Wanted: TV professionals in Malayalam

The Lucknow police busted a racket running a fake television journalism college in Mahanagar this week.Aspiring TV journalists were promised with high-paying jobs in leading channels and the duration of the course was just 45 days. The truth came to light when one of the students smelt a rat and reported the matter to the police.

Fake medical colleges and engineering institutes don‘t make big news any more. But, do you often get to hear fake journalism schools? This news obviously signals an interesting industry trend.

Look at the Malayalam television industry that is brimming with activities. Going by the current plans, Kerala will soon achieve the reputation of being the state that hosts the largest number of television channels in the country -- as many as 20 -- within the next 18 months.

By the end of the first half of 2006 itself, the number of Malayalam channels will go up from the present 13 to 16 with the impending launches of Malayala Manorama Group‘s MM TV, the Congress party sponsored Jai Hind TV and a multi-lingual channel Bhaarath TV. A couple of Gospel channels are also expected to hit the market within this period.

As a result, the number of television professionals in Malayalam is expected to grow by a staggering 70 per cent -- from 800 to almost 1,400 -- by the end of 2006. MM TV alone is expected to employ about 200 to 250 TV professionals.

The other two channels eyeing launch ahead of the May-June assembly elections, Jai Hind and Bhaarath TV, have also kicked off their recruitment process. For the smallest television market down South - which makes about Rs 1 billion television per annum -- channels‘ fight for quality people has opened up an interesting but complicated scenario.

According to market sources, MM TV has been instrumental in the human resource (HR) churn that the state is witnessing. The company‘s aggressive recruitment drive saw the existing rivals struggling to keep their professionals in place with promotions, hikes and even double increments. Asianet conducted a recruitment drive for its middle level journalist positions, soon after MM TV completed its state level recruitments.

Another strong trend has been the so-called ‘cross-media migration‘. Print firms and advertising agencies based in the state have lost people to television channels.

"The market is really upbeat. Career wise, it is a good opportunity for Malayalam TV professionals," says Krishna Kumar who leads Indiavision‘s marketing initiatives in Mumbai.

As per industry estimates, salaries have gone up by about 25 per cent on an average in Malayalam television during the last one year. Market sources position Asianet as the highest paying television channel in Kerala. According to sources, on an average, the channel pays a monthly salary in the range of Rs 40,000 - Rs 50,000 to its senior level executives. The top level executives are being paid in the range of Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 1,20,000 per month.

"Compared to the national average, it could be less. But, in the regional scenario, Asianet is among the highest paying channels," says a source.

Asianet Communications, which runs Asianet, Asianet Plus and Asianet News, also employs the highest number of people in the state, about 500. Malayalam Communications Ltd, which runs Kairali TV and People TV, has a 250-strong team.

Nair also anchors the popular Asianet chat show ‘Nammal Thammil‘

For a 13-year old satellite television market, which took almost seven to eight years to evolve, lack of quality people is not an unexpected phenomenon. "Only recently, Kerala started having visual media courses and training programmes. So, we don‘t have enough trained people and the situation is serious. We can recruit freshers, but when it comes to serious functions such as news, you need to be very cautious," states Asianet programming head Sreekantan Nair.

"It is not just the lack of trained people. When it comes to the state-oriented journalism, you need people who are well aware of Kerala‘s social and political aspects. As far as I know, that is one thing really lacking among today‘s youngsters," Kairali TV managing director John Brittas looks at the issue from a different angle.

Nair, however, shrugs off the present loss of people saying the channel‘s strong organisation set up can withstand any eventualities. "Asianet has the reputation of a hub of trained and talented people, and hence, the channel is the first target whenever someone wants to poach. But we are not concerned with it. There are certain things, which no other channel can match with Asianet in Kerala. Our news library carries the last 10 years‘ history of Kerala. More than that, we have a very strong organisational set up with a very strong brand value," he says.

Another HR issue that Nair point to is the dearth of quality top level executives. "Due to salary limitations and limited exposure, quality national level professionals refuse to migrate to Kerala. The shortage of experienced hands at the higher levels could be a serious issue in the present circumstances," he says.

‘Luckily‘ for the market, the reverse osmosis - wherein trained people from Kerala migrate to metros -- is not a strong trend. One major reason, industry observers point out, is the availability of good talent in the national markets.

"When you look at Delhi or Mumbai, experienced and talented people are available. Even in the case of freshers, this is the case. So, when TV channel professionals go out of the state, he is seldom able to beat the high-pressure competition. Hence, Malayalam television professionals normally don‘t like to pursue a career outside the state," states former Kairali TV marketing head Pratap Chandar.

Started off as a journalist, Brittas made it big in the corporate world also

"National broadcasters have easy resources, and hence, they don‘t prefer professionals coming out from Kerala. This is the situation even in senior level positions. So, migration is not a cause of worry," opines Brittas.

According to Brittas, there is a striking dearth of programming talent also in the state. He feels that budget crunches have been preventing channels from investing in their programming resources.

"In Kerala, advertisers prefer print over TV still. Hence TV channels prefer to play it safe, when it comes to programming strategies. They don‘t make much investment in this sector as they prefer to play along with the traditional programming strategies. So, there is not much of an effort happening to spot new talent," says Brittas.

When it comes to technology, Sreekantan Nair feels that the latest innovations have made the HR crunch in this segment less complicated. "With digitisation and other technology advancements, there is a simplicity attached to technology now. You have the complete system in front of you, and you just need to know how to operate it. Hence, television journalists are able to carry out technology tasks. They edit the news using their laptops and the news reader is able to operate the news VCR," says Nair.

Brittas however maintains that there is a shortage of quality technical professionals as well. "Technology travels very fast, but the HR attached to technology travels very slowly. There is a shortage of people in technology as well," he says.

With national television players focusing their attention on the regional space and Kerala being in their agenda, more television jobs are definitely in the pipeline. But will the market meet the requirements, is the big question.

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