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The Sun shifts gears – Part 1

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The Sun shifts gears – Part 1

In a high profile media universe, where often professionals loom larger than the media entities they represent, there were some silent professionals at work down South, led by an entrepreneur at the helm. Now, that soft-spoken group of people has grown larger, attracting a clutch of professionals from across segments to its fold.

Sun Network CMD Kalanithi Maran’s business acumen and entrepreneurial skills, and the conglomerate’s phenomenal growth, have been the subject matter of both envy and admiration of the Indian media universe for some time now. But there was something amiss. The close-knit nature of the top management circle at Sun Network meant that there was no room for new top talent, contended industry pundits. They also said that ‘national’ talent would not find a ‘regional’ powerhouse like Sun attractive enough. Their contentions have been countered in recent times, by action and not mere words. But then, that’s quite the style of response expected from the tight-lipped top management of Sun Network.

While most media companies grappled with the impact of the economic slowdown in 2009, there were a few who decided that it was the best time to invest, especially in talent. Fewer still had not just the propensity to invest, but also the ability to do so. Sun Network has been one of them.

The Network recently informed the BSE that the Group was restructuring its distribution business with two new verticals – one focused on managing the South operations and the international business, and the second on expanding the Sun TV bouquet in the North, West and East markets of the country. But the most interesting part of the release for media watchers was the appointment of two senior distribution professionals – Mohammed Mujeebuddin and Jawed Akthar.

Mujeebuddin’s last assignment was with Star Den Media Services, where he was EVP. He is billed as having been a core part of Star Group for the last 15 years, and having played a pivotal role in the development and growth of the distribution business of Star across the country.

Akthar has more than 20 years of experience in channel distribution, subscription and the cable industry. He was associated with the Star Group for more than 13 years, where he last held the post of EVP - Distribution, managing Star’s all India cable distribution business. Prior to joining the Sun Network, he was with WWIL/ Zee Group as EVP.

Sun Network’s fishing expedition in Star’s waters netted it several more experienced professionals. It was not too long ago that Maran created a new post and roped in Star India executive Ravi Menon to head Sun Network’s programming. Menon, who was Star One EVP and GM before joining Sun, is credited with turning around Star’s Tamil GEC Star Vijay.

First to join the Sun Network fold was Tony D'Silva, who then headed Star India's distribution business. D’Silva took charge of Sun Direct, the DTH venture that Maran forayed into with Malaysia-based Astro as 20 per cent equity partner. It came as a pleasant surprise when a Sun TV executive called us up to share the story of D’Silva joining the firm to head Sun Direct, given Sun Network’s not-so-responsive media relations history (proactive was beyond imagination). That was when the legal wrangle between Sun TV and Tata Sky was on. Then, Tata Sky, which is a 80:20 JV DTH between Tata and Star Network, had moved the TDSAT accusing Sun TV of refusing supply of its bouquet of channels to Tata Sky.

Under the leadership of D’Silva, Sun Direct, which crossed the 4-million subscriber base recently, claims to be the fastest growing player in the DTH market. Incidentally, Sun Direct was launched two years ago in December 2007. Company officials cite the ‘value for money’ offers, right regional content mix, deep distribution across the country, and flexi-content pricing for Sun Direct becoming the fastest growing DTH player in the country today. Sun Direct officials claim that they have already piped Tata Sky and currently the No. 2 player in the DTH sector.

On the landmark achievement, D’Silva, COO, Sun Direct, said, “From the beginning, we had clear plans on the value we will offer to our customers; our ‘Think Regional: Go National’ strategy helped shape our approach in different markets. Today, we have achieved a pan-India customer base and have established a strong brand presence for Sun Direct as a national player. The 4-million landmark achievement is a laudable milestone in our continuing journey to market leadership in this industry.”

The concluding part of this report appears tomorrow.

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