The CEO Forum session at the NewsNext 2008 conference saw a lively discussion on talent crunch in the television industry and addressed the issue of retaining skilled manpower, salaries, and what it takes to be a successful TV journalist. NewsNext 200 was held in the Capital on August 22 and was presented by Times Now.
The CEO Forum also focused on the challenges faced by news broadcasting CEOs on a day to day basis. The session was chaired by Sunil Lulla, Director & Group CEO, Alva Brothers Entertainment. The panelists included Chintamani Rao, CEO, Times Now; Barun Das, CEO, Zee News; Raj Nayak, CEO, NDTV Media; Anurradha Prasad, MD, BAG films & Media Ltd; Sudhir Chaudhary, CEO, Live India; and Sunit Tandon, CEO, Lok Sabha Television.
The session started with Sunil Lulla asking Anurradha Prasad what advice she would give to a young person who wanted to make a mark in the media profession. Prasad replied, “I will ask him are you ready to slog it out? Are you ready to re-engineer yourself? Are you ready to work 24x7? This is the most ruthless industry and is not all about glamour and fame. If the answer to the above questions is ‘yes’, then I would say sky is the limit for you.”
Commenting on the role of the CEO, Chintamani Rao said, “A typical day of the CEO of a news channel is like that of the CEO of any other company. We have to run all the time dealing with various situations. It is the CEO’s job to enable others to do their jobs well. I don’t know whether to call the Blackberry a liberation or a leash. The CEO is also an interface between shareholders and stakeholders.”
Raj Nayak said, “I genuinely think that there is no bright future for news in India unless it goes global. There is a huge potential, and if we say by 2050 we have to be global, then there is a lot of effort required to be put in. The BBCs and CNNs were not made in a day. It is very cost-effective for a channel in India to go global as back home operations and uplinking can happen from India. What is required is a few ‘Gora’ and Indian faces.”
Barun Das noted, “We could define it in terms challenges that are looming in this industry. News can be classified broadly into national and regional. Regional has become worthwhile today as growth has gone beyond the eight metros. Regional expansion offers tremendous opportunities with digitalization, which will happen soon.”
He further said, “In Hindi news, the competition is increasing between the channels, with the quest for increased TRP numbers. This segment has seen significant divide between a serious and non-serious news category.”
According to Sudhir Chaudhary, “News channel are spending more money on distribution than on news gathering. It is alarming that the channels are not focusing on manpower and editorial initiative. We have to do something about distribution cost as we need to survive in the next 36 months. I never face pressures from politicians and shareholders, but there are pressures from news rooms and news gathering.”
Speaking about the talent crunch in the industry, Sunit Tandon said, “I am the cuckoo in the news channels, we don’t have any news bulletin. Being a Parliamentary channel, we have constraints on salaries. We have restricted ourselves by trying to rope in freshers from mass communication institutes. We have a tremendous attrition problem in our channel. We have to deal with the market and increase our incentive towards pubic service journalism.”
Commenting on retaining good talent, Prasad said, “When we started off three years ago we faced a major problem of retaining good talent. Then BAG films opened a mass communication school to train young talent, which proved to be beneficial for us and the industry as well.”
Das added, “We have to collectively work a little extra hard to get freshers and train them for the job.”
Chaudhary too admitted that manpower was a real problem in the media and had to be worked on.
Nayak pointed out, “As CEOs, we have to reinvent our business model and increase the salary of the employees, and it is important for us to sit together and discuss there issues.”
The next part of the CEO Forum addressed how media organisations measured the quality of news service.
Chintamani Rao noted, “The only thing is constant review, and we need to monitor content carefully and stay within the defined parameters.”
Tandon said, “We are a niche channel, and one important thing is that we need to have a balanced point of view. We try and spend more time on discussions and views, since we don’t have the pressure of a news channel.”
Nayak remarked, “I think if we need to have the political will we also need will among media owners to address the issue of distribution cost.”
Chaudhary added, “There are three suggestions – there should be a fixed price for a news channel; there should be uniformity on distribution; and have infrastructure of sharing vans.”