With Disney and 21st Century Fox reported to close a $60 billion merger deal soon next week, the latter took a strategic decision to elevate Star India Chairman and CEO, Uday Shankar to the role of President, 21st Century Fox, Asia, effective immediately.
If things fall in place, Disney will acquire Fox’s studio, cable networks like FX and Nat Geo, the company’s regional sports networks, Star India, Fox’s Sky and Hulu holdings, as well as Endemol Shine Group, among other concerns. However, Disney will not get Fox’s broadcast network, Fox Sports and Fox News. Mahesh Samat has been the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of South Asia of Walt Disney International since September 2017. Samat has also been Managing Director of The Walt Disney Company (India) since November 28, 2016.
Shankar's new role means that he will now lead Fox’s video businesses across all of Asia, including Star India and Fox Networks Group, and work closely with management on key strategic initiatives in the region. It will be interesting to see how the global merger changes the dynamics in the country after the takeover.
Shankar aspired to be a civil servant but later shifted to journalism. The turning point in Shankar's career came when he was chief executive of Media Content and Communication Services India (MCCS)—a joint venture between the Kolkata-based ABP Group and Star India—the company that operated the Hindi news channel, Star News (which has since been renamed ABP News) in 2004.
He turned things around for the channel and positioned it as a leading Hindi general news channel in India. This caught the attention of 21st Century Fox’s new chief executive and Rupert Murdoch’s son James Murdoch. Murdochs then appointed Shankar as the CEO of Star India in October 2007. Soon the GEC’s content strategy went through an overhaul which included severing ties with Balaji Telefilms, discontinuing Kaun Banega Crorepati and bringing in ‘Satyameva Jayate.’ The Hindi GEC witnessed a meteoric growth after a lull period of dismal ratings and shrinking revenues.
The decade that followed has seen the remarkable transformation of Star into a diversified media company, with initiatives in TV distribution through Media Pro, the establishment of the movie joint venture Fox Star Studios, regional television through Asianet, and Fox’s (previously News Corp.) acquisition of its joint venture with ESPN in 2012. In fact James Murdoch has gone on record to say that Star India is expecting an operating profit of $1 billion (around Rs 6,650 crore) by 2020. In 2016, Shankar was named the Chairman of Star India.
2017 has clearly been Shankar’s year as Star India grabbed the television, digital, Indian and global media rights to the India Premier League (IPL) for the next five seasons for Rs 16,347.50 crore a few months ago.
Shankar started his career as a political journalist for the Times of India, Patna and moved to Delhi where he worked for few publications and even founded ‘Down to Earth’ magazine. He shifted to television journalism in '95 and worked his way into various news channels, overseeing and bringing about changes in the technology and content of Indian TV news. The high point came when during his tenure as the Editor and News Director at the TV Today Group he led the launch of Hindi news channel Aaj Tak in 2000 and Headlines Today in 2003. The channel went on to change the dynamics of Hindi news consumption. Aroon Purie, Chairman & Editor-in-Chief, The India Today Group, in his column on exchange4media.com attributes Shankar's success to his leadership quality. According to Purie, Shankar redefined how Hindi channels covered news. “I see him now as a suave media mogul dealing with intricate media issues of distribution, advertising rates, finances, soap operas and media policy, which are so far removed from news. He makes me proud,” penned Purie.
21st Century Fox (NASDAQ: FOXA, FOX) 21st Century Fox’s (21CF) comprises 14 video businesses across all of Asia, including Star India and Fox Networks GroupStar India alone comprises 60-plus channels across entertainment and sports and eight languages, as well as leading digital video platform Hotstar. The group also owns 50 per cent ownership rights in Endemol Shine Group.