A highly influential figure in world cricket and the head of India’s leading media and entertainment conglomerate has decided to move on. Uday Shankar, it was announced on Thursday, will be stepping down as president of The Walt Disney Company (Asia Pacific) and chairman of Star and Disney India at the end of this year. The official statement said that Shankar, over the next three months, will help to “identify his successor to ensure a smooth transition”.
Widely credited for Star TV’s virtual monopoly over the broadcast rights of cricket games involving India, both at home and abroad, Shankar hasn’t spelled out his future plans but mentioned “mentoring a new generation of entrepreneurs” by partnering “global investors and pioneers” as his likely endeavours. Commenting on his decision to step down, Shankar said, “As I look back on this journey, I take pride in having set ambitious goals in my professional career, and achieving all that we set out to do.”
Known to take unpopular decisions and back innovative ideas, Shankar’s legacy at Star would be about his successful ascents on slippery slopes. Taking over Star India in 2007, his first big splash was Aamir Khan-hosted talk show Satyamev Jayate that stood out in the crowd of soap operas that dominated the entertainment space at that time.
However, Shankar’s time at Star will also be remembered for his decisions – often described as audacious – that changed the entire sporting ecosystem. Under him, Star launched multiple domestic sports leagues but it was the kabaddi enterprise that went on to become the ‘big idea’ story that drew the attention of global sports promoters. This was followed by Star’s deep dive into cricket and they winning the telecast rights of the world’s most famous cricket tournament – the Indian Premier League. Once again, the decision wasn’t a straightforward one. “I was told IPL had plateaued,” Shankar often says.
Another leap of faith which gave Star a headstart was his keenness to own Indian cricket’s digital space. In a recent interview to The Indian Express, Shankar had spoken about this. “When we were launching Hotstar, our streaming service, a million people told me: ‘What are you doing? The experience of live sports on a small mobile phone, this doesn’t work. More than 100 million watch one game on Hotstar now,” he had said.
Having interacted with Shankar extensively, former BCCI CEO Rahul Johri calls him the most successful media professional of our generation. “He has always been on the front foot of every path-breaking media innovation,” Johri says.
Like always, even during the ongoing pandemic, doubts were raised about the TRP IPL could muster. Months before the delayed IPL, Shankar had said: “It (empty stands) is not a concern at all. I don’t buy it when people say, ‘oh, the experience will be incomplete’.” For the record, the opening game of the IPL broke viewership records.
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