Being the Group CEO at Viacom18, the equal joint venture between Network18 and Viacom, is not an easy feat. And perhaps this was one of the reasons why the industry noted with interest when the JV announced the appointment of Hindustan Unilever’s Sudhanshu Vats as its Group CEO on June 28, 2012.
The development completes the final step in Haresh Chawla’s succession plan. Chawla, as is known, wore the dual hat of Group CEO of Network 18 and Group CEO of Viacom18.
Vats’ appointment is in fact the first time that Viacom18 has appointed a standalone Group CEO. It may be recalled that before Chawla had assumed the additional charge of Viacom18 CEO, a search for the role was underway since the launch of the JV in 2007. However, Viacom and Network18 had not zeroed in on any candidate that they had both agreed on.
Viacom18 has a slew of businesses that had done well in its initial phase and the crown jewel for the company was Hindi general entertainment channel Colors. As Vats gears to take charge of the company, industry leaders state that there are some clear tasks cut out for Viacom18 in its road ahead.
The first, as Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar UM puts it, is maintaining the momentum that had become well-associated with the company. Sinha explained, “With the combination of Haresh Chawla, Rajesh Kamat and Ashwini Yardi, Viacom18 had a dream run for its flagship brand Colors. The first task set for the company is to maintain that momentum once again.”
The Viacom18 businesses apart from Colors include MTV, Nick, Sonic, Comedy Central, VH1, Viacom18 Motion Pictures and the distribution JV with Sun Network and with TV18 in the form of Sun18 and IndiaCast respectively. Businesses such as MTV, Viacom18 Motion Pictures and the distribution JV with Sun have faced their share of challenges in the recent past.
Sam Balsara, Chairman and Managing Director, Madison World pointed out that Viacom18’s businesses were over-diversified. He said, “To have too many brands in the media, entertainment and communication space comes with its own challenges and opportunities. At present, Viacom18 has too much going and perhaps its needs to be simplified in some form to get the best out of these brands.”
Perhaps the most important of all tasks ahead would be to ensure return on investments that Viacom18 has done on its various brands, particularly Colors. Sinha explained, “It was an expensive play and now they would want to see the results of that coming in a more sustained basis.”
Colors has taken a few positive steps in the last few months after the appointment of CEO Raj Nayak. This included not only the realigning of the programming and sales teams to a new format that seems to have delivered for the channel taking it back to the number two spot in the last weeks, but also the Group appointment of Vivek Bahl to head content for the Network channels including Colors.
While Vats takes charge of the company only in August 2012, the expectations from his role, given his background in another extremely competitive industry, are already high.