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Commentary: What high-profile exits at Star mean for the network

There have been a string of high-level exits at Star India. Since Disney’s takeover in March this year, three CXO-level executives, including the country head, have parted ways. What does it mean for the network that has continuously been the broadcast industry leader? Will there be more exits at the global level? analyses

(L-R) Ajit Mohan, Amit Chopra, Gayatri Yadav and Sanjay Gupta

Star India, which disrupted the Indian entertainment industry over the past one decade to become India’s largest network, is experiencing disruption as it goes through a transition phase ever since Disney took over officially in March 2019 after the deal was sealed in December 2017.

The network has seen key leadership exits over the last year-and-a-half, the recent being the departure of Star and Disney India Country Manager Sanjay Gupta.

The first big exit was Hotstar CEO Ajit Mohan in September last year, who left to lead Facebook in India. This May, Star India lost its President, Ad Sales, Amit Chopra. Two months later, it was Consumer Strategy and Innovation, President, Gayatri Yadav’s turn.

All the movements were being seen as part of the usual transition plan until the Country Head of the network departed.

After Gupta’s news broke, media commentator Vanita Kohli Khandekar who recently wrote a book titled ‘The Making of Star’, tweeted, "Meeting the targets on the business plan Disney bought into probably gets tougher." Her comment opened a Pandora’s Box of speculation in the media business that the revenue pressure in the new regime was unrealistic for the people to survive.

An email sent to Uday Shankar, President of The Walt Disney Company Asia Pacific and Chairman of Star and Disney India, did not elicit any response.

For the record, the company had brought Nitin Bawankule of Google to head the network’s sales in September. The other positions remain vacant, including that of Hotstar CEO, which is most critical at a time when domestic and global OTT players have upped their game. has learned the new management under Disney has kept new investments on hold since it took control in March.

Although the network’s flagship Hindi general entertainment channel Star Plus and Telugu entertainment channel Star Maa held leadership positions and the sports channels performed as planned, the niche channels are facing the brunt of TRAI’s new tariff order and need immediate long-term revival strategy. Similarly, Hotstar, which announced the launch of originals with much fanfare this year, has been beaten by its competitor Zee5 in terms of new show launches.

The third season of IPL, which was a six-month extravaganza after Star India acquired its broadcast rights from the 2018 edition, is round the corner but there is hardly any visible aggression.

Can the new management afford such delays or will it have to act fast to keep pace and not left behind before it is too late to make a comeback?

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