On Monday, Shan Chandrasekar demonstrated why people consider the founder, president & CEO of Asian Television Network a visionary.
As the honorary-degree recipient wound down his convocation speech to graduating fine arts students, he said: "I have something very exciting to share with you." ATN, he said, wishes to partner with York to showcase its artistic talent and its accomplishments on prime-time TV across this country.
Right: Shan Chandrasekar
“Education is the greatest opportunity,” said Chandrasekar, a pioneer in multicultural broadcasting in North America who continues to seek new frontiers. “I look forward to partnering with York University to launch what would potentially be North America’s first programming initiative of its kind on television.”
“I’m very keen to collaborate with York University in an exciting new initiative combining electronic media with higher education, health care and prevention,” continued Chandrasekar, who served on the board of York’s Accolade Project and is a member of the Advisory Council for York’s Faculty of Fine Arts.
Based on the outcome of this initiative, he said, ATN could eventually showcase “the outstanding successes” of all York faculties “through cable, satellite, IBTV and broadband not only across Canada and the United States but worldwide.”
Clearly the entrepreneurial Chandrasekar hasn’t stopped dreaming since he created the first television programming dedicated to Toronto’s South Asian community in the 1970s and then launched ATN in 1993. From a single program, the network has expanded to 23 channels and operates a radio service reaching South Asian audiences throughout North America 24 hours a day.
Who would fund the ATN-York partnership? “As the Beatles said, we’ll get by with a little help from our friends in the corporate world and the government of Canada as well,” said Chandrasekar, who has served as a director on boards in the communications, health-care, cultural and educational sectors. “We want to do this without York spending any money, in other words.”
Above: Shan Chandrasekar with Mamdouh Shoukri (left), York University president & vice-chancellor, and Roy McMurtry, York University chancellor
In 2004, Chandrasekar was inducted into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame, testament to the contribution he has made to Canadian cultural life through ATN, said fine arts Dean Barbara Sellers-Young in her citation. ATN programming is not only reflecting communities across continent, it is building bridges to the wider community, opening new avenues of understanding in a global world, she said.
It is fitting that York should recognize Chandrasekar for his pioneering spirit and visionary leadership, said Sellers-Young. “Through his professional work and personal engagement, he has helped to diversify and enrich Canada’s cultural landscape. And we are all the richer for it.”
Four things guided Chandrasekar on his path to success:
“First, I found a role model.” Chandrasekar was deeply influenced by his father, a pioneer in India’s film industry who was among the first to tackle difficult topics like class, creed, colour, women’s rights and child marriage. “My father taught me about taking risks and social purpose in life.”
“Second, trusting and relying on the right partner is key.” Chandrasekar’s wife Jaya is his partner in life and in business. “She’s the perfectionist and I’m the dreamer, and together we get things done.”
“Third, we have a vision of the future and we’ve held it through thick and thin. We had a vision of catering to the South Asian diaspora and it guided us through difficult and uncharted territory,” said Chandrasekar. Technology advanced so rapidly, regulators could hardly keep up, but “we kept changing with the times.”
“Finally, start with what you know best and what you love the most and then innovate from this solid platform.” When Chandrasekar came to Canada as a young man, he played guitar and listened to folk music, and in his spare time he began producing a music show for TV. “From there, we have grown and grown from producing simple television shows to producing massive live entertainment specials at the SkyDome. We also launched the Commonwealth Broadcasting Network, CBN, in English and brought the Cricket World Cup live from around the world. We recently simulcast the Olympics in six languages live across Canada,” said Chandrasekar.
“From a single television service, we are now operating 23 television channels 24 hours a day,” he said. "As we speak, we are launching four more this month. We are still innovating and dreaming about the future expansion.”