Mumbai / New Delhi: Kunal Dasgupta, the first chief executive of broadcast network Multi Screen Media Pvt. Ltd (MSMPL), formerly known as Sony Entertainment Television, resigned on Thursday after a 13-year stint with the company. The sudden resignation, three months before his contract was supposed to end, comes even as the broadcast network has been mired in a controversy involving a sponsorship deal related to the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Early exit: Kunal Dasgupta. Ashesh Shah / Mint
MSMPL is owned by US-based Sony Pictures Television International (SPTI), which is part of the Japan-based electronics products manufacturer Sony Group. In a statement released by the company, SPTI president, international networks, Andy Kaplan said Dasgupta resigned for “personal reasons.” The company has named Man Jit Singh, chairman of the board of MSMPL, as the interim CEO.
MSMPL’s bouquet includes Hindi general entertainment channel (GEC) Sony Entertainment Television, or SET, SET MAX, SAB and PIX.
In the past five years, the company’s flagship channel, SET, has lost market share to rivals such as Star Plus, Zee TV and newcomers such as Colors. “SET was the market leader in the Hindi GEC space. First, it lost that position to Star Plus and then, it also lost the second slot to Zee TV and now, it’s not even there in the top three order,” said a senior executive from a media buying agency who did not want to be identified. Shubha George, managing director of Mediaedge:cia, a media buying agency which is part GroupM India Pvt. Ltd, said that in the GEC space, Sony has moved out of the top 3 and the gap with those ahead has widened.
The highlights of Dasgupta’s tenure included the winning of broadcast rights for the World Cup cricket for six years and IPL for three years. Cricket is reported to have earned MSMPL handsome returns. And cricket was rumoured to be behind Dasgupta’s sudden exit.
According to one theory doing the rounds, the Board for Control of Cricket in India (BCCI), which owns IPL, threatened to withdraw broadcast rights in the wake of a lost sponsorship deal and Dasgupta had to resign because of this.
IPL had signed the direct-to-home (DTH) arm of the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, Reliance Big TV Ltd, as a ground sponsor for Rs137 crore but the company walked out of the deal because MSMPL gave on-air advertising rights to rival Airtel Digital TV.
This theory is refuted by both IPL, and WSG, the sports marketing group that bought the media rights for IPL for 10 years from BCCI for at least Rs4,000 crore and, in turn, sold the India rights to MSMPL for three years for at least Rs300 crore. “There is no question of Sony’s IPL broadcast rights being cancelled or transferred to any other network,” said Lalit Modi, chairman and commissioner IPL. “Our dispute, in fact, has been resolved.”
“If anything goes wrong with the BCCI-Sony arrangement, the rights will come back to us...the deal stands the way it is,” said Venu Nair, chief executive of WSG.
While refusing to comment on the reason behind his sudden departure, Dasgupta confirmed that “the issues (between BCCI and MSMPL) have been resolved”. A senior IPL executive and a media buyer close to the said sponsorship deal said on the condition of anonymity that MSMPL had agreed to “partially” compensate BCCI for the loss on account of Big TV’s cancelled sponsorship.