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#Throwback2020: Heavyweights of M&E industry

These personages led from the front, thought out of the box, and took bold risks.

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NEW DELHI: Finally, we are over with 2020, a year that will go down in history for perhaps all the wrong reasons. While it brought businesses and industries across the board to a standstill, the time also taught everyone to come out of their comfort zone and think differently. The media and entertainment (M&E) industry was no different.

Apart from serving regular entertainment and keeping the content pipeline steady, the industry also saw regulatory interventions, scams, big movements, great strategies, new platforms and trends emerging that challenged its status quo. Be it the coverage of Sushant Singh Rajput’s death that triggered the debate over toxicity on news channels, the release of the highly acclaimed Scam 1992, TRP racket, arrests in the news and broadcast world, or Uday Shankar’s decision to step down from Disney Star India – all these developments and more had the industry grapevine buzzing.

Indiantelevision.com skimmed through all these conversations of 2020 and selected top heavyweights of the M&E sector of India who steered these discussions and shaped the industry – for better or worse, only time will tell.

Arnab Goswami, ARG Outlier Media

The MD, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Republic Media Network became the newsmaker in the second half of the year for multiple reasons. Goswami aggressively went after the police, political leaders and several lobbies in the film industry during the investigation into Sushant Singh Rajput’s death. While several industry members and advertisers questioned his style of editorial reporting, some also blamed him for spreading toxicity in the news. Goswami, however, maintained that he will be relentless in his search for the truth for his audiences. He was soon caught up in a legal storm in two separate cases as police charged his media network for rigging TRPs, and abetment to suicide of an architect and his mother. Members of the Republic, including Goswami, were arrested during this time and multiple lawsuits were filed in both matters. Undaunted, Goswami has continued with his combative editorial style and is expanding the network’s footprint in different languages both in the online and offline space.

Sunil Lulla, BARC

2020 has been a very busy year for current BARC CEO Sunil Lulla. He had to make some tough calls and introduced landmark initiatives that changed the course of the industry. It began with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) interfering with BARC and making recommendations on its functioning, governance, transparency, accountability, operations and robustness. Lulla took a stand on the matter and clearly established that BARC is an integrated business body and is not influenced by the government.

Later, in a landmark move, BARC came up with algorithms to mitigate the impact of landing pages, which was welcomed by the industry. Towards the end of the year, the agency has been weathering the TRP scam, which brought ignominy to the entire news broadcast industry – so much so that BARC decided to pull back the weekly ratings for the news genre. The scam got murkier with several ex-BARC employees getting arrested. The regulatory body is now drawing a new mechanism to ensure that the methodology is more precise and the industry is able to trust those ratings once again. However, amidst this entire storm Lulla is standing tall and leaving no stone left unturned to maintain the integrity and sanctity of the organisation.

Shashi Shekhar Vempati, Prasar Bharti

He was the man behind the uninterrupted supply of entertainment and news to the remotest corners of the country. Vempati led Doordarshan and All India Radio carried on operations uninterrupted throughout the pandemic. During the first lockdown, when fresh content dried up on GECs, Vempati’s team brought back yesteryear shows on the channel and gave everyone some respite from the wrath of the Coronavirus. This decision was so successful that it broke all viewership records of Doordarshan. The state-run broadcaster ensured that people in the far-flung areas were able to access news and updates in their own native languages via Doordarshan and All India Radio. Vempati’s team also initiated tele-classes for students so that their year does not go waste. He is now on a government committee that will closely look into the operations of BARC to assess the existing rating system (the committee was formed after TRP scam was busted).                     

K Madhavan, Star & Disney India

An old hand at Star India, K Madhavan, the man who was responsible for building the network’s regional business replaced Sanjay Gupta as he took on the mantle of the TV business across verticals and markets at the end of last year. The network continued to grow in 2020 and post the big announcement of Uday Shankar’s departure, Madhavan was given the responsibility of leading Star & Disney India. Madhavan was also elected the president of the Indian Broadcasting Federation 2020-2021. He will be working closely with the I&B ministry, TRAI, and other bodies to look after the broadcaster’s interest and policy implementation. Madhavan also steered the ninth CII Big Picture Summit this year with hundreds of delegates from all over the world participating in it.

Uday Shankar, Former The Walt Disney Company

The biggest shocker for the M&E industry came when Uday Shankar announced his departure from Disney Star India. Shankar ended his 13-year long stint at the organization on 31 December. After taking over the reins of Star India in 2007, he transformed the company into one of the largest and most successful media conglomerates in Asia. He led Star Sports to be the largest sports broadcaster in India. In the general entertainment segment, Star India has a presence in all major regional markets along with a massive dominance in the Hindi speaking market. From launching Hotstar in India to expanding Disney+’s operation in Asia as Disney APAC boss, he has left a rich legacy in the OTT segment as well.

Adding another feather to his cap, Shankar has been elected president-elect of Ficci for 2020-21, the first-ever media and entertainment executive in India to lead a national industry chamber. 

Pradeep Dwivedi, Eros STX

In 2020, Dwivedi spearheaded the global ambitions of 40-year-old production house Eros Now. He led the merger of Eros Now with US-based production house STX Filmworks and uniquely positioned the combined entity Eros STX across the US, China and India. Eros STX will be a publicly traded, independent content and distribution company with global reach. It will now be able to create and distribute both Bollywood and Hollywood content. On the domestic front, Eros Now expanded into linear business and capitalised on the growing demand for OTT with its originals and existing library. Dwivedi was also chosen as VP & area director for IAA Asia Pacific.

Ajit Mohan, Facebook

It has been an interesting year for the social media platform in India. It inked a partnership with Jio to establish itself as a strong content player, worked towards bringing small businesses on the platform to expand its base and increase ad spends, joined the government’s atmanirbhar initiative, launched Instagram Reels, Watch on Facebook and WhatsApp pay to further offer new products to the audiences and keep the engagement going on. On the content front, Mohan has been stressing the imminent need for new rules that guide and give clarity over some of the regulatory aspects of what should be allowed and what shouldn’t. He has urged for global cooperation between Indian authorities and others to clearly set these guidelines. The platform also faced government scrutiny as it was summoned by a parliamentary committee for letting content from a right-wing outfit go unchecked. However, Mohan has staunchly denied such violations and stated that the platform takes its safety and security protocols very seriously.

Barun Das, TV9 Network

At the outset of the year, Das took on the News Broadcasters Association with an iron hand as the latter questioned the meteoric rise of the network. He took on the veterans and explained to them the television business in an official release. Later, the network announced its big decision to foray into the Bangla market with the launch of a news channel. However, during a discussion with Indiantelevision.com on the ongoing TRP scam investigations, Das urged for zero tolerance towards such criminal activities. He also reminded the industry that the ones who initially flouted these ratings are the ones who are now questioning it. Today, thanks to his hard drive and innovation, what was once a southern news network, is amongst the leading news networks in the country. Additionally, Barun surprised many when he went out on a limb and announced increments for his staff in September with retrospective effect at a time when the news industry was struggling.  Some say this had a ripple effect on the industry with others too rolling back their salary cuts. 

NP Singh, SPNI

The ongoing Covid crisis was unprecedented and had a cascading impact on the entire ecosystem. Owing to the nationwide lockdown, there was a complete cessation of content production for TV and OTT films, sports, and events. Advertising spends declined drastically but it did not deter the plans of Sony Pictures Networks MD and CEO NP Singh. He is currently basking in the success of original series Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story on SonyLIV. Despite challenges, Singh expanded offerings: in sports, the recent extension of its broadcast deal for WWE content provides SPN the rights to showcase WWE Network through SonyLIV; SPN has curated content from WWE’s extensive archives library, which includes events, iconic matches, and interviews with legends, reality shows and documentaries on its own platforms. The network also continued with its flagship shows like KBC.

Megha Tata, Discovery Communications

Last year, broadcasters pushed the digital agenda, realigning their content strategies, business models to cater to consumers’ interests. Under the leadership of Discovery Communications India south Asia MD Megha Tata, the network entered the Indian OTT space with the launch of Discovery Plus offering premium content at an annual subscription of Rs 299 and a monthly subscription of Rs 99.

Post pandemic, there has been a massive surge in the OTT content consumption and no network wants to miss the bus. However, as a broadcaster, Tata clearly emphasised protecting the linear business as it is still funding the digital business. She believes there is still time for digital business to reach profitability and monetisation status and TV has to play a key role in that. Contrary to the popular opinion that TV is dying, Tata noted that all linear and digital platforms will continue to co-exist. For her, both mediums are important – one is the business of today and the other is the business of tomorrow. She was also elected as the president of the India chapter of the International Advertising Association (IAA).

Ekta Kapoor, Balaji Telefilms

Known as the ‘Czarina’ of the TV industry, Ekta Kapoor, over the years, has emerged as one of the most powerful women entrepreneurs. This year, Kapoor was nominated to receive the fourth highest civilian honour - Padma Shri Award. Apart from dominating the Hindi GEC space, she has clearly stated her intentions for the OTT space by targeting the nation’s low- and mid-income consumers. AltBalaji is likely to release four to five of its big-budget movies in 2021 when Kapoor expects viewers to flock back to cinemas. Balaji Telefilms is set to take over the content studio Ding Infinity to produce 100 per cent premium original cut through the cluttered content. Recently the supreme court granted her interim protection from arrest in an FIR against her for alleged objectionable content in her web series XXX season 2.

Punit Goenka/ Amit Goenka / Rahul Johri at ZeeL

Zee Entertainment Enterprises Ltd (ZeeL), which has been going through money circulation points for over 12 months, unveiled a massive restructuring process as part of Zee 4.0 Strategy. It includes restructuring across content, revenue, and digital arms with a renewed focus on revenue maximisation and foraying into newer territories.

Under this strategy, the company will integrate all of its digital assets under a single umbrella, which includes Zee5 (Domestic AVOD+SVOD), Zee5 Global, SugarBox and Digital Publishing. 

ZeeL roped in Rahul Johri as president for south Asia enterprise to spearhead the built-in revenue and content material monetisation crew. In other key shuffles in the top leadership, ZeeL elevated CEO (broadcast) Punit Misra as president - content and international markets, while Amit Goenka, the younger brother of Punit Goenka, has taken over as the president - digital businesses and platforms.

Kevin Vaz, Star & Disney

Star & Disney India recently elevated Kevin Vaz as CEO of infotainment & kids genre. This is in addition to his regional entertainment portfolio where he is heading Star India regional channels portfolio across Maharashtra, Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Andhra & Telangana, Kerala and Karnataka. He was given the responsibility following the departure of Anuradha Aggarwal who was head of English, infotainment and kids cluster at the company.

Anuj Gandhi, IndiaCast

The group CEO of IndiaCast, a joint venture between TV18 and Viacom, Anuj Gandhi is heading a team of professionals for traditional and new media platforms. With a distinct understanding of content, monetisation, and market, Gandhi is a firm believer that in the world of multi-screen obsession, linear TV will remain present. In addition to Gandhi’s responsibility at IndiaCast, he is also involved with Reliance Jio as head of content acquisition for all Jio video and audio apps. IndiaCast Media in the month of March announced an agreement with Cox Communications with the launch of Aapka Colors on Contour TV.

Sameer Nair, Applause Entertainment

In 2020, Applause Entertainment spearhead by Sameer Nair developed a robust and varied pipeline of shows and has successfully released 18 series spanning different genres across multiple platforms. Nair has focused on creating a combination of smart originals of international formats, book to screen adaptations, and Applause Originals. The studio has created the official Indian adaptations of popular international shows including The Office, Criminal Justice, Hostages and Your Honor. It is presently developing Indian versions of the hit series Call My Agent, Fauda and Luther. They’ve developed a rich slate of original content with shows like Rasbhari, Undekhi, Bhaukaal, Hasmukh among others, and book to screen adaptations of Avrodh, Hello Mini, and the recently released Scam 1992: The Harshad Mehta Story has been successful in wowing critics and audiences alike.

Abhishek Rege, Endemol Shine India

Endemol Shine India, over the last couple of years, has been actively pursuing a two-pronged strategy – preserve and grow its non-scripted portfolio with newer formats and platforms; and significantly scale up the scripted portfolio. Endemol Shine India CEO Abhishek Rege believes Banijay and Endemol will continue to compete with each other, instead of amalgamating under one umbrella. For Rege, the digital streaming space will add to its revenue from the scripted content. To this end, the studio has made series like Arya for Hotstar Originals and Bombay Begums for Netflix. It is bullish on acquiring book rights – including The Sane Psychopath, based on Salil Desai’s novel, content based on American novelist Robin Cook’s books, and an original series based on Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis Trilogy. With this, Rege hopes it will catapult Endemol Shine India onto an international pedestal.

Sunil Rayan, Disney + Hotstar

He is not a familiar face in the media and entertainment industry but now the ecosystem has its sharp eye on him. Early in 2020, Sunil Rayan was mandated to head India’s top OTT contender Disney+ Hotstar. The position had been vacant since Ajit Mohan left in 2018. His appointment excited the industry due to his accomplishments across global brands like Google, McKinsey & Company, IBM, Mastech, Infosys.

Rayan joined the platform at a very crucial time – Disney+Hotstar has upped its focus on originals, has been aggressively chasing Bollywood movies with big names. The platform which already has about 26 million subscribers, is also highly focused on sports and gaming, where Rayan’s tech understanding will be instrumental. 

Sudhanshu Vats, former Viacom18 CEO

After a stint of eight years at Viacom18, ex- group CEO and MD Sudhanshu Vats decided to quit the organisation in April. Vats charted the growth of the broadcaster to grow from a six-channel network to 54-channel media empire in India. Along with expanding Viacom18’s base in regional markets taking on Star India, ZeeL, he also steered the group’s studio business with bold bets in unconventional storytelling. Under his leadership, Viacom18 entered the digital arena with the launch of Voot. During his tenure, he proved to be an effective leader who earned admiration across the industry. While he joined Viacom18 from FMCG leader Hindustan Unilever, he has been appointed as MD and CEO at Essel Propack Ltd post-departure.

RS Sharma, TRAI

Industry watchdog Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has also undergone a change in leadership. Ex-TRAI chairman Ram Sewak Sharma stepped down from his position in October. During his tenure, the telecom industry saw a significant shift, more so than the broadcasting industry. After his term got extended in 2018, many consultation processes were initiated by TRAI would have a long-lasting impact on new technologies.

Sharma has left behind a mixed legacy as many major reforms were taken ahead under his leadership, like new tariff order for the cable TV and broadcasting industry, net neutrality for the telecom industry. At the beginning of this year, TRAI again brought an amendment to NTO 2.0. that has been panned by the industry and legally challenged in courts. But Sharma, firm on his position, strongly defended the move till his last day at TRAI. He also led the mandate of overhauling the TV measurement system as TRAI floated a consultation paper this year. Though he has been highly criticised for the deteriorating relations between the regulator and the industry, he spearheaded technological advancements in the sector.

Monika Shergill, Netflix

Netflix is scaling up its local content library in India, one of its key international markets. To understand the pulse of the market, it hired industry veteran Monika Shergill as director of series in India in 2019. Now, she is handling Indian content slate for the platform as VP content. Shergill is working on what she has been doing for years with leading entertainment brands in the country, churning out stories that audiences can connect with.

She has aided the streaming service to capture a slice of the OTT pie in India delivering original movies and series such as Masaba Masaba, A Suitable Boy, Jamtara, and Bulbul. Like her peers in the industry, Shergill has also focused on direct-to-digital releases in 2020 as theatres were shut for a long period. Backed by strong localised content, Netflix has significantly scaled its subscriber base and market revenue, according to reports. 

Aparana Purohit/ Gaurav Gandhi/ Vijay Subramaniam, Amazon Prime Video

The team at Amazon Prime Video has excelled in capturing the Indian market. While Amazon boss Jeff Bezos committed to double its investment in India, these three local executives have made it possible to push his Indian dream. The streaming service has rolled out a number of original series which has struck a chord with Indian viewers. It also came outshining at the Flyx Filmfare Awards which has awarded digital originals for the first time. The top executives have also ensured that it is also a frontrunner in the race of direct-to-digital releases. 

Tarun Katial, Former Zee5 CEO

Katial is one of the most celebrated executives in the media and entertainment business. After building up the business at Big FM from scratch, he joined Zee5 in 2018 to take the homegrown OTT to new heights. From setting up the team and business, he turned Zee5 into a leading streaming platform in the market. Before putting down papers for one of the most coveted roles in the media world, he helped Zee5 expand its offerings during the pandemic as well.

2020 was the first year when Zee5 has contributed to its parent organisation’s overall domestic subscription revenue. It has forayed into the short video segment with the launch of HiPi, close on the heels of the TikTok ban. Moreover, Katial has worked on a self-regulation code for the OTT industry as chairman of IAMAI.

Danish Khan, SPNI

Khan is one of the emerging leaders of the M&E industry. His acumen at picking up trends and content preferences of the audiences is well-proven with the success that SonyLiv has enjoyed in the last year with shows like Avrodh, Scam1992: The Harshad Mehta Story, JL 50 and others. Khan has steered the success of the platform and managed to get strong subscriptions for it as the competition in the category is growing fast with both local and global players spending heavily on content creation. A seasoned professional, Khan has a great understanding of business, content, revenue and consumer.

Sunil Taldar, Airtel DTH

Under Taldar’s leadership, Airtel has been able to scale up its DTH business over the years, reaching 16.6 million subscribers at the end of FY20.  As Covid2019 has led more consumers to tune into OTT, the company has increased its focus on the hybrid set-top box segment. The DTH operator is sparing no effort to stay relevant in the changing industry scenario. While it is breaking into the top tier of the market with the XStream box, it is also addressing opportunities in the lower end too.

Harit Nagpal, Tata Sky

In an age of great disruption, Harit Nagpal has ensured that Tata Sky stays resilient through innovations. The market leader in the DTH space has reinvented its approach to acquire and retain consumers. It introduced Tata Sky Binge+, a smart set-top box earlier this year and pushed it aggressively through various campaigns. Nagpal has always been quick to adapt and evolve with market dynamics. To push its hybrid boxes, the company has struck partnerships with all major OTT platforms.

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