Anindita Sarkar

Profile Gaurav Seth: Man of the Match

Sports is his passion. So, when Gaurav Seth (a graduate of the University of Washington) got a call for an interview from ESPN Star Sports, in 1997, for the post of a marketing manager, he knew that he had to get the job. "I prayed hard," he grins.

It was a time when ESPN was just being set up in the country. The vibrant American brand had chosen a young team of about seven people to take charge and grow non-cricketing sports in India along with cricket.

Profile Gaurav Seth: Man of the Match
The challenge was immense. Seth, along with the team, had to take charge of sports genres, which were unfamiliar then, widen their appeal, take them to the youth and the slightly mature audiences, and use the ESPN brand to create a strong fan base.

"I always understood American sports and wanted to be at the forefront of making India a sporting country and not just a cricket crazy nation," he says. Seth went on to promote the NBA, EPL, WWE and Formula One - a major driver amongst youth - across the country. But ESPN did not limit Seth to marketing alone. After about one-and-a-half years, he moved into channel distribution.

For the next three years, he handled ESPN's distribution across Delhi and the western Uttar Pradesh market. It exposed him to one of the most unorganised sides of the business, where hardcore negotiation was the absolute norm. "Such ground realities add to the insights and hold you in a good stead in any marketing career. The exposure not just widened my portfolio but expanded my understanding of how to sell a product and not just market it," he says.

After a six-year stint with ESPN, Seth wanted to move beyond the medium to do something different. And as destiny would have it, an opportunity with an internet start-up cropped up. Seth joined Altavista as country head, in March 2003. The company was looking at monetising search, something which Google had not done in the country till then.

Seth's mandate was to create a team, a base, increase page views and make media planners familiar with what 'paid search' meant. Though it started off well, the internet bubble had burst. "Amidst the turmoil, Altavista got bought out twice within a year. And since I was handling the India business, the impact was just too huge to handle. I realised that India, then, was not fully ready for the internet, at least not in terms of monetisation and it would take more time to grow and evolve."

That is when Seth decided to move back to television. In 2004, Zee was looking to launch Zee Sports and had acquired the football (Indian) rights for 10 years. Seth joined the company in September 2004 as vice president, marketing. The watershed year came when Zee launched the Indian Cricket League (ICL), a T20 championship.

It was a time when T20 as a concept was picking up and Zee decided to create a league from scratch. "My work ranged from formulating the teams and their uniforms to venue-management, staff support and selling tie-ups. It was a fantastic experience. It gave me a wealth of information and, while it may not have worked in the typical sense, ICL did lay a bed for the consumers to expect the big success that the IPL has now become," Seth avers.

Seth joined Vyas Giannetti Creative Sports in January 2008 as business head. The agency was looking to create a consulting arm to handle its core clients through sports related properties. Seth was called to head it. "However, the problem was the timing. It was 2008 and one of the worst recessions had hit the country," he recalls.

Within a year, Seth decided to get back to his first love.

He joined Sony Max in December 2008, as senior vice president, marketing. It turned out to be his dream job, for it was not just sports (IPL) that he had to market, but Hindi movies too, which was the channel's staple for almost 10 months after the IPL.

"Sony is an organisation which respects diversity and also gives you the opportunity to take calculated risks," he says. Seth is in charge of Sony Entertainment Television as the head of marketing, while he continues with his responsibilities at Max, till a replacement is found. So, what would the challenge be?

"At Sony Entertainment, it is to move to the next step and that is original content. I also have to understand a different consumer altogether who is a lady and very independent indeed," he winks.

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