Media Pro: The unwinding of a joint venture

MUMBAI: When the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) came out with its regulation on the role of aggregators, everyone in the industry was sure that this would herald the death of content aggregators, at least in their current form. Industry insiders revealed that the leading and strongest content aggregator Media Pro would be among the first to break up, but it would take time, probably by mid-2014 or probably a little later.


So when the announcement came last week that the Zee Turner and Star Den joint venture had decided to go their separate ways, it sent shock waves through the industry.  Some said it was premature and that the joint venture could have run a little longer. But sources indicate that the decision was taken at the very top between Subhash Chandra, Punit Goenka and Star India head Uday Shankar directly with only a handful of executives being informed. Industry insiders say that the joint venture had hired a consulting firm to give guidance on what should be done and when.


The breakup will see the two partners setting up independent cable TV affiliate distribution teams. Exactly as it was like almost three years ago when both decided to get together to extract more revenues out of India's reluctant cable TV operators and multi system operators (MSOs).


Questions are being raised as to where will Media Pro India CEO Arun Kapoor - an old Essel group hand - be placed?  Will he head the Zee Entertainment distribution initiative or will he go the Star way? He was earlier group CEO distribution businesses at Essel Group (he also headed the joint venture which had been set up to distribute the Zee TV and Turner channels in India).


Sources indicate that the Turner channels will continue to be distributed by Zee Entertainment at least for now without any cross network bundling. So does that mean that the Zee and Turner joint venture arrangement will in effect not be revived?


Most observers expect COO Gurjeev Singh Kapoor to move onto the Star distribution team. Gurjeev began his media career with Zee and then went to Discovery before moving on to The OneAlliance as its business head. He was finally lured to lead Star Den Media services when it was set up as a joint venture between Sameer Manchanda's DEN and Star India.


The bets are out whether the Star Sports bouquet will be distributed by the Star India team or whether an independent team will be given that responsibility.  Most expect the former proposition to be realised.


Industry observers state the Media Pro office in north Mumbai is a hub of activity with senior management working on splitting up the teams and also drawing up plans for recruitment wherever needed.


“There is a lot of movement which is taking place currently, with some of the executives already going the Star India way," says a source from the industry.


MSOs and cable TV operators expect the two new teams to start approaching them soon with new packages and offerings. Others however indicate that this could be a month or two away, until Star and Zee draw up their individual teams. Gurjeev had told around a month ago that most of the MediaPro contracts with both cable TV and DTH operators are slated to come up for renewal by sometime in April.


If that is true then Zee Entertainment and Star India don't have much time on their hands. And the teams have their task cut out for them.   

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