, Essel Packaging's Subhash Chandra and Radhakrishnan and his partners. The transponder deal was pocketed by Chandra.

Big dreams don't die young though. By 1993, Radhakrishnan and his partners were ready with the then novel concept of the Multi System Operator (MSO). Gathering together 4000 scattered cable ops in Mumbai under a master headend to beam 38 channels, the team decided viewers would also be treated to a local news channel called InMumbai - the television version of the Times of India. Radhakrishnan and his partners were part of that dream in association with the Hinduja controlled IndusInd Media and Communications.

In 1995, the dream grew large enough for Rupert Murdoch who had taken over from Lee, to approach IndusInd for a 100 million dollar stake in the company. The proposal was turned down by the Hindujas, paving the way for a rival cable network in the city. Around this time, there was also a proposal for a joint venture between TCI Time Warner and IndusInd Media, a venture that would have brought in addressability to the country in the 90s itself, says Radhakrishnan. This proposal too was shot down by the Hindujas.

Disheartened but not defeated, Radhakrishnan and his partners then partnered with Rajan Raheja to float Wincable in 1999, a cable network that soon ate into nearly 50 per cent of the InCableNet business that had nearly 70 per cent of Mumbai in its hold earlier. Nearly 85 per cent business in Delhi went to WinCable as well, says Radhakrishnan. With Incable, WinCable and Hathway in the fray, the MSO war took root in the country, each staking its territory.

Meanwhile, his dreams of a channel went on the back burner as first Sony launched SET in 1996, then Home TV made its appearance on the Indian scenario. His perseverance paid off when finally ETC made its entry on the small screen in 1999. The potent mix of Hindi music, then the Gurbani which later spun off into a separate ETC Punjabi channel, and the judicious mix of non music programming helped ETC become a frontrunner in its genre.

In early 2002 however came the decision that had to be made with a heavy heart - the merger of ETC with Zee. "It was a sentimental moment", says Radhakrishnan, but a decision well worth the effort. Today, Radhakrishnan is busier than ever with the management of both ETC and the two Zee channels on his hands, planning and plotting with unending zeal his projects on hand. It helps, he says, that he is getting to work in close cooperation with a man he holds almost as a role model - Zee's Subhash Chandra!

The revamped Zee Cinema already bears the stamp of his effort, and the ratings bear out the result. Zee Music is next in the pipeline, and should be a cakewalk for the man who conceived and nurtured ETC. For a person whose story thus far itself seems to have spanned a lifetime, there are still several visions to be realized and many more dreams to be dreamt. He's happiest about the fact that in a fickle industry where friendships die young, his partnership with Kohli and Shah has endured the ups and downs of over 17 years.

Work has been the overriding passion of his life so far, a reality borne out by the fact that he took a vacation for the first time in 14 years when he got married last May. Despite his hectic schedules (seven day weeks are often the norm) and being married to a media professional enables him to discuss matters work related in the evenings too. Still, he manages to grab a bit of television in the later hours.

20 years down the line is a long way off, but when pressed to visualize himself in the far future, Radhakrishnan says he would probably be chilling it out in the remote Himalayas. Knowing him though, it would not come as a surprise if he set off a cable revolution there too!

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