The CASBAA Convention 2009 saw stakeholders from various spheres of the broadcasting industry attend discussions and debates on the way forward for the television domain in Asia. While the day was filled with interesting sessions, the single most discussed conversation was Turner Broadcasting President & MD Steve Marcopoto’s dialogue with Essel Group’s Subhash Chandra. Marcopoto did a great job of donning the journalist’s hat and Chandra was his engaging best. Together, it was a packed house with complete attention focussed on the duo.
Perhaps the one moment when the audience was visibly surprised was when Chandra stated that he would retire from the media business in a year or two to do “better things than making money”.
Chandra, in fact, had the audience’s attention right from the start, when at the time of receiving the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award, he narrated the initial Zee experience of October 1992, when it took 21 months to convince companies even for a transponder for the channel. The challenge had only just begun, and within six months of Zee TV’s launch, the investors wanted out. “The investors were happy when they made the deal to exit, but later was a different story,” reminisced Chandra.
He went on to state that the success of Zee TV was important for the opening of this industry, and that there were other industry veterans who deserved to be acknowledged for where the industry had reached today. In a short film, Chandra shared this achievement with Network18’s Raghav Bahl, NDTV Group’s Prannoy Roy and UTV’s Ronnie Screwvala. “This award is for those who made Zee successful and each of these names has contributed to the success of Zee before they went on to make their own media empires,” Chandra remarked.
Steve Marcopoto in conversation with the Father of Indian Pay TV
The one word that many in the audience used to describe Marcopoto’s conversation with Subhash Chandra was ‘humane’, a look into the softer side of the media baron. Before beginning the conversation, Marcopoto stated that the recognition Chandra received reflected the special role that he had played of developing the broadcasting sector not only in India, but also in a sense this gave birth to the industry that today was a significant growth part of most international businesses.
Calling him the ‘Father of Indian Pay TV’, he asked Chandra that unlike names such as Rupert Murdoch and Ted Turner, who had some media streak in them, Chandra had no media legacy. “You were, in fact, in the toothpaste tube business, how did you take the leap to media?” Chandra spoke on his meeting with Richard Lee, when the latter was looking for a media house partner to launch a Hindi GEC. “When he saw the likes of HUL, P&G and Balsara that were working with us, he knew we could get in the ad revenues. At the same time, my history has been to create businesses. We did an amusement park first; at that time, there was 150 per cent tax on amusement parks and it necessitated us to think that there has to be a medium to connect the governance and the governed. That was our entry into entertainment.”
Chandra recalled, “At that time, we didn’t know, or have the aspiration of creating a 30-channel empire that would be covering 160 countries. Ambitions, too, should have a path and a direction; in fact, my advice to youngsters has been that you cannot enter the industry wishing to be Ted Turner or Rupert Murdoch, that can happen only eventually.”
Marcopoto also spoke to Chandra on the fact that he was the eldest of seven siblings, and asked how the family managed to run a successful business across the various media domains. Chandra replied, “In the case of joint families, once everyone has accepted one leader, even though everyone has a say, chances are that the family is successful. The same happened with me too.”
From speaking on being careful about what one said about the Indian philosophy where material gain was not important, but karma was, Chandra spoke on a host of other subjects, and revealed, “I would retire within a year or two to do better things than making money”. Speaking on a general level, Chandra said, “The cable industry has still not felt the pinch of DTH. Ours is a very over and under industry – overspent in terms of investments and under-declared and under-indexed in ad sales. The current health check of the industry probably places the industry in a negative of $400-500.”
Chandra rounded up his discussion by saying that right now the Indian media industry was not the most profitable, and so it was more important today to know the reasons behind any company’s decision to enter the media space.