MUMBAI: Even as the curtains have gone down on 2019, Indiantelevision.com is happy to reveal its list of senior executives from the business of TV and video, who were constantly under the arc light throughout the year or made waves on account of something they did. We have put in our best efforts to cover as many of the noteworthy professionals of 2019 as we could, taking into consideration the importance of their roles in the organisation and industry as well as the significant contributions they made in the year. We do not say the list is comprehensive, and any omissions are unintended. We hope you will find the first part of this list interesting read. More will follow in the coming days.
His departure from Star India – a company which he helped steer along with Uday Shankar for around a decade- came as a shocker for many in industry. But he was leaving for the digital world – that of Alphabet or Google - and he would be heading the India operations for the global juggernaut.
From close friends and associates, Shankar and Gupta will be on two different sides of the spectrum. There will be many areas that Star Disney-Google will be able to work on together; in some maybe not. Clearly, the digital and entertainment world is going to be an exciting one with them at the top of their respective companies.
For long, the boss of Star India has been seen as the mover and shaker of the broadcast industry. But for the last two years, he’s had an additional responsibility: overseeing the merger across Asia-Pacific of Twenty First Century Fox with Disney, including its biggest and most prized territory, India. And he came out with flying colors: the transition was relatively smooth, not too much bad press emerged, and overall the merged company, now looks forward to bearing the fruits of the union. Morale at the two companies - or should we say the merged company - is high as Shankar continues to organise, shuffle reshuffle, hire, rejig executive portfolios to build an organisation for the future.
Star India notched up losses, but those were for costs of prized but expensive cricket rights and these were planned. Hotstar continued to set record after viewing record, Star India retained its position as a top Indian TV network and he even managed the departure of his deputy Sanjay Gupta by looking for talent in-house and appointing the successful regional TV boss K Madhavan as his head of all television, while he took on the responsibility for the network’s streaming service. He along with Bob Iger and the Disney Plus team will have to take calls on how they will launch Disney Plus in India in 2020
He is the shy and not-so-used-to-the-public-eye professional with the midas touch who ran and helped built the southern business for the Star India network from nothing over the years. Of course, under the direct steerage of Uday Shankar.
It began with the acquisition of the Tamil channel Vijay from UTV’s Ronnie Screwvala nearly all of 19 years ago. Madhavan came on board Star India in 2008 when Star India purchased a majority stake in Asianet. He had the credentials – he had helped turn around the struggling Malayalam network after he took over in 1999, and giving it an indomitable position in Kerala very soon thereafter. With it came three Malayalam channels and two Kannada ones. Star completed its southern footprint by acquiring the Telugu service, MAA Television Network in 2015. As head of the southern business of Star India, he grew it further until it contributed a significant sum to its topline business.
And for that, he has been rewarded now with oversight of the overall TV business of the now Disney owned network. Madhavan’s immediate focus will be on the Hindi GEC business of Star India, which is perceptibly under threat from streamers who are dishing out edgy content, which is appealing to younger mobile audiences. Additionally, he will have to find ways of monetising the network’s TV cricket rights better. He has the pedigree and 2020 will see his imprint being left on what is now his charge.
Punit Goenka & Subhash Chandra
What do we say about Punit Goenka but that 2019 was the year when he showed what stuff excellent CEOs can be made of. No other executive comes even close to the plaudits that Punit has got for managing the tough situation that the promoter family of Zee Entertainment got itself into. Along with his father, they convinced existing investors to buy equity in the company to pay off lenders. Yes, it meant lowering the promoter family holding to around five per cent. But even that was acceptable to both Goenka and Chandra. The company was above family holding. Zeel for its part is a very well run media outfit with a bunch of excellent senior professionals that Goenka has brought in place and whose respect he has earned courtesy of the fact that he is so approachable. The company is now en route to monetise more than any other broadcaster in the regional language space by launching channels in Kannada, Punjabi etc.
That aside, along with his brother Amit, and Zee5 CEO Tarun Katiyal, he helped hyper-activate the group’s streaming service Zee5 – launching originals like there was no tomorrow. Today, Zee5 looks like one of the more promising OTT platforms with SVOD, AVOD, and adtech plays.
When Hiren Gada was nominated as CEO of Shemaroo, he was relatively unknown to most in industry. From being a content rights owner, which licensed its library to everybody, Shemaroo has now become a platform owner in streaming service ShemarooMe, which has an interesting offering. A wide array of content, gamification, special offerings, licensing and merchandising, Gada has transformed Shemaroo by bringing in young professionals and giving them wings to fly. In fact, his singular focus has been to transform the once family-run but now publicly listed Shemaroo into a professional organisation. To that accord, he has hired from mainline entertainment and media firms and upped the ante on distributing his OTT service in as many countries as possible. He has been attentive to monetise the content library as well, by continuing to provide value-added services to other platforms as well.
NP Singh was at his customary best: staying out of the limelight. But even behind the scenes, he was hard at work. First, along with his Culver city management, he got into deep conversation with the Zeel promoter family for a buyout. The price Sony Pictures put on the table was chunky, but Chandra and Goenka wanted to retain control, they were okay with investment bankers and institutions reducing their stake to a minority, but not a rival media and entertainment firm. Hence, a deal which was looking hot suddenly became cold.
Singh played a big role in the parleys with Mukesh Ambani to merge his media assets TV18 with Sony for a large period of the second half of the year. The deal had not materialised at the time of writing, but it well could in the new year.
The quiet-and-polite-to-a-T executive had a good year on the TV front with his Sony Entertainment Network, SAB, Max group of channels and kids channel Sony Yay all doing well. Sony Entertainment Network, which was lagging for long, finally got its act right under Danish Khan with a mix of good reality, talent, talk and celebrity stand up offerings in 2019.
If there’s one platform that has come out with shining colours in 2019, it is the Harit Nagpal-run Tata Sky. The professional who keeps a razor-sharp eye on consumer experience was quick off the blocks in stitching equitable win-win deals with broadcasters, and then followed that quickly with a campaign educating Tata Sky subscribers on the TRAI mandated New Tariff Order. The DTH platform offered packages and also had its call centre employees well equipped to answer queries. Net result: Tata Sky signed up 3 million active subscribers at a time when other platforms added less than one-third its adds, giving it a 32 per cent market share.
Nagpal also came up with new packages serving HD channels then introduced Binge – an Amazon firestick service innovation – delivering OTT apps and special programming to its consumers on one device. It pushed its broadband offering as well, offering competitively priced plans.
He is not Indian but has big ambitions on Indians. And it’s his pronouncements and actions which have been excited the creative and production community in India, like elsewhere in the world. For long Netflix big boss Reed Hastings has avowed that the next 100 million customers for the streamer are going to come from India. And he has been putting his money where his mouth is, promising to invest Rs 3,000 crore in India in his latest announcement as the year was ending. Continuing with the localisation drive he lured local creative professionals like Monika Shergill and Aashish Singh in early 2019 to lead digital and film originals respectively. And since then Netflix has commissioned filmmakers of the calibre of Karan Johar and Shah Rukh Khan to produce digital series for the streaming service. A host of filmmakers too are being signed on as it battles competition from the likes of Amazon Prime, and a string of local players. Concerned by the sluggish uptake of subscriptions since it launched three years ago in India, Hastings and team Netflix put in place a mobile-only plan priced at Rs 199 a month. Deals have also been struck with almost every platform to make sure Netflix is easily accessible to those interested in it.
Attractive pricing and cutting edge content are the two planks Hastings has put in place. 2020 will decide how much that translates into results and his envisioned goal for India.