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Chernin puts India on Star radar again; hints at more autonomy from HK

12-February-2007
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Chernin puts India on Star radar again; hints at more autonomy from HK

News Corp’s re-focus on Star India is witnessing many developments. The latest one is News Corp President and COO Peter Chernin’s visit to the country last week. In the News Corp structure, Chernin is second only to Rupert Murdoch and this may be one reason why Star India officials were looking forward to his visit all this while.

Even though Chernin had been to India before, this visit from February 8 to11 assumes significance as the focus of the visit was only Star India and the only people he met were also the heads of various departments at Star India.

Even as the intention of the visit was only to meet the HoDs, Chernin also took time off to speak to officials at the Star House. In his meetings with the HoDs, Chernin reportedly told them that one of the clear focus areas for the media powerhouse in India is investments, both in new areas as well as talent.

The more significant point however that was brought under the scanner was the present Hong Kong reportage structure. Sources inform that STAR India officials categorically refused to report to department heads at Hong Kong. And at the same time, officials showed no issues in reporting to STAR TV CEO, Paul Aiello. Sources further divulged that Chernin has agreed to look into these matters and the take-off from the meeting was a positive one. The impression given was that STAR will seriously look into and rectify this issue of the India-Hong Kong relations and consider decentralisation.

However, it remains to be seen what really materialises on this and in case if this does happen, what is the change that this would bring into the role of the likes of Steve Askew, John Lau and Bruce Oltchick. It was CFO John Lau who had cancelled the annual sales conference in 2006.

Needless to say, top guns at News Corp and Star are really working towards retaining senior officials at Star India. The number of media reports making rounds on most senior heads, across departments quitting, isn’t making their work any easier either. It may be noted that one of the names expected to leave the organisation is Ajay Vidyasagar and the list is a long and strong one. However, the flip side benefit is that for the employees, it has surely played its role in highlighting some names and allowing some amount of bargaining power within the structure and the forthcoming changes.

Star sources also say that one of the operational structures that is being considered is that of three presidents, reporting to acting CEO Paul Aiello. The three presidents are said to be Paritosh Joshi (Star India Ad Sales Head), Ajay Vidyasagar (Content and Communication Head) and the expected new entrant, Vijay Singh.

However one impression that comes across commonly is that most senior officials are really waiting to see whether Aiello, with support of Chernin, will deliver on the promises. Chernin has asked senior India officials to think long-term business and not short-term targets. The plight that the highest contributor to Star group, Star India, has come to today, really shows that the group’s long-term business plans have had some flaws. And now, the whole media industry is watching how it addresses these flaws.

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