Television’s new A-Team

Television’s new A-Team

By now it’s clear that Colors CEO Rajesh Kamat’s disruptive programming strategy has paid off. Pit actor Akshay Kumar, his stubble and a gaggle of glamorous women (without make-up) performing scary stunts against the collective shrieks of all those dark-lipstick-wearing mothers- and daughters-in-law. Introduce action in family drama viewing time. Disrupt and get noticed—by male and female viewers. Then gather the perfect mix of imperfect people to ensure that the buzz around your next big show, Bigg Boss, makes front-page news. Don’t underestimate the popularity of family drama. Or religious soaps. Depend on your killer team. Even as Kamat’s former colleagues Sameer Nair and Peter Mukherjea struggle to manage their new general entertainment channels (NDTV Imagine and 9X, respectively), dark horse Colors snagged the No. 2 spot. Analysts say the channel was probably the catalyst for Kyunki’s demise next week. We met the team that got the formula right.

Head, advertising sales

“GEC is my passion," says Simran Hoon, who loves the dynamism of a “bigger picture" general entertainment channel. “One show can take you up and down." Hoon, who joined Sony Entertainment Television three days before it was launched in 1995, enjoys being part of successful start-up teams. “To build a brand right from scratch, to help set up systems, to figure out what is saleable and what is not is a big high," she says. Hoon joined Zee TV as head of sales in 2005, the year the channel zipped past Sony to the No. 2 slot. She has also worked with Star India and ‘The Times of India’. If she wasn’t in sales, Hoon says, she would be a horse riding instructor (now I know where Lakshminarayan got the idea). Whenever she can, she escapes to a riding school a couple of hours out of town for the weekend. In fact, escaping has always been a passion. Her father was in the Army and Hoon grew up across India. She still travels a lot and favourite destinations include Barcelona, Majorca, Paris and Cape Town.

Favourite TV programme: ‘Friends’. “I can keep watching it over and over."

Stressbuster: Camping, travelling, horse riding.

Head, business planning and strategy

“The unity factor is playing a huge role," says Karthik Lakshminarayan of the Colors leadership team. “We’re together every living moment." Lakshminarayan’s the business guy—he handles budgets, manages the profit and loss account and finalizes the telecast log. After eight years as COO of Madison Media Infinity, a place where, Lakshminarayan jokes, “at some point people thought I was part of the furniture", the move to broadcast gave him something new to look forward to. Previous career highs have included snagging the Procter and Gamble account at Leo Burnett and winning an award in Cannes in 2006 for an innovative cellphone campaign for Cadbury’s. He’s an insomniac who loves hockey, cricket and every other sport. “I want to learn horse riding now," he says.

Favourite TV programme: News and sports. He’s even watched the World Dartboard Championships on Ten Sports.

Stressbuster: Playing badminton for an hour daily and for two-and-a-half hours on weekends.


Advertisers have gone from 10 on the first day to 129 currently. Financial goals have already been updated to keep pace with the robust ratings. Rajesh Kamat, who graduated in biomedical engineering with a specialization in medical instrumentation before he got an MBA, is happy and stressed: “Sustaining is pressure. You could drop." Both ‘Bigg Boss’ and ‘Fear Factor’ are from the Endemol stable, where Kamat was managing director for two years. Before that, he was part of Sameer Nair’s crack team at Star India. Nair, he says, taught him about “playing the game at a certain scale" and about having “mental strength in times of adversity". The best compliment Kamat received recently was an SMS from a friend who said that in a world where stocks were falling and jobs were being cut, the only thing that was going up week on week was Colors’ ratings. Kamat says his team’s biggest strength is their passion. “It makes a difference to them if there is a point drop (in ratings). It hurts."

Favourite TV programme: Currently, ‘Moment of Truth’ on Star World.

Stressbuster: His two-year-old daughter Riddhima.

Head, marketing

Rameet Singh Arora doesn’t know he’s the youngest member of the Colors team. This is Arora’s first television job—he’s previously worked with brands such as Airtel, Complan, Hitachi and McDonald’s. General entertainment, he says, is the FMCG of television. “I can’t think of any other category in any industry in India where people are fighting for market share as we are in television," he says. And, since 70-80% of us are single-television families, “everyone is chasing the same remote control". That’s where Kamat’s disruption and differentiation strategy comes handy, says Arora, who wanted to become an economist at 19, but then switched tracks. So, does he have a favourite economist? “Given the way the economy is right now, everyone should be taking only one name and that is Keynes," he says. It’s difficult to keep Arora away from food; the most unusual food he’s eaten recently was oxtail after a bullfight in Spain. “It was horrible," he says.

Favourite TV programme: Friends

Stressbuster: Eating, sleeping, walking.

Head, programming

Ashvini Yardi spends most of her time thinking of new concepts and show formats, and then worries about whether they’re good enough. She’s probably the one who headed the team responsible for putting together the inhabitants of ‘Bigg Boss’. “It takes a lot of guts to be on the show. It’s a huge learning in terms of human psychology," she says. Yardi was responsible for getting ‘Balika Vadhu’, the channel’s top-rated show about child marriage, on air. She has known its writer Purnendu Shekhar for 14 years and when Shekhar said he had a film script, Vardi told him it was perfect for TV. Earlier, they had worked together on Zee’s popular ‘Saat Phere’, which was based on her son Vivan’s dark-skinned maid. That was the show that propelled Zee past Sony to the No. 2 spot, says Yardi. The best part about the Colors team, she says, is that “each one has their own area of expertise and the others respect that. We understand each other’s needs and we have the space to do our own thing." When she’s not working, she spends her time cleaning her house or catching up with friends.

Favourite TV programme: ‘Sex and the City’, ‘Seinfeld’.

Stressbuster: Four-year-old Vivan.