One Head, Many Crowns

By Prachi Srivastava , afaqs!, Mumbai | In Media Publishing | February 16, 2015
TV networks are increasingly awarding additional mandates of two or more channels to their senior executives. While it is a testimony of their abilities, it has larger connotations. afaqs! explores the factors behind this growing trend.

One Head, Many Crowns

Lately, TV networks are conferring mandates for more than one channel to their senior executives, perhaps taking a cue from the adage 'too many cooks can spoil the broth'. But there's more to it than meets the eye.

Anooj Kapoor, until August 2014, was the head of comedy entertainment channel Sab TV. When Multi Screen Media launched its third GEC, not a comedy channel, Kapoor was tasked with handling it. After Prem Kamath, former head - Channel V, quit, Star India handed over the responsibilities of the youth GEC to Ajit Thakur, head of Life OK, a mass Hindi GEC.

Saurabh Yagnik is another such example who was heading Sony Pix, an English movie channel, and was made the head of AXN India after Sunil Punjabi left the company. Vivek Srivastava, former digital head - Colors was appointed business head of Times Television Network's English bouquet and Sharlton Menezes is now heading both marketing and content for Zee Studio and Zee Cafe, since October last year.

Executives handling more than one channel

Clearly, the top executives who the networks think are talented enough are given additional duties of handling more than one channel, quite unlike the yesteryears.

Trend Triggers

It is believed that one of the primary reasons for the trend is talent retention. When an executive is handling one channel for a very long time, he is likely to feel saturated. Giving him more responsibilities will "give him a boost to stick with the organisation for a little longer".

Shiv Agrawal

Shiv Agrawal, MD, ABC Consultants is of the opinion that the media industry is witnessing winds of change with the rise of digital/e-commerce. Companies have set a new precedent to the way senior professionals are looking at shaping their careers at a certain stage. "The media industry has definitely been impacted and we have witnessed veterans turning entrepreneurs. Point being driven home is that beyond a certain stage, companies need to offer meaty profiles to make sure their core guys stick around. People outgrow their roles with time. Hence, if they have set up the channel and have a decent second line, then they are ready for new challenges," he explains.

This is also an inherent part of succession planning as well as disrupting the 'mundaneness'. One cannot get the same output with the same set of top management for years. Hence, as the network grows, people also need to grow. "A lot of transitions are planned to add value to the top guys, besides the salaries," Agrawal adds.

The other big reason is cost control and best optimisation of resources. If the organisations identify people with certain kind of talent, they can leverage the talents. People are expensive and if the channel is a niche one, giving it to an existing employee makes more sense. The revenue of a niche channel might not justify the cost of a senior resource, and the best solution is to give additional responsibility to an existing one.

Zindagi's reins were given to Priyanka Dutta, who was already handling the FTA channels from the network's bouquet - Zee Anmol, Zee Smile and 9X. Nina Jaipuria joined Nickelodeon India as GM in 2006. The kids' division, thereafter, launched Nick Jr (Dec 2012) and Sonic (Nov 2011). All the three channels (including the flagship channel - Nickelodeon) are now being headed by her.

Another point pertinent to note here is that the television executives that are given additional roles are basically overseeing operations, as they have subordinates who are doing the ground work, on a day-to-day basis.

Ashish Bhasin

Ashish Bhasin, chairman and CEO South Asia - Dentsu Aegis Network, a veteran in the industry who has been observing the television environment since decades now, points out that the trend is true for other industries too. "For me, in my past role, I was heading eight countries. After a point, the role is more of management and seeing if the business is being run smoothly, work is being done properly. It's not very different in the television business too," he states.

Bhasin explains further, "Even if you look at any organisation, for instance HUL, it may not always be feasible to have one head per brand, and hence a portfolio of brands is sometimes given to a person, who the organisation feels can handle it effectively. By itself, each may not be able to afford a senior level executive to take care of a brand. Collectively, you can get a much better talent on board."

There is no clear demarcation as to whether these transitions are planned or sudden. It has also been known to be ad-hoc. A channel may witness a senior level exit and may not have the capacity to keep a position vacant. In the interim, one is forced to move or give more responsibility to an existing resource. For instance, Gaurav Banerjee heading Life OK along with Star Plus, is just a temporary arrangement. "Star is looking out for a head for Life OK. No one can take the risk of giving two such big channels to one person," says a media consultant on the condition of anonymity.

Fit for the Role

Harish Jain

Harish Jain, director, Green Rootz states that in today's business environment it is imperative to check if the person can manage an individual P&L. This did not exist earlier, as ad sales was a separate function from programming and marketing. "Decision making now requires an analytical approach, where intuition or gut feel has been replaced with consumer insights and research. The right individual is someone who has managed a complete Product Life Cycle, and not just a specific vertical like marketing or programming," he explains.

It is a general perception that a lot of poaching happens at the senior level. However, an HR consultant, on the condition of anonymity, shared that HR heads are also part of the evaluation process that includes the internal candidate too.

The role of HR increases in such a scenario, as people issues tend to increase when one business head manages the diverse portfolio of two channels. Jain explains, "Media is a creativity-led business and not infrastructure/ machinery driven, hence people issues are bound to occur. HR now needs to analyse business requirements and, thereby, the skill sets required to identify such talent that can wear multiple hats and manage large teams. At the same time, it needs to ensure that the person fits in to the organisation's culture as well. This is only possible when the HR processes and systems are robust. The role of HR is significant in such cases."

Opportunities and Challenges

While it is a strategic decision to make someone in charge of two or more channels, it poses both an opportunity and a challenge.

Saurabh Yagnik

Yagnik explains that, in his case, between the entertainment and movies business, he actually deals with the same vendors and consumers. "So, it's about getting your content strategy right, getting your engagement and marketing strategy right, and that can be replicated across multiple channels. I think it's a step in the right direction. People in the business then get the opportunity of getting some autonomy. The moment you are handling two or three businesses, even people below you get a richer job rather than having one boss driving one business. It benefits lot of people at the same time," he avers.

The challenge is to balance the functions and responsibilities. The reaction time of an executive is longer if he is overseeing two or more channels. He has to get much more alignment within the team, which is more demanding than earlier, with the added responsibilities.

Anooj Kapoor

Kapoor, who is handling a comedy and a mass Hindi GEC, has a literature background which gives him a perspective on various forms of emotions - thrill, romance, comedy. "While I was doing comedy, I knew drama was something I could handle, and that it would also expand my array of work in the TV genre," he says.

Handling two channels, each catering to a different TG is not a biggie for Kapoor. Apart from his 'optimism', he says, "we have enough tools in the market to be able to target different sets."

2014 was a year of consolidation. Disney gave charge of its content and revenue/ad sales of eight channels (Bindass, UTV Action, Disney India, Hungama, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Bindass Play, UTV Movies) to Vijay Subramaniam (VP and head - Content and Communication, Media Networks, Disney India,) and Nikhil Gandhi (VP and head of revenue, Disney India), respectively. Both of them report directly to Siddharth Roy Kapoor, managing director, The Walt Disney Company India. Prior to that, the channels from the network were being handled by different business heads.

Kevin Vaz, who was president, ad sales, Star India, became head (GM) of English channels (FX, Fox Crime, Star World, Star World HD, Star World Premiere HD, Star Movies, Star Movies Action) and Star Jalsha and Jalsha Movies in March 2013.

Jain says that as channel portfolios become larger, such consolidation would be on the rise. With digitisation and BARC's new measurement system kicking in, many new channels are expected to be launched.

Perhaps, the trend is all set to become the norm.

Some examples of executives heading more than one channel