There are no genuine leaders in news genre: Uday Shankar
In the wake of the Satyamev Jayate, STAR India CEO talks to Governance Now on why entertainment TV is doing what news TV should have done
Reprinted with permission from Governance Now
Satyamev Jayate (SMJ) has challenged many prejudices and made radical interventions – and we are not talking about what it did to society at large but what it did to the media sector. At a time when the news TV is shying away from taking up social issues, fearing adverse impact on ratings, a supposedly entertainment show did just that – and succeeded.
In the process, Uday Shankar, CEO, STAR India, has also challenged the received wisdom on ‘business model’. In an exclusive and extensive interview with B V Rao of Governance Now, the man behind the show speaks on his new business vision and the future of the news and entertainment media. Here are select excerpts from the interview...
Going by what I have read in the media, you approached Aamir Khan for a show and he said that he wanted something substantial and came back with a plan…after that it seems that STAR has had no role at all.
It is true that he has played a critical role, not just anchoring it but otherwise too. It was 2009, post ‘Three Idiots’. I had already put in two years at STAR and was looking at reengineering the creative agenda for entertainment. I was getting pushed around by the entire creative universe which, I thought, was determined to do more of the same. I was not convinced and knew that this just could not go on…
You mean the soap operas?
You know, it’s not about the format because that is irrelevant to me. It’s more about what were the concerns that you are moved by and what are the concerns you want to trigger. That was the key issue in my mind. While families are important and family lives are important, how long could we continue to do only romantic aspirations of the family?
Tell me why can’t we do this in news channels? What are the creative shortcomings, monetary and business dilemmas for a news channel to be unable to do SMJ?
There are many business and some creative dilemmas. But first and foremost, there is something that comes before all of this and that is vision and belief. First of all, you have to believe in something, that I will do this because it is the right thing to do. If you have belief you will find a way around all business and creative challenges, otherwise you will get stymied by all such obstacles.
Speaking of vision, how creative are newsrooms? Is creation happening there?
Creation is happening. It is happening every day. The question is, in which direction is it happening? Are we doing iconic creations every now and then? The answer is no.
Most people don’t know that SMJ was born more than six years ago in STAR News (when you were editor and CEO of that channel). It sank without a trace then. What is it that makes SMJ fail in a news channel but succeed on an entertainment channel? Is it just the money, is it that SMJ on STAR Entertainment has Aamir Khan driving it whereas STAR News cannot afford him or is it that news media does not try hard enough?
I don’t believe that. Of course, having Aamir is a huge clutter breaker. He is a phenomenally powerful engine driving the whole show. But since you asked the question, I will answer it in that context. I was very committed to SMJ because it was my way of stepping back and looking at the larger picture. But that first attempt at SMJ in 2006 failed because the economics of news channels including STAR News at that time were so challenged that everything had to be justified in terms of economic benefits it brought in or not. There was a fear that a show that was ‘serious’ would not get ratings.
So is it bleak for news. Would you do a SMJ on a news channel? Or let me put it this way, how would you do SMJ if you had a news channel right now?
It depends on who owns that news channel. I don’t see anyone in the current dispensation to have the commitment to put their weight behind it.
Why is it that leaders in the news genre decided to follow the followers rather than show the way?
It is a blunt question and can only have a blunt answer. Forgive me for saying this as news is my first love, there are no genuine leaders in the news genre. It is a pack of followers herding together.
Going back to STAR News and SMJ-1, do you think that if you had stayed on it, you would have made a mark with it or was the economic pressure unbearable?
As the CEO I could have pushed against the economic pressures. But what do you do when journalists themselves are not committed to ideas because everybody is worried if the show will give ratings. Nobody is worried if the show will give them credibility, respect and impact as eventually all of these will translate into economic value. Nobody has the maturity and patience to understand that. I think the economic pressures here were in the background; the reasons in the foreground were that all of us could not show the commitment required.
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