Power Personalities 2003: People who mattered from the world of television- Part 1

Lists - don?t we just love them, the best of..., the worst of..., the what not... But one list that everyone wants to be on is the one that defines the most powerful personalities whose comings and goings left an indelible impact during the year. has made its own Top 20 power list for 2003. Here we present the first 10 of the Top 20 for 2003. The selection is purely subjective and in no particular order we might add so don?t read anything into the way the names stack up. So here goes with the first 10 of our Top 20!


RSP as he is known went through a mixed year. For one, he was all charged up about taking forward his predecessor Sushma Swaraj?s legacy that of bringing in the pay television regime into India through conditional access. Second he also wanted to work closer with industry on pushing Indian entertainment and cinema globally. Thirdly, he was tested when the controversy around how much foreign direct investment should be entertained in television channels cropped up.

He did pretty badly with the first for most part of the year. So bad that he was desperately looking for a fig leaf to cover his CAS faux pas as the year ended. CAS had become a helpless case with no one apart from a handful of players taking any interest in the issue. And for all purposes RSP had backtracked on his earlier pronouncements that CAS was good for the consumer.

The second, as a cheerleader for Indian entertainment globally, he did rather well. He jet-setted to many an international festival and forum, was even seen rocking with the rest of the Indian film and entertainment fraternity as they tried and presented a united face for entertainment globally. Dressed in a dapper suit and with a clipped though rather soft voice, RSP can impress some.

On the third issue the I& B minister stood up quite well. He, along with his ministerial team and with a little help from a shaky Indian media industry, forced Star TV to find an Indian ally and cede equity control in its news channel, Star News. Which Star did when it brought in Aveek Sarkar as 74 per cent owner. As the year was ending Prasad?s attention was diverted towards creating a successful news channel under the DD News umbrella. In an election year, the government may well need all the propaganda machinery and voice it can pull together. The year also saw him boot out his DD director general SY Quraishi, leaving the pubcaster in the hands of Prasar Bharati CEO KS Sarma.


What the Sahara shree will be remembered for in 2003 is the manner in which he put all his might behind The India Media Group (IMG), a "club" of Indian media barons lined up against the foreign onslaught (read Rupert Murdoch and his pan-Asian venture Star and news channel Star News). What had piqued him was the information given to him that it was Star TV and Murdoch which had surreptitiously brought in a copyright infringement suit against his dream TV project "Karishma - a miracle of destiny", a programme featuring Bollywood stars. Author Barbara Taylor Bradford finally lost the case which alleged that Sahara had pinched the "Karishma" story for the expensive series from her novel "A Woman of Substance" but the delay and not so brilliant content led to the show not shaking up the ratings.

The failure of "Karishmaa" has not deterred Roy. He handed over control of the Sahara network to his son Sushanto Roy. And undeterred the duo along with the programming team are pursuing their dream of bringing in a paradigm shift in television through the use of renowned Bollywood stars, rather than those from television. 2004 is expected to see Sridevi starring in a new series. Amitabh Bachchan is expected to front a show. If the initiative works, it could well catapult Sahara to the forefront of the television sweepstakes. The channel carries some world class docudramas which have won accolades from several quarters.

2004 is also likely to see a flurry of local news channel launches from the Sahara stable as Roy continues with his much propounded vision of having a news service for each state apart from a national channel. Additionally, expect some activity from the group on the sports front, considering the manner in which he has been feting the members of the Laureus Sports Foundation in his Amby Valley project.


Actress, celebrity endorser, activist and now political cheer leader, Smriti Z Iraani has come a long way from the Femina Miss India participant that she was. Today, as Tulsi, she is among the most recognised faces on television and extremely venerated too. But the lady is pragmatic, articulate and clear in her thinking and hopefully will not allow all the fawning that has followed her success to go to her head. She became a mother for the second time mid this year and she juggles her career as an actress, wife, mother, activist and political cheerleader with aplomb.

One act she definitely cannot follow however, is as India?s answer to Oprah Winfrey. The holier than thou attitude she takes with the participants of her talk show on SAB TV "Kuch Diiil Se" pretty much puts paid to that.


His skills came to the forefront in the Star News case, the Radio City case and in his quest to stave off CAS in the form the government wanted to launch it. Because Star Plus continued at its top perch in the Hindi entertainment sphere, it made rivals afraid. So much so that The Times of India started a campaign to ensure that life was made difficult for Star as far as both radio and news broadcasting were concerned.

But in both cases with cajoling, explanation, Mukerjea and his COO Sameer Nair, along with the legal functionaries of the company, spent many an hour painstakingly explaining away every point rivals and the government raised. Mukerjea went to the extent of bringing in professionals and giving them equity to comply with the restriction of foreign investment in news channels. When these professionals were unacceptable to the government after being prompted by rival media groups, he called on Bengal media baron Aveek Sarkar and gave him equity to the extent of 74 per cent in the news channel.

Additionally, he also spent a large part of his year in marital bliss and also making presentation after presentation to the government about the futility of launching CAS in the manner that was being planned. He succeeded in getting the government to agree to a partial and phased rollout. And by the time the new year came around CAS had more or less been called off. All in all a victorious year for Mukerjea, whose network is numero uno in television in India and second in the media sweepstakes as a whole.


Star India COO Sameer Nair had his hands full in 2003. With his boss Peter Mukerjea preoccupied with keeping the company?s flanks safe from the attacks that were being directed its way, it was Nair who had hands on charge of the network. Whether advertising, marketing, ad sales or distribution, Nair was involved on all fronts.

But if there has been one standout success story that Nair has for the network, it has surprisingly been on the distribution front. Last year Star?s distribution revenue was Rs 2880 million ($ 60 million) but this year it has risen by close to 40 per cent to Rs 4000 million, according to industry sources. Coming at a time when the distribution ramp up story in India was associated more with Sony on the back of the cricket (as too the additions of the Discovery channels and premium movie channel HBO), Star?s performance is all the more creditable.

Among the main initiatives that Nair instituted on the distribution front was the linking of a cut in overall per subscriber rates to significant increases in declarations. A doubling (100 per cent increase) of declaration was "rewarded" by a halving of the network rate from Rs 60 to Rs 30.

While Star had mixed results with this initiative when dealing with the big MSOs, it did taste success on this front everywhere else and Star today claims that it has a subscriber base of 10 million. Nair?s target for the year - to expand it to 14 million.

There is also the small matter of introducing more trend-setting programming on the network so that Star?s lead over its rivals does not diminish that Nair will be playing a whole load of attention to.


He was in the news for the wrong reasons. His departure from Star India. The 29-year old walked out of the network which had nurtured him and he had nurtured for at least a couple of years. His skills as a programmer are unquestionable, going by the way Star continued to rock in 2003.

The big news in the New Year was the Young Turk?s joining rival Sony as executive V-P programming and response.

The big question however, is what differentiators can Katial introduce into the programming matrix at Sony from what he served up at Star. More of the same will definitely not do if Katial expects to wean away audiences from the lot that is currently comfortably ensconced in the Star Parivar?s plotlines.


He had sworn to give his former partner a run for its money. And he did just that when he launched two news channels 24x7 and NDTV India. Dr Roy was hampered for a part of the year as Raj Nayak, who joined him as CEO of the ad sales and marketing company that was formed post the split, was locked in a court scrummage with his former employer Star, which had refused to let him go so easy.

By the end of the year, however, Dr Roy?s channels had firmly established themselves. In 2004, the big fight for Hindi viewer mind space among private news channels could well be a three-horse race between Aaj Tak, Star News and NDTV India.


This tough-as-nails lady did it. Against all odds, she successfully launched Star News in the year. It took a lot of doing: setting up the infrastructure, putting together a team. Of course people sniggered that she was paying attention to cosmetics, but the results showed and rivals soon followed sprucing up the style and clothes sense of their anchors and their news sets. Her tactic of launching a Hindi service, with a smorgasbord of coverage which included the high lights and living seems to be working.

As the year ended Star News was holding on to the No 2 slot behind Aaj Tak the leader, though NDTV was snapping at its heels.


His biggest claim to fame is that he heads MTV and that he constantly makes it to Page 3 in Bombay Times. Kuruvilla manages to pop up in many a frame pictured in theTimes of India rag. Be it at a rugby match, or at a pub party or at a dog race, Kuruvilla makes it a point to be there. It probably is part of his job profile, which he is living up to quite well. He has managed to keep MTV on top of the charts, as a leader, though some people would like to give the credit for that to the creative head honcho Cyrus Oshidar. Kuruvilla also pulled off a coup of sorts by flagging off the music industry awards, the Immies in partnership with the IMI.


If there?s one thing you cannot accuse Nimbus promoter and founder Harish Thawani of is that of being a man who gets cowed down by a challenge. In fact, the man who has made billions of rupees out of sports television and events thrives on achieving the impossible. 2003 saw him achieve that by successfully raising advertising money out of the World Cup Cricket telecast on Doordarshan when he had Sony Entertainment lined up against him as a major rival. Thawani had only rights to live coverage of 16 matches during the World Cup and daily one hour capsules of the 43 one dayers. He read the fine print in the contract between DD and the rights owners and managed to pull in the deferred telecast of the other 26 matches, much to Sony Entertainment?s discomfort, and threw them in as a sweetener to his advertising partners.

Thawani achieved another milestone during the year: he hired a CEO for Nimbus, long standing friend and professional, Akash Khurana. He stepped away from operational control and took on the title of chairman, preferring to spend time overseas trying to shake up the sports business globally. As the year ended, his company was in the process of unveiling spanking new premises for his Nimbus group with sauana, jacuzzi, exercise lounges, cafetarias and what have you. 2004 should see Nimbus and him take a further leap forward onto the international film distribution and production front.

Coming up next to complete our Power Personalities 2003 are:

Subhash Chandra, Kunal Dasgupta, Raghav Bahl, Aroon Purie, Ramoji Rao, Ronnie Screwvala, Anuradha Prasad, Dayanidi Maran, Aveek Sarcar and Ekta Kapoor. Stay Tuned...

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