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Noorings: The thing about being Uday Shankar

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Noorings: The thing about being Uday Shankar

Last week began with a flurry of breaking news from media reporters on Viacom18’s decision to create a new position of Group COO and give that charge to Colors’ CEO Rajesh Kamat. This still doesn’t mean that any of the Viacom18 channels’ heads would already be reporting to Kamat, but all functions of the Group, such as finance, distribution and so on, now fall in Kamat’s lap. And this is over and above the work that is happening on Colors with its international and India plans.

Many say that this was expected (I would say it was very well deserved as well) – after all, Kamat didn’t just give the partners Viacom and Network18 a success that would be written about for some time to come, but a cash cow that all are pinning future hopes on. The conversation in most offices was that Kamat is the ‘opening flavour of the year’, and all the best to Kamat in taking that forward. With the kind of work that he has done last year, the expectations are on a new high this year. But what intrigued me about all of these conversations was that they just couldn’t end without mentioning Uday Shankar – not necessarily mentioning STAR, but Uday Shankar in particular.

Not that the two can be compared – in a changing media scenario, Rajesh Kamat became the new face of Indian broadcasting, but until a week back that only meant Colors... Uday Shankar, fortunately or unfortunately, has had the load of the Network, and more recently, of all of News Corps’ interests in India.

Most media and agency honchos do solemnly believe that Uday Shankar should brace himself for facing another tough year. But that is soon followed up with a discussion on how Shankar has done a great job in handling the pressures of being STAR. For starters, more and more, at least amongst the senior business professionals, take cognizance of the fact that Shankar has diversified STAR for its regional businesses and other business interests, including movie and distribution, to be well placed.

STAR India did its share of restructuring last year and a host of senior hands left the company – Ajay Vidyasagar, JC Giri, Viren Popli, Nanette D’Sa, Yash Khanna, and later in the year Ravi Menon and Anupama Mandloi, to name a few, and they all left with another task at hand – whether it was another job or just taking a sabbatical to write a book. The bottom line here, however, is that, STAR India did not have to cut jobs, and at the same time some very senior appointments like Sanjay Gupta were made. The marketing team, led by Anupam Vasudev, also saw three new senior hands coming in.

The year saw focus on Star Plus, where instead of continuing with a Creative or Programming Head of the channel, Shankar has experimented with a format of a programming team that works on Star Plus. The English businesses were unified under Keertan Adyanthaya and both Star World and Star Movies are seeing some action. Nikhil Mirchandani was given the charge of Star One. Not to mention the regional channels, of which Star Jalsha is already being written about for making a mark in that market. Of course, it still remains to be seen how Shankar’s experiments deliver and what comes of these moves – for all what we know, the next set of analysis may even see one of these to be Shankar’s worst mistake, but the one thing about this leader is that he is always thinking on what next, and thinking that much ahead of what anyone would be expecting.

Perhaps many believe in Shankar because his challenge when he took on the role of STAR India was far graver than the challenge that setting up a new business. Shankar needed to clean up a system that was filled with chaos. In that year, when the top honchos and several others were leaving the company, many called STAR a sinking ship, and it was Shankar who took on charge and sailed it to calmer waters. Amongst those who have seen many years of this industry, this is not a feat one would like to forget about a leader. True, Shankar is faced with another challenge again, but his worries don’t end with Star Plus, and I am guessing it is the realisation of this that has led many to wonder what one would see from Uday Shankar and STAR India this year.

As for me, I have begun to believe, what one expects from the Indian media industry, seldom happens...

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