Television

Comment: The rise and rise of Uday Shankar

https://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/default/files/styles/smartcrop_800x800/public/images/tv-images/2017/12/07/Uday_Shankar1.jpg?itok=Plahmp5l

MUMBAI: From not having enough money to afford even a TV set in Delhi in 1991 when he was a newspaper reporter to heading Star India, one of the most admired Indian media and entertainment companies, for a decade to now being appointed as 21st Century Fox Asia president, it has been quite a journey for Uday Shankar. A well-deserved and rewarding one at that.

Today, Shankar is one of the few professionals from India to get region-wide responsibility for a global media powerhouse. Executives such as Man Jit Singh, who heads Sony Pictures Home Entertainment globally, and Bedi A Singh, who was News Corp CFO for a long time, have preceded him but both are Indians who rose up the ranks in the US.

Shankar has, however, earned his stripes growing the Star India business, which in the first quarter had an EBDITA of $100 million and is on course to hit $500 million in 2017-2018 (in the words of 21st Century Fox (21CF) chairman James Murdoch). The 2020 EBDITA target, as spelt out by 21CF, is twice that, and the Murdochs say it is well on course to be achieved.

When he was handpicked by the then News Corp COO Peter Chernin to take over Star in October 2007 (some say on the advice of the then outgoing company head in India), Shankar knew very little about the entertainment business. All his experience had been in news–whether print or television. He had had stints with several print media publications (his first was The Times of India around 1990) as a political correspondent and last was as one of the founders of environment magazine Down To Earth before the TV news bug bit him.

Shankar took to the TV medium with ferocity—doing stints at Zee TV’s news channel as a news producer, the Hindustan Times promoted Home TV (it shut down quickly), production house Sri Adhikari Brothers, Sahara TV, and then India Today group’s Aaj Tak and Headlines Today, two channels he helped stabilise and grow over the next six seven years. His talent for being a journalist who got things done did not go unnoticed and he was asked to lead Star News, a joint venture with Kolkata-based ABP group, after CEO Ravina Raj Kohli departed.

It was at Star News that he blossomed as an executive—a TV exec to be precise—and caught the attention of Chernin and the Murdochs. The rest, as they say, is history.

Today, under his leadership, the Star network has expanded into regional language channels and produces close to 17,000 hours of content each year in eight languages. The route it has taken to get there: acquisition of the South India-based Maa network, Asianet and via launch of channels such as the Bengali-language Star Jalsa.

A journalist with little entertainment content creation experience when he was appointed, Shankar has steered Star into creating TV content that has been path breaking over the past 10 years, dealing with social issues, apart from helping position it as a network that produces classy shows but with a social purpose. So much so that Star India shows command an advertising premium even if the channel is not topping viewership ratings. Even on the affiliate revenues front, Shankar has played hardball.

But one of the boldest moves taken by Star under him—some critics may choose to describe it as foolhardy—was to take on broadcast and telecom regulator TRAI late 2016 when Star India and its affiliate Vijay TV challenged in court the regulator’s jurisdiction over matters relating to copyrights, which effectively has stalled implementation of a new tariff and inter-connect regime announced by TRAI in October 2016. The case is still pending a final verdict in Madras High Court till the time of writing this piece.

Amongst the early movers in the OTT space, Shankar has made Star invest big in customer acquisition and pushed its digital platform Hotstar CEO Ajit Mohan to go out and not only acquire new business, but also devise a distribution strategy that could be sliced and diced as per needs of the geographical markets. So, Hotstar’s distribution and subscription strategy for the US and Canada market, heavily subscription revenue-led, could be quite different from that pushed in India, where making available content practically free to subscriber initially is aimed at hooking the viewer before he’s seduced to the pay model.

Though Shankar is not known to be a great fan of gambling—even during Diwali when in India playing cards with cash is considered auspicious or for good `shagun’—he gambled big on the Indian Premier League’s (IPL) global rights for five years. Star not only played smart, outbidding incumbent rights holder SPN India and some global digital players sniffing at commercially viable Indian cricket rights, but also raised the bar to clinch the hand with a bet of $ 2.55 billion. Raising the stakes flattened competition.

Under Shankar, Star has also ploughed huge investments into creating and acquiring sports properties such as the Pro Kabaddi League, the BCCI national cricket domestic rights, the domestic soccer league ISL in collaboration with Reliance Industries, table tennis, badminton, and many others sports.

The recent promotion of Shankar means he has won the confidence of the Murdochs and the boards of News Corp and 21CF to replicate in Asia what he has done in India, long referred to as a jewel in the crown of the Murdoch media empire. While 21CF has done well in markets such as Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Korea, scale has been something that’s been missing. Shankar is expected now start building that.

By promoting him to head Asia, 21 CF has also ensured that if a deal with Disney does happen (media reports emanating from all parts of globe say the approx USD 60 billion deal could happen sooner rather than later), it will be—very well could be—Shankar who will be scripting the new Asian story. Currently, Disney has two Asian heads: one for south east and south Asia and the other for north Asia. With him being designated as the boss, the reporting lines too could change with Mahesh Samat reporting to Shankar.

How has Shankar managed this rags-to-riches story in the cut-throat corporate world of global media? Shankar himself gives a hint. Casually leaning against the main exit to the executive floor at level 37 in the South Parel office of Star, housing the leadership team, while escorting out a couple of senior editors of Indiantelevision.com after an interview in September, he was asked what made him tick. The recorder was off and the interview had ended, but what he said was revealing.

According to Shankar, though he considers he has miles yet to travel (wherein he’d continue reading thought-provoking books like Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind), his satisfaction comes from the fact that he has managed to assemble a string of high-calibre professionals as heads of various Star businesses who at least specialise in or know better one thing extra about the business than the chief. “This gives me great satisfaction as I know the business is in safe hands,” he said with a poker face.

In the end, one of his mentors, Siddhartha Ray (Delhiwallahs say he’s one of the few friend-philosopher-guides of Shankar), who also happens to be the first GM of Star TV in India in the early 1990s, aptly summed up the X factor: “What makes Uday so successful? He’s a quick learner, good man-manager and an adept environment manager.”

At Indiantelevision.com, we would wish Uday Shankar more wind beneath his wings so that he can soar higher.

ALSO READ:

Uday Shankar becomes president of 21st Century Fox Asia

Star's Uday Shankar on distribution challenges, IPL, FTA vs. pay TV…and much more

Latest Reads

https://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/default/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2020/04/03/ekta_kapoor.jpg?itok=Xbzb7xXF
Balaji Telefilms' Ekta Kapoor foregoes one-year salary for workers

MUMBAI: Balaji Telefilms joint managing director and creative head Ekta Kapoor will give up her one-year salary, Rs 2.5 crore, to ensure that her workers will not suffer due to the ongoing lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In a social media post she announced that she is doing this so that...

Television Production House Film Production
https://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/default/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2020/04/03/asianet.jpg?itok=XzMk61Sz
Asianet to air Walt Disney movies

MUMBAI: Leading GEC in Kerala Asianet is all set to telecast Walt Disney’s all-time great movies from 4 April. Walt Disney Movie Fest will be aired every Saturday and Sunday at 12 noon. The list of world-famous Hollywood titles scheduled for airing in Walt Disney Fest includes: The Jungle Book,...

Television TV Channels Regional
https://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/default/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2020/04/03/barc_0.jpg?itok=jINg-upV
News channels report highest ever viewership gain in week 12 post lockdown

MUMBAI: The overall news genre has reported the highest ever weekly viewership so far this year in the week 12 (21-27 March) of Broadcast Audience Research Council (BARC) India as compared to the previous week (14-20 March), courtesy the lockdown. In the current week, the Hindi news channels'...

Television TV Channels News Broadcasting
https://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/default/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2020/04/03/bbc%27.jpg?itok=GUrjd5_9
Broadcaster trio commits $50 mn of ad inventory to promote vital public health messages

MUMBAI: Three of the world’s biggest international broadcasters have come together to donate free airtime to public health bodies for the promotion of messages to combat the global coronavirus health crisis.  BBC Global News, CNN International and Euronews have committed a combined inventory worth...

Television TV Channels News Broadcasting
https://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/default/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2020/04/03/Cannes%20Lions.jpg?itok=rbFMB94Y
Cannes Lions 2020 Cancelled

MUMBAI: Cannes Lions today announced that the annual Festival of Creativity will not take place in October as previously planned. The next edition of the Festival will run June 21-25, 2021, said a Cannes Lions statement.

Television TV Channels English Entertainment
https://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/default/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2020/04/03/eg.jpg?itok=TsblafCB
Can’t gag media to fight pandemic: Editors Guild of India

The Editors Guild of India in a letter has expressed its reservations against the government for holding the media responsible in the supreme court for creating panic in the country amid coronavirus pandemic.

Television TV Channels Viewership
https://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/default/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2020/04/03/barc.jpg?itok=6RqIBy5L
COVID-19 boon: News channels show 300% viewership growth

The lockdown amid COVID-19 may adversely impact businesses, but it has helped the television industry, especially the news segment, to achieve a new high in terms of viewership, says a report released by Broadcast Audience Research Council of India (BARC) and Nielsen on crisis consumption.

Television TV Channels News Broadcasting
https://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/default/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2020/04/02/discpovery%27.jpg?itok=GyxMW1rO
Discovery garners 89% genre share on premiere of 'Into The Wild with Bear Grylls & Superstar Rajinikanth'

MUMBAI: Discovery channel's premiere of Into The Wild with Bear Grylls & superstar Rajinikanth has created a record after the historic high touched by Man Vs Wild with Bear Grylls & PM Modi. According to channel, the premiere on Discovery Network (across 12 Discovery channels) delivered...

Television TV Channels Specialised and Niche
https://www.indiantelevision.com/sites/default/files/styles/340x340/public/images/tv-images/2020/04/02/jason.jpg?itok=_DR5y5Cs
WarnerMedia names Jason Kilar as CEO

MUMBAI: WarmerMedia has announced that media, entertainment and technology executive Jason Kilar will be its new CEO, effective 1 May. He will report to AT&T president and chief operating officer John Stankey.

Television TV Channels GECs

Sign up for our Newsletter

subscribe for latest stories

* indicates required