Sanjay Salil believes a key reason MediaGuru could successfully accomplish over 50 projects across 16 countries in a decade is because it focuses on innovation from a client’s perspective
By VINITA BHATIA
Sanjay Salil still remembers how during his initial days as an entrepreneur, he met three generations of the family that managed Malayala Manorama. His enterprise, MediaGuru, was barely two years old, and had executed a couple of projects, when word of his work reached them.
“They wanted to set up a TV station in Kerala that would offer a mix of news and entertainment, similar to the format that Asianet News, their closest competitor, was offering,” recalled Salil. “I suggested they launch a 24-hour news channel instead, and based on what MediaGuru proposed, they could expect revenues of INR 8 to INR 9 crore within the first year. They were disbelieving, because Asianet probably did less than 20% of this annually.”
But, something about Salil’s confidence convinced the South-Indian media behemoth’s management and they assigned the project to MediaGuru, even though they had earmarked an American consultant for it. And he claimed that in the first year, Manorama News TV station clocked revenues exceeded what Salil had promised.
Taking up challenges like these head-on, and turning them into success stories, is second nature for Salil. Hailing from Nalanda, he moved to New Delhi as a youngster and chose to become a journalist, joining the India Today Group where he anchored and produced the Good Morning Today show in 1996. He went on to launch Subah Aaj Tak in 1998 and later became the associate executive producer of Aaj Tak channel.
However, eager to try something new, when the opportunity to launch India’s first Urdu channel, Falak, came his way, he grabbed it. For almost a year, he tried to get Falak off the ground along with Qamar Wahid Naqvi, but it was eventually failed to take off due to regulatory issues. This experience gave him an insight on how to set up TV and radio channels and he decided to use that knowledge to help media companies wanting to make inroads into the broadcast industry.
Thus, MediaGuru was born in 2003. Interestingly, while the company was conceived by Salil and Naqvi, the latter rejoined TV Today. So, Salil started the enterprise from his home in Mehrauli, which incidentally is still the registered company office! The initial days were a one-pony show, but luckily Salil had a confirmed project in hand – setting up Channel 7 (later called IBN 7) for the Dainik Jagran Group. He would often go to the broadcaster’s office early in the morning and be the last one to leave, and even did the first bulletin for the channel. So impressed were the bosses at Dainik Jagran with his dedication that they offered him a job.
However by then, the entrepreneurial bug had bit Salil and he knew there was no going back to the corporate workplace, despite not having another client on hand or a strategy to deal with the challenges he kept facing. “I had no sales or marketing team, and given my journalistic background, sales was not my forte. If a prospective client asked me to wait for an hour, I would actually leave that place! I must have lost lot of business back then due to my impatience,” Salil laughing recollected. “But as I met different media corporations, I realised there was a need for the kind of consultancy services MediaGuru offered, where we took complete responsibility for getting a channel off the ground, rather than giving clients some documentation to do it.”
BUILDING BLOCKS, BIT BY BIT
Gradually, Salil also started identifying and adding the right people to his team. These included Arun Asthana who was then in Star News and Faisal Islam who was part of Zee News India. Then there was print and TV media professional Richard Goslan, who had trained Salil when the latter was in Aaj Tak and who Salil convinced to join MediaGuru in 2006.
Given his extensive experience of having worked with popular brands like CNBC and CNN, it is surprising that Goslan agreed to join a little-known entity like MediaGuru. What prompted him to take this decision was that he was impressed by MediaGuru’s commitment towards the customer, its team, its range of projects and lastly, its vision to be a leading media services firm globally. “Right from its very first project, MediaGuru wanted to give the best to its customers; whether that was in terms of the technology, talent, training or the support it provided,” Goslan said. A decade later, he is the company’s Director-International Affairs and he claims that it is the quality of projects that MediaGuru brings to the table and the level of professionalism and dedication within the entire team, along with the continual commitment to improvement and new thinking that has kept him bound to the organization.
Salil counts himself fortunate for getting the precise set of people who were convinced to join his growing company, especially when the media landscape was opening up and they had lucrative offers lined up. “I have been lucky in getting the right team members. For instance, our COO in Middle East, Ghallab Mohamed, is a veteran media professional and the erstwhile Regional Head for Sony’s Professional Solutions in Middle East and Africa,” he said. Ask him what attracts such senior talent to the company, and he stated, “You have to make them feel that they truly contribute to the company’s growth. Personally, I give them more credit for MediaGuru’s success than my efforts, because they believed in its growth story.”
MASTERING THE GAME
Alongside strengthening his team, Salil also set his sights on expanding overseas and in 2007 he entered the international market by helping Bangladesh’s CBS News launch its operations. This was followed by establishing Nigeria’s TVC News, as the first 24-hour pan African news channel in 2010. Three years later, MediaGuru opened its Singaporean operations and also executed a pan-African DTH service for Consat. The next year, it received an ISO 9001:2008 certification, which was a big feather in its cap, and also added digitisation as a new business vertical in its portfolio. Immediately after, it opened its Dubai office in 2014.
CONSTANTLY CONCENTRATING ON INNOVATION
By this time, Salil comprehended that its clients had clear expectations from MediaGuru – a message that was percolated top-down. “If we gave a business plan for cost and revenue, our customers knew we would not exceed it. Also, we were expected to offer the best technology that was, as clients came to us for innovation in their projects. For eg, when we launched Malayala Manorama it was a landmark for the Indian broadcasting industry, since it was the first time in the country that the MPEG4 compression format technology was used,” Salil said.
Around this time, another realisation that occurred to Salil and his team was that even established broadcasting companies had a need that was not being met adequately by their internal resources – training. This was not limited to using the technology at hand, but extended to mapping their stories, representing their bulletin creatively, scripting a story, production techniques, etc.
MediaGuru decided to leverage the skillsets of its resident pool of experienced veterans for this niche need. It has been successfully training various companies in India and overseas over the years, like the Fiji Broadcasting Corporation (FBC), where it conducted training sessions recently. This brand wanted to cover multiple modules within a defined timeframe to help journalists from its English, Hindi and iTaukei services get better knowledge of various broadcasting aspects.
Stating why it chose MediaGuru for this assignment, Rita Narayan, News Director for FBC said, “MediaGuru’s team had a good mix of professionals from the editorial, production and technical background. We chose them because of the quality, background and experience of trainers recommended to us and the depth of training modules they had put together for our teams.” She added that the training proved to be very helpful to FBC’s staff, especially new recruits, to get more evolved in the system, as it gave them insights on how they could plan their stories, learn to present a bulletin better and script according to available footage.”
STAYING AHEAD OF THE CURVE
The dynamic media and entertainment is in a constant state of change, and Salil knew he had to constantly reinvent MediaGuru to respond to these changes. Currently, it has four core verticals in its portfolio – digitization, asset management, technology solutions and smart cities – of which the last is the latest entrant and will be operated as a separate entity. Its main thrust currently is on digitisation, which it added to its portfolio two years ago by partnering with Tedial, a media asset management (MAM) developer. Its audio visual digitization services include initial assessment and analysis, ingest and content migration, metadata creation, restoration and preservation as well as archival and storage.
A big win in this vertical came when it bagged a turnkey project for a government agency for the State of Qatar in 2014 to establish a full-scale digitization facility, manage its digitization process, provide content storage for long term use, and extend technical support. This facility is supposedly the largest in the GCC region, spread over 70,000 square feet, and MediaGuru has already digitised over 1,00,000 hours of content. An official for the agency said that the facility was created with a vision to cater digitization and archiving requirement for the entire GCC region and therefore, the storage had to be scalable to meet the growing demand in the future. The metadata also had to be in Arabic so that the users could search and retrieve content based on the local language.
This project came close to becoming mission impossible since it handles some rare and culturally sensitive content, and scarcely available equipment that could play age-old tapes had to be arranged at the facility along with adequate support. “Today, about 50 machines capable of playing video formats of almost any type are maintained at the facility,” said the official.
What made this project additionally exigent was that the content was stored in disparate formats like U-matic, Betacam, 1-inch tapes, 2-inch tapes, 16 mm films, etc. Some of these tapes and carriers, which were over 40 years old, were even damaged or vinegarized. MediaGuru’s team – comprising almost 45 people who have been stationed in Qatar since two years – had to minimize the wastage. They did this by putting multi-stage quality checks, both manual and automated, and using rigorous processes like baking, cleaning, de-dusting, etc. Arranging for these equipments from all over the world was also a challenge as some of these players and their spares were no longer manufactured.
BAGGING BIG TICKET PROJECTS
Closer home, MediaGuru worked with Times Network for a content digitization and MAM project wherein it brought together the media giant’s legacy tape-based content and digital content onto a centralized platform, in two phases. Phase one covered the group’s TV channels, while the second phase covered content from its 34 radio channels under Radio Mirchi. Explaining what necessitated the need for putting a centralised asset management platform in place, K Yegneshwara Iyer, VP and Head of Technology at Times Network said that every channel under the group utilizes a different technology platform, that are multi-genre and multi-lingual. “Integrating these complex and heterogeneous workflows into a single MAM solution was a challenge,” he claimed.
MediaGuru deployed Tedial, an automated workflow based MAM solution and ensured tightly-packed integration with Times Network’s existing systems like automation, newsroom computer system, billing and traffic management, amongst others. Now, the broadcaster’s users can now search, access and share content from the archives with greater ease, across the network.
“The workflow also provisions for distribution of content on the digital media by integrating it with online video platform solutions, which is a great opportunity for us to monetize our content,” added Iyer. “Similarly, Radio Mirchi has some great content, which producers across the country can quickly repurpose to meet their programming needs whenever required. A part of this content can also be accessed online and provides for an additional revenue streams.”
Rajeshwari Bhattacharyya, Senior VP and Head of Technology at Radio Mirchi commented, “The business process management, workflow and ease in modifying workflow are two critical elements that we found in this system. We also found that MediaGuru is good in terms of their servicing of content and have high expertise in their content management.”
Accolades like these are what keep the MediaGuru team going. Its Global COO, Sushil Khanna, said that working with Times Network was a great experience for his team too as this was a one-of-its kind project involving integration of complex workflows and technology platforms. “After a meticulous evaluation and based on inputs received from the Times Group, we recommended Tedial and offered them an end-to-end solution for centralized MAM. We have a team of 15 ingest engineers and project managers to manage and maintain their content across the network,” he said.
Khanna also stated MediaGuru had installed Tedial’s Tarsys enterprise MAM system at Doordarshan Prasar Bharti’s Kolkata facility to provide its operators with core and browser-based desktop media tools as well as a fully integrated archive system. Besides archival, the solution will enable the public broadcaster to ingest its existing U-matic, Betacam SP, DVCPR050 and XDCAM HD422 programme content stored on tapes and optical disc media, into the system in both high and low resolution formats, enabling operators at the facility to browse, catalogue, search and store content via the Tedial web-client.
Ashish De, director-engineering, Doordarshan said, “The MAM solution system, suggested by MediaGuru after a rigorous tender process, provides us with an integrated archive that is fully scalable enabling us to expand the system, as and when the time comes.” As Doordarshan now gears up to digitise, preserve, archive and restore content across all its sites, MediaGuru hopes to bag these successive projects, having successfully deployed the Kolkata assignment.
REINVENT, REINVEST, REPEAT
Of course, Salil admits that convincing companies to invest in digitisation, preservation, archival and restoration of content is easier discussed than executed; especially now when there are quite a few players in the fray. However, he believes in looking at the global picture when it comes to investing in technology domains that MediaGuru should specialise in and he is confident that digitization and MAM are the ways forward for broadcasting, media and entertainment companies.
To give his company an edge though, he has decided to stay brand and technology agnostic, so that it can deploy various kinds of projects. “Since we are vendor-independent, and work with any technology, our clients feel comfortable. They know we will not push for our own technology either, since we do not have one. Also, we constantly invest in upgrading our team in not just the latest technical skills, but in understanding legacy technology too,” Salil stated.
He appreciates that the scope of digitisation and MAM need not be limited to media companies alone. Hence, he is casting the net wider to target other domains that use lot of audio visual content, like museums, educational institutions, libraries and film studios. He revealed that he was waiting for MediaGuru to stabilise its offerings before venturing into new markets. And after working with big brands like Times Network and Doordarshan he is confident the company is poised for the next quantum leap.