Jan 29, 2009

Business - Big in big trouble; broadcasting plans hit an indefinite delay

Noor Fathima Warsia

One of the media businesses that have been significantly hurt by the slowdown is Big Broadcasting – the television venture from the Reliance ADA Group. Big Broadcasting’s core team that was put together by Reliance Entertainment’s Rajesh Sawhney and Tarun Katial, who was handed the reins of this venture in addition to the radio portfolio of the group, is still in place.

However, the exit of various executives and the lack of any action coming from the company, have cast serious doubts on the fate of the venture.

All Rajesh Sawhney said was ‘No comments’, when contacted in regards to this development. The same reply was given by Tarun Katial to an email enquiry on the situation. Though Sawhney has always kept away from any response to the media on this venture even in previous instances, the silence from Big at present has only fuelled media speculations further.

Sources from Big Broadcasting have informed that all is not well at the company. They elaborated that the channels that were given priority in the launch order constituted movie channel, music channel and kids’ channel, followed by various specialty channels that had included the likes of fitness, lifestyle, gardening and so on. Recently, the team handling the movies and music channels was given the portfolio of film marketing that would assist Big in some of the other ventures in the entertainment space.

Big had also moved its Programming Head Manav Dhanda from the radio function to Big Broadcasting, where he was heading the kids’ channel business and the movies channel business. However, Dhanda, together with Shankar Rath, who was at that time the Chief Technology Officer of Big Broadcasting, moved on from the company shortly after, to launch their own content production house, Manav and Shankar. Dhanda confirmed this development to exchange4media.

The Big Broadcasting team includes Ashutosh, who had joined the channel from Filmy as its COO reporting to Tarun Katial. The Sales Head is Sanjay Puthli; Manvjeet Singh heads Distribution; Sonal Gupta is the Finance Head; while Rashmi Deshpande is the HR Head of the company. Aparnaa Pande is heading the speciality business vertical, while Yogesh Manwani was another early appointment for the marketing of the movies and music channels. Gursheel Walia, too, is with Big and was appointed as a resource to shape the Hindi general entertainment channel plans, which, however, were one of the first to be deferred, but more so in light of the GEC war that was witnessed in 2008.

Sources informed that another business unit that Big Broadcasting team got busy in setting up was a content production house.

A senior resource from Big Broadcasting asserted to exchange4media that the company would launch at least two or three channels in 2009. However, the source also admitted that with none of the teams were working with any deadlines, the channel plans did appear shaky. The same source also said, “Look at the media scenario around you – even as Reliance ADA Group has launched its GSM, have you seen any ads around the launch. When was the last time, the company was this quiet around any of its initiatives?”

Another source from the company elaborating on the development said, “Some of the executives were moved within functions, but some of them were told to already look out for jobs. There has been uncertainty within the organisation.”

It may be recalled that in mid-2008, Big had begin work on setting up its broadcasting business aggressively. The channel had laid out the plans for a Hindi GEC, regional channels, including four channels in the South and in other languages, a movie channel, a music channel, a kids’ channel and various specialty channels. A minimum of 20 channels were expected from Big Broadcasting that would have eventually come under the absolute charge of Tarun Katial. It was expected then that a replacement would be announced for the radio business at the time.

As all the channel launch plans from Big Broadcasting have gone on a snail’s pace, there is no official word or clarity on the course of action of the company from here. Big sure is holding its cards too close to its chest right now, close enough for even its A team to be privy to only select little.

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