K Yegneshwara Iyer, head of Technology at Times Network, talks about newsrooms, technology, and Crossfit workouts
By Anisha Gakhar
K Yegneshwara Iyer, Head of Technology at Times Network,
From being a software developer to the head of technology at Times Network, K Yegneshwara Iyer’s voyage has been an enthralling one. His tryst with the world of media was far from a planned move, and more of something he chanced upon. “I ended up in media as I was looking for a job! Having spent close to 10 years as an independent software developer at a time when no one understood software or the need to pay for software, I had made very little progress,” shared Iyer.
He graduated with a BA in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from Delhi University, in 1989. He considers himself a good team-builder and a proactive problem solver. He step foot into the corporate world as a software developer back in the winter of 1987. “This was when IKEA’s India liaison office wanted an order tracking application developed. That was my first professional assignment and I think I did a decent job of it,” asserted Iyer.
Although media wasn’t a conscious choice for Iyer, he has bestowed over two decades upon the industry. Iyer ventured into the media field with New Delhi Television as the CIO. His key responsibilities included managing innovations in IT, and engineering live text and graphics for television in India. He was also the one to architect what is arguably the fastest election counting management in India with a simple, expandable design. He pioneered custom development for broadcast graphics in India with custom controllers and delivery workflows, easing user involvement and reducing errors by encapsulating business logic into applications, along with helping simplify end-user decision-making.
He then started working with Times Network, heading the technology department. Here he predominantly oversees technology strategy and direction, selection and application, upgradation and maintenance, along with operations and uptime.
The Times newsroom studio equipped with the latest equipment.
A TYPICAL DAY IN THE LIFE OF IYER
Iyer has always been a fitness aficionado and has also tried his hand at being a fitness instructor. He oozes enthusiasm whilst talking about health and fitness. He is also quite knowledgeable about the subject and tries never to miss a session. “Most of my days start with an intense and heavy Crossfit workout. It is followed by work, where I look at any operational issues of the previous night or that may happen during the day. Meetings with colleagues, team members, vendors, take up most of my day. The latter part is usually reserved for discussions with the technology team and colleagues from other departments; typically on topics automation and process efficiencies that we can achieve together. I make sure I spend an hour reading, mostly about new technology or related news,” explained Iyer.
Times studio control room.
NEWSROOMS AND TECHNOLOGY
When asked about how broadcasting has evolved over the years, Iyer gave a few pointers that demarcate the then-and-now of the media industry. Talking about how the M&E sector is different from how it was a few years back, he exclaimed, “Crowded! There is now credible competition which has grown the market and the audience. Relevant and correct content remains king, and the audience continues to be attracted to purveyors of truth and those who operate with speed – both being the defining characteristics of Times Network.”
Iyer came across as a very modest individual with a focussed approach. He believes in keeping technology simple, usable, approachable, cost-effective, efficient and one that works for users and businesses alike. “I help businesses become efficient with selection, adoption and use of technology. I can combine hardware, software and services into a cohesive package that can be implemented easily and run efficiently. I work with commercial, open source and freemium software and platforms to help get the right combination of best in class pieces,” he explained.
He also rightly added, “Newsroom broadcasting has always been a technology dependent business, the advent and adoption of tapeless, non-linear and digital video, audio, text, images has made the media industry completely dependent on technology. Technology is not just the backbone of a broadcasting company – it is pretty much the business!”
Iyer shared valuable comprehensions of the latest technological trends in the broadcast domain. He explained that although the shift of broadcast content being consumed digitally or over the internet, is not a recent change, a few key factors are continually and considerably depleting the generation gap between traditional satellite-based broadcast television and the current advances. “A few of these elements are, the ability to address individuals in the audience, reduced dependence on expensive and time consuming satellites for video signal delivery by adoption of IP, better video codecs like HEVC/H.265 that help with better quality at lower bandwidth, and smart TV,” affirmed Iyer.
He named some recent innovations that seem promising, including the cord-cutting VoD platforms. Latest developments that better the broadcasting xperience include more number of distribution points for content as compared to conventional means, slow but gradual shift of the advertising mind-and-money share from broadcast to digital, cloud computing and the CAPex and infrastructure broadcast model that it promises, application of machine learning to analyse and understand text, videos and images.
“We are careful to consider areas of technological innovation that may be hyped beyond application. As James Bond famously said, it is important to know when not to fire a gun.”
STRUTTING OVER CHALLENGES
“The biggest challenge was, for a software developer like me, to learn about broadcast and television workflows; then the move from tape based to digital workflows,” commented Iyer. Iyer also mentioned that the other big challenge was to bridge television and internet publishing workflows. Taking traditional text, images and videos from television with its hard-wired television oriented workflows to a more flexible digital medium, was also a tedious affair. Security has always been a primary concern for broadcasters and newsrooms across. Iyer echoed his sentiment on the topic of security and said, “On the IT side, security is a huge challenge of today and protection of our organisation’s data and systems remains top priority for IT teams.”
Iyer strongly advocates team-spirit, and vouches for his team at Times. “Our technology team is among the best in the industry. We take great pride in selecting appropriate technology for our business. Backed by a management who is equally committed to a strong technological innovation bias, Times Network and Times Group have a top-down mandate to engage positively with new technology,” he commented.
Although keeping pace with innovation is a good trait, he also Iyer also warned about being overtly experimental; whilst quoting James Bond. He asserted, “We are careful to consider areas of technological innovation that may be hyped beyond application. As James Bond rightly said, it is important to know when not to fire a gun!”
Keeping pace, Times Network aims at increasing their digital presence. Within a short span of 18 months, its digital presence hit the heights of being the third largest English language news publisher in India in October, 2018. “Our focus remains on being a strong, credible player in the television and digital news business bringing credible, factual news to our viewers around the world, around the clock,” said Iyer.
Iyer aims to spearhead Times Network into building on its strengths in news-reporting in television and digital domains, in order to keep its viewers engaged with content that interests them. He also attributes the vision to adapting to changing markets, technologies, business models and delivery mechanisms. Versatility is the need of the hour, and keeping abreast with the latest augmentations is the only way to ace the market. “We want to be a content provider, which is at the top-of-the-mind recall of news consumers in India, and among the Indian diaspora around the world,” affirmed Iyer.
The never-dying zeal and the work-life balance Iyer maintains in his day-to-day life, along with his love for fitness, is something we could imbibe and imitate. Given his expertise, Iyer had some food-for-thought to share with beginners in the broadcast industry. As an afternote, he said, “As in any industry, keep learning, stay hungry, stay happy and work harder than the next person!”