I am a student for life, says Discovery Communications India’s Megha Tata to BrandSutra

Megha Tata, Managing Director, South Asia, Discovery Communications India is at the top of her game, leading not just Discovery in India through its digital transition, but also the India Chapter of the International Advertising Association, being only the second woman after Pheroza Billimoria to do so. Here, Megha Tata recounts in her own words her eventful journey in the Media and Advertising industry over the last 30 years

My childhood was change…

My Dad was an Air Force officer and that meant moving to a new place every two to three years... I have literally lived from Kashmir to Kanyakumari in my childhood, and I have very fond memories, thoughmy younger sister and I would resent having to part with old friends and starting at a new school all over again. Those were very emotional moments in our lives, but in hindsight, they became the foundation for us to be more flexible towards change, because change seemed to be the only constant in our lives. It also made us who we are today - in our approach to people, interacting with them, understanding different cultures… There was so much learning in travelling, which later became my passion as well.

I graduated from Star TV…

When I came into the Media & Entertainment industry 30 years ago, I was lucky to be part of a core team at Star TV bringing Cable and Satellite into the country – it was huge learning as well as a very humbling experience to be part of such a phenomenal change that overhauled the entire dynamics of content consumption. When people ask me where have you graduated from, I always say Star TV. My institution of learning was Star - I was there for about 12 years – the same number of years you spend at school. I am what I am, for what I learnt and experienced at Star. Initially, I was a sales executive at Star, trying to learn how to sell. I remember two shows - Bold and Beautiful and Santa Barbara - and how people’s lives revolved around them. Baywatch, produced by David Hasselhoff, was also a great show, and I remember getting a thank you note from Hasselhoff himself and a champagne bottle from our content head that made me ecstatic - more than any monetary incentive would - for cracking a sponsorship deal. In that journey at Star, and my stints at Turner, HBO, BTVI and now Discovery, at every stage I have felt that I am a student for life, learning every day from people, from experiences, from failures, and from wins.

BTVI was the toughest...

I had never worked in an Indian company before BTVI, and I had never worked on news as a genre, leave alone business news. So, the two years at BTVI were to me the toughest and the best in many ways. Toughest, because it was something I had never done. It was not in my comfort zone. Also, I came in as a woman executive in a very male-dominated set-up. And lot of people questioned my capability to deliver. When I joined BTVI, it used to be close to 4-5% share, and when I left, it was a 40% share channel. It’s unfortunate that the channel eventually shut down, but the journey to me, fighting against all odds, overcoming my own fears, became a big learning. I thank the team that really supported me and also the team that did not support me – because of them, I learnt a lot of things as well. I learnt what not to do!

A ROAD STORY: I am a biker, though not a very confident one... On a biking trip to Bhutan, where they evaluate their success in their ‘happiness quotient’, and everyone is beautiful and loving and happy, I happened to crash into a car coming from the other side on a mountain road, because I had made a wrong turn. I fell from my bike and I was super scared, as it was clearly my fault. But the man driving the car started apologizing to me. He kept saying sorry. It is such a sweet memory, though I was shaken to the core… Then my husband and friends on the trip wanted me to take it easy and pillion ride with someone, but I had to overcome my fear by taking it head-on. So I just pulled myself up, got up on my bike, and I rode again.

As Discovery goes digital…

Discovery has been in the country for over 25 years now. And it’s been a fabulous company, offering 14 channels, 9 brands… It has been primarily a pay-TV business across the globe, including India. But the whole environment is moving from one content consumption world to another. Discovery’s transition from being a pay-TV to a digital business is a huge journey and learning for me. India became the first country in the Discovery global system to launch an OTT offering called Discovery Plus. Post that, we launched in the UK, and US is launching next month. Discovery Plus is one of the great success stories of recent times from Discovery India, as we walked into a scenario where there were already 30-40 OTT players. Discovery had created its own niche as a differentiated content offering, and the same thought process was brought into digital as well. The team has done a phenomenal job with Discovery Plus, launching a product in record time, from ideation to execution in an environment when everything was shut down. In fact, it couldn’t have been a better time as content consumption was at its peak. Our product was accepted, acknowledged and appreciated. In fact, today we are the Number 1 rated app amongst all apps in India – both on Android as well as iOS.

Content-wise, the PM Narendra Modi episode on the Bear Gryllis show was the game-changer for us. It broke all kinds of records - I could never imagine Discovery beating Star in India, but on that day and slot, we became the No. 1 channel and No. 1 slot amongst all channels in the country. That gave us the confidence to invest more in content.

Now, our big focus will be on driving original content on Discovery Plus and also keep growing and protecting our TV business. India is not an either/or world. We are an ‘and’ world. We can balance both TV and Digital – and how we do this is going to be our focus in 2021-22.

ON IAA: IAA has had a fantastic run under the leadership of Srinivasan Swamy, and I’m truly humbled to be leading an industry body of this scale. At IAA, I am excited about our tie-up with UNICEF and the Gina Davis Institute, for research to highlight the issue of discrimination. It will deep-dive into the advertising of the previous year to determine how discriminatory is our communication, and then try to find a solution.
ON ISHA FOUNDATION: My seven-year association with Isha Foundation has been a life-changing experience. It had taken a friend five years just to convince me to go and listen to Sadhguru. All my initial cynicism disappeared when I heard him. Something connected. He was religion agnostic, very straight, logical, funny… Through his Inner Engineering programme, I learnt the whole concept of ‘Fix Yourself First’. It was like magic. It enabled me to do so much more in the 24 hours that we have, and taught me to deal with situations… Both my husband I then became volunteers with Isha Foundation. When you give without expecting anything in return, what you get back is a hundred times more… I have been using my network to see how I can get the messaging of Sadhguru across in whatever little way I can. At some point, I’d like to get even more involved.

I invested more in myself…

I believe 2020 has been a very good year – it taught me more than I could have ever imagined. I took on challenges head-on professionally and personally, applying some of the tools learnt through yoga to my professional world. It’s been absolutely humbling to see how as an organization, as an individual, as a family, we’ve come out of it so much stronger. I also spent the lockdown creating more ‘me time’. I invested more in myself.

If 2020 was a challenging year, 2021 will also be challenging, but we as individuals will be better prepared for it. I think there’s huge opportunity in 2021. During the pandemic, technology helped make talent geography-agnostic. In 2021, I see more talent from smaller townscoming into the mainstream. The flexibility to work remotely will also bring more women into the workforce. Also, as 2020 was a year of reset, a lot of business models will change, to make businesses more efficient and more sustainable.

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