Talent contracts: How effective are they in retaining skilled people in broadcast media?

Talent contracts: How effective are they in retaining skilled people in broadcast media?

Author | Puneet Bedi Bahri | Monday, Oct 13,2008 8:09 AM

Talent contracts: How effective are they in retaining skilled people in broadcast media?

Retention of talent is a serious problem in the industry today, more so in broadcast media. Channels invest a lot of time and money to groom an anchor/ presenter to be the face of the channel, only to find that person joining a rival channel. In such an attrition-filled scenario how effective are talent contracts? Is taking an employee breaching the contract clauses to court the only recourse available?

The trigger for this report was the case of India TV versus its presenter Arti Pathak. Pathak had quit the news channel before the expiry of a three-year contract between the two. India TV approached the court in this case and the Civil Judge of the District Court at Delhi has decreed in favour of India TV that Pathak was wrong in defying her contract with the channel and in unilaterally abrogating her agreement. The Court has ordered Pathak to pay six months of her fee along with interest of 6 per cent per annum from the date of filing of suit till the realisation of the decreetal amount. Costs of the suit have also been awarded in the favour of the plaintiff.

It is learnt that Pathak had joined Network18’s CNBC Awaaz after quitting India TV.

Sensitive as the issue is, exchange4media spoke with a cross-section of broadcasters and anchor/ presenters to get their reactions to the case and also whether such talent contracts were really effective and required to retain skilled manpower.

Better work environment, better pay – the mantra to retaining talent

Peter Mukerjea, Chief Strategy Officer, INX Media, felt, “Talent contracts are generally very effective in retaining talent, although quite often they do get revisited and then renegotiated by the parties concerned. As the industry is going through massive upheaval, there is a distinct shortage of talent across the board.”

He added, “Contracts are of course a deterrent, although they can always be contested when it comes to the right of an individual to practice his/ her profession and to earn a living. The best option to retain talent for the longer term is ultimately to provide a work environment that delivers fun, wealth and value to the individual concerned.”

“Fun is essential because if one isn’t having fun at work, then they shouldn’t be there anyways. Wealth – because that is what you take home to the family and that’s important. So, you shouldn’t be in a place where you are being ‘overworked and underpaid’. Value – that’s what you build over time for the organisation that you work for and I believe that organisations in general must share some of that with the people who work and help create and build that value. If they don’t, then people will leave – contract or no contract,” Mukerjea pointed out.

Talking on the effectiveness of talent contracts, G Krishnan, CEO & Executive Editor, TV Today, said, “As a practice, we don’t have any talent contracts. We believe in retaining our skilled manpower through enriched job roles, a conducive work environment, fair performance appraisals, and also by being competitive with the compensation.”

On whether talent contracts act as deterrents for attrition, Krishnan said, “We don’t think so. An employee, who has made up his mind to leave, will leave whether or not under any kind of employment bond or talent contract.”

He further said, “We strongly believe that engaging employees by recognising and rewarding talent, friendly HR policies, caring attitude of managers, providing opportunities to grow and learn, and a strong brand value serve as better options to retain talent.”

Speaking on how frequently broadcasters took an employee to court for leaving before the contract period expired, Pratibha M Singh, lawyer for some of the major broadcast channels, said, “I think most broadcasters ignore it. A case like this arises when the anchor or employee leaves unceremoniously. India TV has taken its employees 2-3 times to court. Mature anchors usually take their promoters or employer into confidence before moving out and give them a notice period of a month or so. In such a case, the broadcaster need not take the employee to court.”

Singh noted, “There should be a written code or a regulation that there should not be any ugly poaching. There should be an understanding between the broadcasters otherwise things can really turn ugly. Like there is a regulatory body to monitor content, there should be a body to take care of poaching as well.”

“I believe that for a person who is talented, there is no dearth of options for them. An individual should work with an organisation for a reasonable period and should always inform the organisation before moving out,” she added.

‘It’s a question of one’s livelihood’

A senior personnel in the broadcast industry, who refused to be named, said, “Aaj Tak has started such contracts for anchors to retain talent. The contract states that when an anchor leaves a channel, he/ she will not be allowed to work in another channel for a period of six months. When Alka Saxcna left Aaj Tak, a case was filed against her by Aaj Tak, but the Court pronounced the judgment in her favour. For an anchor, anchoring is bread and butter and a means of livelihood. So, it is a fundamental right of an anchor to move out for a better opportunity. No one can stop an individual from earning a living.”

Anurradha Prasad, MD, BAG Films and Media, pointed out, “These contracts are effective and good only while you sign them. Because of the media exposure in the last few years, people forget what the organisation has done for them when they get a better opportunity. If someone has to move on they will, and at that point you end up taking these severe decisions.”

According to Prasad, “There are other ways to retain talent – provide a better work environment, give them more exposure and pay them as per industry standards. Loyalties towards organisations are changing and you can’t do much to retain people.”

Coming back to the India TV versus Arti Pathak case, Pathak had resigned from her services vide an email dated August 12, 2005, with immediate effect. India TV moved Court to enforce its existing contract with Pathak, arguing default and Pathak’s liability to pay six months of her fee. India TV also pointed out that Pathak had migrated to a rival TV channel in defiance of her contract, wherein she had agreed not to present a show on any other channel during the subsistence of her agreement with India TV.

In his decree, Civil Judge Gaurav Rao said, “I have heard the Counsel for the plaintiff (India TV) and pursued the record very carefully. The evidence of the plaintiff has gone unrebutted and I have no reason to disbelieve the same. As per the agreement, the defendant did not have any right to terminate the agreement before expiry of a period of three years. However, the defendant terminated the agreement and further joined a competing channel, which was against the terms of the agreement dated August 2, 2004. As per the termination clause of the agreement, the presenter/ defendant was liable to pay the company/ plaintiff an amount equivalent to six months’ fee if the presenter failed to discharge her duties and responsibility under the agreement for any reason whatsoever. Hence, she is liable to pay a sum equivalent to six months’ fee to the plaintiff company.”

Confirming that a decree sheet had been served on Pathak, an India TV spokesperson said that “the matter was one of principle”.

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