Shailesh Kapoor: Five Tips For Young TV Executives

10 May,2013

By Shailesh Kapoor


Last week, I completed 14 years in the media and entertainment business. Much as I’d still like to call myself “young”, the generational shift over these years is apparent. I was extremely fortunate to find the right mentors in my early years. Life was simpler too. There were only a dozen channels, and hence, ratings were not an obsession like they are today. It was also the time of desktops, and hence, work-free late nights and weekends.


Archaic as the “era” may sound, it had some wonderful advantages. It allowed a young executive time to invest in his professional growth. Here are five tips that I believe are still relevant for young television executives, in their first 3-4 years of working.


1. Watch TV: It is amazing how many television executives, especially in departments outside programming, believe that they can do their jobs well without watching television. The fallacious argument I’ve heard is: “Male brand managers can market sanitary napkins and teetotalers can market liquor, so why does a TV exec need to watch TV?”


The crucial difference, of course, is that in television, the product (content) plays the dual role of product and advertising. Each programme communicates certain brand attributes to the consumer, building the channel brand in turn. Not watching television is therefore like not watching the advertising of your brand and its competitors. Now imagine a Whisper brand manager doing that!


One of the common “errors” in watching habits is the excessive time spent on watching your own channel, including repeats, and practically no time spent on watching competition. This creates a tunnel vision over time, where you begin to lose category perspective altogether, stereotyping competition dangerously as a result.


Do watch as much variety as you can, not just in your genre but across genres too. The long-term results will be more than worth the time.


2. Be Curious: There is a world at work, beyond your assigned work, that is, the show or the client or the campaign you are working on. Seek learning from that world. Talk to people in other departments, ask them questions, find your “intrigues” and then find answers to them. Learning never stops, but there is no real, sustained learning unless the mind is curious. And curiosity can be deceptively under-rated concept. Make it your big idea.


3. Read More Views, Less News: Back in 1999-2000, we did not have too many “trade websites”. Hence, curiosity, leading to asking questions, was the only way to learn more about the industry. Today, there is an overdose of material online. I see many young executives spending a fair amount of time reading up such material. But most such reading is purely informational in nature. Opinions and views are less popular, probably because they are more “complex” to read. But make an attempt. Real learning comes from them. A good “views” article will implore you to think, and disagree and debate on many occasions too, and widen your sphere of understanding.


4. Master your craft: The ‘10,000 Hour Rule’ says it takes a human being 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill. For a full-time TV job, this translates into four years of working. So, be patient. It’s easy to believe you know it all. But when you reflect back a few years later on how little you knew when you thought you knew it all, you’ll be amused. Master the craft that you have chosen for yourself by clocking in the practice that it needs. There are no shortcuts in such matters.


5. Just Ask: In the words of the celebrated Carnegie Mellon professor (late) Randy Bausch, “the most magical things happen if you just ask.” I discovered the power of asking at my first job itself. I wanted to be a part of script narration meetings with production houses. Being a marketing executive, it was not connected to my job description at all. It didn’t even seem “necessary” in any way. The desire was more out of personal interest.


I was working on four running shows that time, and I had to ask four different executive producers if I could sit in their narration meetings. I asked, and incredibly (or maybe not), all of them agreed, and gladly so. That was the time of weeklies, and the writer and the director narrated complete screenplays in person, 2-3 episodes in a meeting. Within a couple of months, I was being invited for narration meetings, having now become a part of that team. If I hadn’t asked, I’d missed out on one of the most powerful experiences of my life.


Shailesh Kapoor is founder and CEO of media insights firm Ormax Media. He spent nine years in the television industry before turning entrepreneur. He can be reached at his Twitter handle @shaileshkapoor


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3 responses to “Shailesh Kapoor: Five Tips For Young TV Executives”

  1. Kashmira Grewal says:

    Knowledge is the only treasure which increases by sharing it with others….well defined and a very well written piece, Shailesh. I am always touched by this element of honesty in all your articles. I am sure the young execs who have begun their careers under your tutelage will have a very good foundation. As they say in the Army, if your first Commanding Officer is good, you’ve got it made for you!

  2. Khushroo Dumasia says:

    Looking forward to learning from these in the next 4 years to come 🙂

  3. Himanshu Agarwal says:

    Shailesh…I have never worked in the Media Industry. Even in Entertainment it was a short stint for me. I am fascinated by these two and would always be. Your columns are a good education for someone who wants to be in this industry.

    Never stop sharing your experiences.

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