Decentralisation is the buzzword at Star TV, the country’s largest broadcaster. Star India CEO Uday Shankar spoke to Surajeet Das Gupta and Gaurav Laghate on his next steps. Edited excerpts:
You have given a big push to regionalisation of channels. What is your next challenge?
We will look at sharper regionalisation even within the so-called Hindi-speaking markets. How can you characterise Gujarat and Bihar, Maharashtra and Punjab as part of the same market and offer the same Hindi content?
Is decentralistion of content the way to go forward?
Unshackling creative and business decision making at various levels down the line or decentralising the decision making is something that everybody talks about, but we have done it. From a creative point, this whole film model, where everything is centralised, never works with TV because the volume of supply is so enormous. A prolific producer makes one film a year, while a TV producer makes one half-hour episode every night. Somewhere, if that originality is not in-built in you, it will show. The Hindi market is still very big, but we are still sitting here in Mumbai and trying to create Rajasthan and eastern UP. If you want to do it in Mumbai, you have to import the entire ecosystem.
What is your strategy in sports after the group took full control of ESS ?
We have taken a huge bet on sports and believe there is an opportunity to reinvent sports. For instance, commentary in cricket is being done by ex-cricketers, who almost talk within themselves, or to a set of very evolved audiences. They don't speak to the ordinary people. You have to create different kinds of commentary for different audiences. You have to create language feeds.
Have you identified anything beyond cricket?
It’s a virgin territory because no other sport has been developed. There is an opportunity in soccer and we also think there could be a good opportunity in hockey.
But revenue is still an issue for sports channels...
Globally nowhere is sports content driven by advertising revenue. It has to be on the back of subscription and if we can’t unlock subscription value, sports will suffer forever in this country. Globally 70-80 per cent of the revenue comes from subscription.
Digitisation has again got delayed. Is that a problem?
The initial outcome that we see of the digital calendar or initial delivery is not very encouraging. Metros were considered the easiest as there are big MSOs and still it got stuck at the first doorstep itself. This is primarily because of a few MSOs, who are deeply committed to the old analogue business model because they benefit from its lack of transparency. They just made sure it does not go forward.
You created Media Pro, the distribution JV with rival company Zee. How has it panned out?
Media Pro was a thought through decision between Zee and Star, and we worked for a long time. It was not easy to form a JV between two traditional rivals. Its mandate is to distribute the channels that we have — the Zee and Star portfolios and some of the third party channels. And they are doing their job. But the opportunity to move the needle and create a business model will come when there is some movement on the digitisation front.