Former Star chief is back in the game with IPL digital bid
Uday means dawn or rising. It certainly has been a new dawn for Uday Shankar, one of the country’s top media men, till he stepped down as President, The Walt Disney Co APAC and Chairman, Star & Disney India in end December, 2020. Shankar is back in the spotlight with Viacom 18 bagging the digital media rights for the IPL for the next five years.
Earlier this year, Bodhi Tree Systems was formed as a joint venture between Lupa Systems, the family office of James Murdoch, and Uday Shankar. Bodhi is backed by sovereign fund, Qatar Investment Authority. And, in April, Bodhi Tree and the Reliance-owned Viacom18 announced a deal where Bodhi would invest ₹13,500 crore in Viacom, which brought back Shankar to the media spotlight. Keen media watchers were quite sure that with Shankar back in the game, the digital rights, which Viacom was bidding for, would be in the bag.
But, Shankar quitting the high profile job he had at Star & Disney, didn’t mean he was put out to grass. He was doing other things he has been avowedly passionate about – using the power of digital to make transformative changes in education delivery and in healthcare as well. Bodhi Tree also announced a $600 million investment in the Kota-based Allen Career Institute, a test-prep chain, which every year prepares 2.5 lakh students for entrance exams to engineering and medical courses. “The business is fundamentally good, but because they are strictly in the offline space, their reach is limited and Bodhi can leverage the power of digital to take it to new markets,” said a Bodhi Tree executive.
Media watchers are convinced that Uday Shankar will play a disruptive role with digital streaming the way he launched Hotstar as the country’s first OTT platform when he was with Star. “He’s really excited about the power of digital technologies in creating solutions. The whole idea of leaving Disney Star was to leverage the power of digital,” says a media executive.
It’s been some journey for 59-year-old Uday Shankar, from being a journalist to a top media executive. Shankar, who grew up in Bihar, studied at JNU and later underwent a journalism course at the Times School of Journalism in Delhi. He worked as a journalist for several years with Aaj Tak and later with Star, where he transitioned to the CEO role as well in 2007. He transformed Star into a successful media company with aggressive forays into regional and local language programming, and, of course, with Star’s bid for IPL media rights in 2017 for Rs 16,347 crore. Now that he’s back for the next phase of IPL’s media rights, his moves to increase eyeballs for digital streaming of the IPL and garner revenues from it will be keenly watched.