Press Release

Making CEOs of journalists

11 June 2014

Uday Shankar, the chief executive officer (CEO) ofStar India, spoke last week at New York's Paley Center for Media on Star's journey to the top of the Indian broadcasting heap. Shankar's story is interesting because he is one of the few people who made the switch from being a journalist to CEO of a media firm. Vikram Chandra (NDTV), Sanjay Gupta (Jagran), Sameer Nair (Star India) or Shekhar Gupta (formerly withThe Indian Express) are arguably among a handful of people from the content side of the business who have gone on to become CEOs in Indian media.If content is king, why are content guys not at the helm of affairs more often? Is it time for Indian media firms to start looking at people from the content side of the business for leadership roles? How have they done so far?Unfortunately, there is no research on this one. But here is the anecdotal stuff.In 2007, the Star network, which currently has 34 channels, was looking lost. It had seen an exodus of top talent, its programming was stale and it didn't seem to have a growth plan. When Shankar, a former political reporter was named CEO, there were many sceptics. He had createdAaj Tak(editorially) and run MCCS, the holding company for Star News, but could he run the profitable Indian subsidiary of the (then) News Corporation, one of the world's largest media firms? He did. Star's share of audience has gone up by over 46 per cent and its revenues are now four times that in 2008.Shankar and his predecessor Nair are exceptions. The Rupert Murdoch-controlled $27.6-billion 21st Century Fox (formerly News Corporation) has a tradition of putting itsjournalistsand creative people into senior management positions. One of the firm's longest running (former) CEOs, Peter Chernin, was a programming executive and an editor at Warner Books in his earlier roles. The CEO of NewsCorp, the print media arm of the group is Robert Thompson, the former editor ofThe Timesand managing editor ofThe Wall Street Journal.Raju Narisetti, the founding editor ofMintand managing editor ofThe Washington Postlater, is now the head of strategy at NewsCorp.In NewsCorp's case, the global culture of cross-pollinating talent from content to the commercial side has continued in India. It is one of the two firms (Jagran is the other one) among the top 20 in the Indian media and entertainment (M&E) business that have content people at the helm. Other than that, there are at least half a dozen small sized business-to-business media firms and a dozen-odd television production firms founded and being successfully run by former journalists, actors and scriptwriters.Usually senior jobs on the business side end up going to people from advertising sales - the guys who sell airtime or newspaper space. Peter Mukerjea, the former (successful) head of Star, was an ad sales guy; Raj Nayak, the current CEO of Colors, made his name as a great ad sales guy. And if there are no good ad sales guys around, then the boards or owners of media firms usually turn to executives from telecom, consumer products or consulting. Man Jit Singh, who turned Sony around, was a management consultant; Sudhanshu Vats at Viacom18 is ex-Unilever; Rajiv Verma, the CEO of HT Media, is a former Nestle and Whirlpool man.Parameshwaran (Parry) Ravindranathan, managing director, Bloomberg Media, Asia Pacific, a content person who went on to the business side of things, has an interesting take on why this happens. "The early media entrepreneurs in India like Prannoy (Roy, NDTV), Ronnie (Screwvala, UTV) and Raghav (Bahl, Network18) were primarily great content people. What they needed was leadership in advertising sales and other business functions. A CEO filled in those gaps well like Haresh (Chawla, former CEO, Network18) did for Raghav. Also we don't have a culture back home of content people being interested in the business side, or being encouraged for that matter. I think we inherited that from the early British media industry or perhaps our socialist past?" he says.Maybe. But it is also possible that there is a right time for content guys to get involved with the business. In the US and European markets, it happened much later, after the businesses matured.The TV market in India is hyper-competitive and reasonably mature compared to other segments of the M&E industry. Private broadcasting had been around in India for more than 15 years when Shankar took over. It is against this background that he used his understanding of content to invest heavily in new channels and shows such as a Like OK,Satyamev Vijayateand cricket.As digitisation settles in and the market gets carved among the top five to ten players, the game will change from getting the best distribution to getting people to pay for content. And maybe, that is when the scouting will begin for people from the creative side of the business.In the newspaper business, which was on steroids till last year thanks to easy capital, the growth of online will push change. It is evident in the stagnating, if not falling readership for physical versions of English newspapers. Maybe then, we will see more content people, with their understanding of audiences, coming to the helm as CEOs.


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