With Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation restructuring its broadcast business in Asia, Uday Shankar, the chief executive officer of STAR India has been entrusted with many more responsibilities. He will now also look after the sales and distribution offices of STAR in West Asia, Britain and the US, besides growing the Indian market.
In a candid chat with Ashish Sinha, he shares his thoughts on life after the restructuring for STAR TV India. Excerpts:
What are the gains for STAR India, post the restructuring exercise?
It clearly shows the significance of India in the overall business. It will give me an independent reporting to James Murdoch, chairman and chief executive of News Corp for Europe and Asia. This will make the decision making process simpler.
Specifically, as India will become an independent business unit, we will have to relocate the uplink of our channels from Hong Kong to here, subject to regulatory approvals. This will also give us more focus to develop new business related to the broadcasting space, including developing local formats that could work in the international markets.
Is entering the publishing business one of the new areas of interest?
We are not looking at publishing at the moment. It is heavily regulated, if you look at the newspaper space. If we cannot add value to a business, then we are not interested to maintain a presence only as an investor. In publishing, we have a presence through Harper Collins and its association with Living Media or in the Direct to Home space through Tata Sky.
What is your brief, now that restructuring is underway? And has it changed since April 2007, when you took over as CEO of STAR India?
The brief is the same - to maintain leadership position in the categories where we are the leader and to build leadership positions in the areas we have recently entered like the regional space. But the key mandate, post restructuring, comes straight from James - to further localise the business, to nurture local talents, local concepts.
There is a lot of scope to develop local formats and concepts that can work in the international markets. India can surely emerge as the resource base for the international operations of News Corp. All this is part of my mandate now.
Based on the weekly rating numbers, STAR Plus, your biggest revenue earner, has recently lost its dominant leadership position. Do you foresee a stage where it will again become a clear genre leader?
Well, the situation has changed and it's very clear. It has changed across businesses. In my personal opinion, it will be some time before a clear leader emerges in the Hindi entertainment space. It could be us or our rival or a new player. Basically, it is hard to do crystal ball gazing. I think, going forward, it will be a battle for slots.
Channels will run on the strength of individual shows and specific time bands. Slot leadership will be important in the future. Having said that, we all could be proven wrong tomorrow; such is the state of uncertainty in this business.
Going forward, what will work for the Hindi general entertainment space - fiction or reality show?
It will be fiction, for sure. It is a staple diet for any Hindi general entertainment channel because it is habit forming in nature and brings in high levels of viewer loyalty. The challenge will be to do innovations within the genre - be it fiction or reality. Like Sach Ka Saamna, an innovation that is working well for us. Or, Dance India Dance was an innovation that worked well for Zee TV.
Can Kaun Banega Crorepati work for STAR Plus again, given today's intense competitive scenario?
It is difficult to say but I feel KBC has outlived its life. In India, it is now a 9-10-year-old format. It did well in several markets, including India, similar to, say, Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? or the local versions of American Idol.
What about the regional market? Will that be the future battleground for the top broadcasters?
No, I would say the battlegrounds are becoming bigger. The Hindi space will continue to grow and dominate over the next five years. Yes, the regional markets, too, will grow from the current level and so will their percentage share in the overall space.We are number one in Kerala and West Bengal, number two in Karnataka and doing well in Maharashtra and other states. It will grow for sure, but it won't be the next and the main battleground for us.