All SET for a major shakeout

Mumbai: A major shakeout - or Operation Clean-Up, as many company officials put it - is on the anvil for Sony Entertainment Television (SET). Notably, this shakeout may result in the axing and replacing of several top executives, including the current CEO Kunal Dasgupta and COO Rajesh Pant.

A team, which will be headed by chairman of the SET board Michael Grindon and board members from the Los Angeles-headquartered Sony Pictures (SPE) will supervise Operation Clean-Up.

The shakeout started with senior VP-programming Rekha Nigam, who quit last week. Apart from her, many others have also been asked to pack their bags. Senior VP Rajat Jain has replaced Kacun Sethi as head of the SET Max movie channel. The latter will now head only the ad sales department.

The main issue before the company is the current performance of the broadcasting networks though the objects of the restructuring is more long-term. These include making the company more tax-efficient and preparing the road for a possible IPO around a year down the line, it is understood.

Sony Pictures is a majority shareholder in the SET India joint venture and holds about 65 per cent equity while about 30 per cent equity is held by a number of Indian businesses. Dasgupta admits that restructuring is in the offing and new businesses like overseas distribution may be shut down. We might also shelve plans to launch new channels in response to the current tight market conditions.

The review is also aimed at improving programming. Though in the recent past the TRPs of a few SET programmes like Kusum, CID and Boogie Woogie have seen a rising, the channel is fighting a losing battle with Star Plus. A majority of its programmes get low TRPs and there are rumours that the Govinda-anchored Jeeto Chhappar Phaar Ke, pitted against Star Plus Kaun Banega Crorepati, may be withdrawn.

A little over a year ago the Indian shareholders, who include Rakesh Aggarwal, Babu Sule, Sudesh Iyer and actor Jackie Shroff, shed 5 per cent of their combined holding in favour of Capital Japan. The Indian partners have been pushing for a surgical operation at the top, which was initially resisted by Sony Pictures, but has been subsequently accepted, set SET sources say.

Dasgupta, while acknowledging that there would be some cutting back of staff, however, said that SETs core broadcasting network would remain unaffected.