The Indian cricket board has appointed Rahul Johri, who won the ‘CEO of the year’ award in 2013 at the Broadcasting India awards, as its first chief executive officer. Joshi, who served as Discovery Networks Asia Pacific’s executive vice-president and general manager for South Asia, will start his new role from June 1 where he will be responsible for “smooth functioning of operations, stakeholder management and building robust strategies for promoting of sport.” Johri will report to the BCCI secretary Anurag Thakur.
Johri has a previous IPL connection, of sorts. In 2010, following his idea, the lifestyle channel Discovery Travel & Living produced and broadcasted a 10-episode show called – Living With A Superstar—Shahrukh Khan. Four of its episodes revolved around Kolkata Knight Riders. Titled ‘The king and his knights’ it took the viewers behind the scenes and on the road with the team, covering an season. The Shahrukh show was said to cost the channel 25 crores, the costliest show produced by Discovery until then.
It’s interesting to see that BCCI has landed on a candidate whose professional competency and hard-earned reputation will be seen as above board by most people. The background of his appointment is well known. In January 2016, the Supreme court nominated Lodha committee had recommended the appointment of CEO, and even detailed out the structure. “There would be a maximum of six managers to assist the CEO who would have expertise primarily in the streams of Operations, Finance, Technical, Compliance (legal), Human Resources and Media. The CEO would be on contract with the BCCI and have a fixed tenure of five years (unless the contract is terminated by mutual agreement or by a 3 months’ notice by either party), whereas the Managers will be career employees.”
For its part, the BCCI has said that appointment of CEO and CFO posts was part of the ‘Project Transformation’ they have initiated to improve governance.
Johri has had a chequered career with Discovery, and is known to be the man who turned around a channel perceived as ‘educational’ to a 11-channel bouquet – a network of infotainment offering a host of non-fiction content, an award-wining makeover widely respected in the broadcasting industry. Johri is also a Board Member and Treasurer of Indian Broadcasting Foundation (IBF). He is also a member of the media and entertainment committee of Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and member of the Media & Entertainment Division of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI).
Bucking the trend
Johri was instrumental in bucking the trend of channels being free-to-air, choosing to deliver paid content. “We won’t come like cowboys and buy carriage. We won’t do an FTA (free-to-air channel). There are channels which are pay and then pay carriage, so they pay more than they collect! We believe in the finest quality of content that consumers will pay for. If you do an FTA, you have to target only advertiser. Therefore content becomes more sensational because you need more eyeballs,” he said in an interview in 2011.
He made Discovery channel from a niche operator to a mass channel, that was delivered in five languages. “It is 20 per cent bigger than Aaj Tak and is among the top 10 in the country on reach. (Aaj Tak is India’s biggest news channel in viewership, nationally). It is bigger than all English news channels put together,” he said.
He was once asked about handling pressure from the parent network. “If I haven’t, I wouldn’t have been sitting here,” was his reply. In the time to come, that’s a question he will be asked – about handling negative perceptions about BCCI, about pressure from the board itself, and importantly, from the fans.” Can he come up with the same reply in couple of years’ time?