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#Throwback2020: Heavyweights in the M&E industry

Part 2 of our wrap of professionals who did stand-out work 2020.

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NEW DELHI: In the book of life, people couldn’t wait to turn the page on 2020, but at long last, we have arrived in 2021. There is a lot of energy and zeal in the media and entertainment industry to make a fresh start and rebuild everything back to its pre-Covid2019 glory. No doubt, 2020 was tough, but it has taught us several lessons – like not taking things for granted and being ready to adapt to changes.

Despite all the odds and challenges, content creators, production houses, service providers and broadcasters kept the ball rolling for consumers as the entertainment did not stop. It was available to the audiences in one format or the other. These professionals worked to create relentlessly fresh and differentiated content, organised live sporting events, and kept viewers engaged.

Earlier this week, we read about some of the leading M&E professionals and how they steered the industry for better in 2020. Here is the second part of the series:-  

Rajesh Iyer, Viacom18

Viacom18 roped in Rajesh Iyer to handle its regional GEC portfolio which includes Colors Odia, Colors Gujarati, Colors Tamil, and Colors Bangla. As the network stepped into 2021, it launched two new shows in Tamil. Iyer is an old hand at Viacom18 and was part of the launch of Colors in 2008. A veteran in the industry who understands content, market, consumer and revenue, Iyer has been brought in to handle the challenges of the genre and grow the business. He is known for his leadership at Network18 and ZeeL, where he spearheaded new initiatives and launched &TV. The latter was successful in creating a niche for itself in the market within the first three years of its debut.

Rajiv Bakshi, Reliance Big Synergy

In the last 12 months, Reliance Big Synergy CEO Rajiv Bakshi has completely turned the course of the production house. It is no longer just a powerhouse for non-fiction but a creator of all forms of content – be it fiction, web series, direct to digital films, biographies, mythology and more – across multiple languages such as Bangla, Telugu, Punjabi, Bhojpuri, and Hindi. The man has high ambitions for the production house and aims to have a strong fiction split in its content production. Bakshi is a veteran in the M&E industry who has seen the business from the lens of a marketer, broadcaster, and creator. He has worked across TV, internet, media, telecom, and consumer durable industries in his career.

Avinash Pandey, ABP Network

In less than two years of donning the mantle of chief executive officer at ABP Network, Avinash Pandey took it on himself to refresh its entire functionalities, building on unique capabilities and starting a fresh chapter in its history. He rebranded ABP’s identity from a premium news network to an all-encompassing content powerhouse. The network stepped into the world of content creation, production, brand solutions, etc, investing in cutting-edge technology to facilitate best-in-class solutions for the clients. Its news channels were also given a fresh look and mission of being limitless in their coverage. Pandey has talked about his intentions to shift network services from FTA to pay.  

Apart from these massive overhauls in the core identity of the network, Pandey also rose as a strong voice who not just demanded rights for the broadcasters but also called out the shortcomings of the news industry. He openly dissed the culture of chasing TRPs by news channels, called out the ‘outdated measurement system’ that is promoting dramatic news reporting, and batted for deregulation of broadcasting content. 

It was under his leadership that ABP Network sailed through the unique challenges posed by the Covid2019 crisis. In fact, ABP was amongst the very few news networks that did not have to resort to pay cuts or lay-offs. 

Nina Elavia Jaipuria, Viacom18

An old hand at Viacom18, Jaipuria has churned out content that drew in and engaged audiences across demographics, whether it was in Hindi GEC, Hindi motion pictures, or kids genre. On the kid’s front, she spearheaded the launch of two new IPs – Bhoot Bandhus and Ting Tong on Sonic and Nickelodeon respectively in 2020. She steered her portfolio through the pandemic when adex dipped.

On the Hindi mass entertainment side, the organisation tapped into its libraries during the lockdown, bringing back shows like Mahakali, Shani Dev, Jai Shri Krishna, Om Namah Shivaya and Mahabharat that evoked nostalgia among viewers. News shows like Pinjara Khubsurti Ka, Molkki and Namak Issk Ka were also planned during this time.

Jaipuria is an industry stalwart with over three decades of experience. She steered the network’s growth from a lone kids channel to a cluster of channels.

Aditya Pittie, IN10

Anand Mahindra-and Aditya Pittie-promoted IN10 Media has a bouquet of varied media offerings such as television (Epic TV), OTT platforms (Epic On and Docubay), and production house (Juggernaut. IN10 Media Network also launched kids' channel Gubbare on Children's Day. After the success of its linear broadcast channels in their respective genres – Epic TV and ShowBox – the network ventured into the regional cinema market with Filamchi, a 24/7 linear broadcast channel for Bhojpuri cinema fans across the country.

Meanwhile, Juggernaut Productions worked on Avrodh: The Siege Within that was acclaimed by audiences and critics alike. Pittie has kept the pricing of EpicOn and Docubay far higher than any horizontal or generic OTT. He has positioned the channels as a vertical player with a very specific offering.

Vynsley Fernandes, NXTDigital

An old face in the cable distribution industry, Fernandes was recently elevated as media group CEO of Hinduja group’s NXTDigital. Before his current role, he turned the struggling NXTDigital businesses to profitability within two years of taking on the position of CEO at IndusInd Media and Communications Ltd (IMCL). Now, he will not only run digital TV and HITS business but also broadband and content business.

Fernandes is leading innovation at NXTDigital as the company looks at establishing itself as a digital service provider. While the video segment of the company has around 5.38 million subscribers currently, its broadband segment has achieved yet another milestone under his leadership by crossing half-a-million home broadband consumers. Identifying the need for bundled services, he is highly focused on synergising cable TV or HITS service with broadband that would drive the growth of all services concurrently.

The ministry of information and broadcasting (MIB) recently amended HITS guidelines by allowing HITS operators to share infrastructure with MSOs. Hence, Fernandes has identified this as a big area of growth for NXTDigital, the only HITS service provider in the country. As infrastructure sharing can reduce the cost of connectivity significantly, he is looking at leveraging this opportunity in the B2B model.

It was under his leadership that NXTDigital managed to continue its operations smoothly during the Covid2019 crisis under a well-structured contingency plan. It’s one of the few MSOs to have a proper digital payment method for business partners. Fernandes has advocated embracing digital payments, rolling out broadband, hybrid boxes to sustain in the long-term.

Karan Bedi, MX Player

Karan Bedi is heading one of the most successful OTT platforms in India. Within two years of MX Player’s launch, the service has diversified into gaming, short-video, and music segment along with its core OTT offerings. The platform, which currently has over 200 million monthly active users, emerged as the fastest growing OTT entertainment platform during the lockdown, Comscore data indicated.

While it was already recognised as the top entertainment app in India in 2019 by a FICCI report, MX Player has seen tremendous growth during 2020. With a 5X increase in engagement during lockdown, it has also attracted 150 new brands. The platform has focused on tier-2, tier-3 markets from the beginning, which has helped it to grow more post-Covid2019.

MX Player has replicated its OTT success in the short video format too under Bedi’s leadership. It introduced MX TakaTak within a week of the TikTok ban. Already, it boasts 70 million monthly active users and 10 million unique content creators. To solidify its position in the growing ecosystem, the platform is increasing its content library, innovating its offerings and on-boarding well-known influencers.

Siddharth Kumar Tewary,  Swastik Productions  

When you have ambition like Siddharth Kumar Tewary, you let nothing come in your way. So his decision to set up shooting floors in Umergaon in Gujarat were very futuristic. He was one of the first producers to begin filming after the government drew up SOPs for shoots to begin again, following the lifting of strict lockdown Covid2019 rules. That was thanks to the fact that he owned his own sets in Umergaon, with residences which could even house crew and cast, thus putting them in a safe bio bubble.

2020 was the year, when he  broke out, getting commissioned to produce Bahubali for Netflix and a show for Hotstar, even as he continued to produce for television. Swastik Productions also launched two new series Devi Adi Parashakti for Dangal and Deva Shree Ganesha airing on Star Pravah. He recently partnered with Sony Pictures Networks India for exclusive rights to license and distribute its content catalogue in CEE/CIS countries as well as China and Japan.

Hiren Gada, Shemaroo

When the Maroo family – the promoter of content aggregation and distribution company Shemaroo – pole vaulted Hiren Gada as CEO in 2018, he was a little known entity. A shy reserved executive, he preferred to play a role behind the scenes, helping grow its international syndication business and keeping a sharp eye on finances. Two years into his job, he has transformed the organisation along with his sister Kranti Gada who is the COO,

Hiren first focused on bringing in outside industry professionals into Shemaroo, thus fostering its evolution from being family owned and run to a professional one. In 2020, he took some gutsy punts, launching a free to air general entertainment channel Shemaroo TV in order to help draw in advertising money and help grow the company. He had taken even sharp risks just as 2019 was ending, by flagging off an OTT platform called ShemarooMe and MarathiBana –a Marathi language free to air channel, a little before that. He also announced his intention to help small budget films get launched on an OTT with ShemarooMe Box Office which will serve as T-VoD window for the company.

Despite expanding Shemaroo’s portfolio of offerings, he has ensured that his content deals with other platforms are kept in place.

Today, Shemaroo’s products cover two channels, an OTT service ShemarooMe and a T-VoD  service, making it a player which more than counts in the TV industry.

Kalli Purie, India Today Group

The vice chairperson of the India Today Group is one of the most powerful women in the India’s media and entertainment industry. Purie is part of several industry bodies such as Barc and NBA and has been relentlessly working towards shaping the industry for better. In 2020, she restructured the top management of ITG to ensure that the group sails through these times with minimal impact. Purie also brought back ITG’s star anchor and editor Prabhu Chawla to host the much popular show Seedhi Baat.    

(Please note that the placement of the M&E leaders in the story is not in pecking order) 

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