Perspective | FM Radio lagging behind in content initiative...Why?

Private FM radio industry in India is more than a decade old now. Privatization of Radio industry began around the late 90s but the phase II licensing norms which made the business model viable gave the industry a real boost. But one still notices the glaring absence and lack of significant program initiatives from the station owners. All the radio stations sound similar with hardly any content differentiation. The rationale behind this loophole, as explained by the station owners, is the policy framework of the government. The major reasons cited have always been lack of inventory, restricted government regulations among others.

Gone are those days when programmes such as  Hawa Mahal, Binaca Geetmala etc. captured the listeners attention. There is no doubt that amidst repetitive content we do have some interesting shows like Yaadon Ka Idiot Box with Neelesh Misra but at the same time, we cannot deny the fact that there is a dearth of rich, original and differentiated content on radio. Acute observation indicates that instead of coming up with ‘differentiated content’, radio broadcasters are more keen to acquire regions to spread their reach and in this  race radio as a medium is losing it’s original charm and has taken  a back seat.  

We at Adgully, spoke to some industry stalwarts to understand the reason for radio stations lagging behind on the content front.

Other than slamming the government for Private FM policy framework, why are radio stations not come up with innovative programming and why they are yet to establish a loyal listener base?

In answer to this Kartik Kalla, National Programming Head, Radio City 91.1 FM said, “Private FM industry is hardly a decade old! Being the pioneers in the private FM space, Radio City has always been at the forefront of innovative strategies. Be it the freshness in the breakfast show or the beautiful era of 60s and 70s re-created in Kal Bhi Aaj Bhi, Radio City has always offered its listeners content that suits their mood and taste. Radio City Babber Sher is one of the longest running features in the history of Indian FM industry. Babber Sher is a unique property of Radio City that has a loyal follower base and a great recall value amongst the audience.”

Shedding more light on 'innovative' initiative, Kalla said, “Our annual music fest ‘Musical-e-Azam’ which saw its 5th season this year, has been the first to introduce unplugged music to radio. ‘Musical-e-Azam’ which has musicians performing live in the studio, adds a completely new dimension to programming in radio. The idea of renowned musicians performing live in the studios and some even re-creating their compositions has been applauded by the listeners as well as the industry people.” Listeners have always been loyal to the content playing on Radio City and creating innovative content for them has always been the radio station’s priority.

Arguing in favour of the radio industry Anand Raj, National Programming Head, Red FM said, “I believe this question itself is misplaced. Radio industry has been far more adventurous in breaking formats and trying something new. Innovation does not always mean doing something niche. Innovation has to be within the format of what your audience would like to hear. Idea is to initiate them into alternative entertainment formats on radio and wait for it to grow on them. Red FM has been a torch bearer in this regard.  For example, we introduced the crime genre on radio.”

“If you base your judgement on loyal listenership then for this kind of judgement you need to have a reliable measurement system. We believe Brand Red has been able to establish an emotional connect with its listeners across the city and hence enjoys a very loyal listenership base,” added Raj. 

Amitabh Srivastava,Regional Head, South Asia, Association for International Broadcasting (AIB) says, “Today most of the stations are only focusing on Bollywood music. Film based music programming is the current trend and there is hardly any spoken word or talk radio element to it. Today’s programs cannot match shows like Binaca Geet Mala, as they had weaved the story line into the programme. Now with the plot missing in shows, barring a few there is hardly any program initiative from the broadcasters these days.  Also we see a shortage of trained radio programmers who are required for quality programming."

"Though stations take initiatives they usually have a perception that, by taking the experimental route, they will lose business, as they are working in set geographical limits and totally depend  on retail markets for revenue stream. Hence this fear that competition might eat up their share is stopping them from taking this step," Srivastava added.

Srivastava is also of the opinion that due to poor inventory radio stations are shying away from doing different kinds of shows. A show like Yaadon Ka Idiot Box is a every good example of experimental programming and is gaining momentum. Government has restricted and has embargo on airing of content pertaining to news and current affairs, but not on the talk radio. It is supporting radio to a big extent. He says, "I don’t agree with the fact that the government is not supportive. On the contrary I believe private FM radio stations are not willing to do experimental shows with a fear of losing business and inventory. Community radio on other hand focuses only on talk radio and does well, as they work in smaller pockets and have dedicated listenership.  Lastly the interactive element in Indian FM is totally missing if compared to International radio stations.” He also goes on to suggest that stations can use radio as a mass medium for lots of CSR initiatives which is missing generally. How ever according to him some stations have done commendable work on the same and gained good momentum too.

Also, it is pertinent to note that when it comes to creating interesting and innovative ad spots , the  question about the client's response arises . Are they open to spending time and money on today's radio? Kalla was of the opinion that, "Innovativeness is always rewarded in case of ad spots on radio, the more offbeat the message, the deeper the impact it creates on the audience. At Radio City, we have a dedicated team that creates innovative and engaging radio spots for the client that differentiates them from the rest. The sales team works in coordination with the programming to bring about unique integrations. We conduct studio shifts where our RJs do their shows right from the action area and amidst their fans. ‘Studio Shifts’ as these are called, are an innovative way of highlighting the client’s brand that helps the listeners to get a firsthand experience of the brand.”

It is a fact that clients have always appreciated innovative and unique sales spot and are even ready to invest in such campaigns. Giving an example of the same he said, “As a Valentines’ Day campaign for Vodafone, we sent our listeners on a hot air balloon ride, with our RJ hosting his show right from the launch-pad! The campaign was a huge hit among the listeners who experienced ‘Love in the Air’.”

Srivastava is of the opinion that since radio is a mass media as compared to television and new media unfortunately the medium does not acquire the kind of revenue it should. From advertisers point of view reaching the right TG holds much significance  in radio unlike the other mediums where age group, SEC categories , and area demarcation is defined.  Hence advertisers are reluctant to spend. Innovation is key and the Indian Radio needs to wake up to this fact.

Raj agreeing with Srivastava avers, “Of course they are. In fact clients are more open and enthused about developing innovative ad spots for their brands now than ever before.”

In terms of advertising, Radio as a medium is neglected compared to other mediums, but at times it is used quite effectively. Some events like Mirchi Kaan Awards encourage the young talent to showcase their work on creating an ad spot. With the advertising industry’s stalwarts supporting the medium there can be absolutely no issue with radio as a medium.

Priti Nair, Founder, Curry Nation was of the opinion that people today are mistaken about craft and creativity. "Creativity is there but when it comes to radio that entertainment factor is lacking", she said.

Josy Paul, Chairman and Chief Creative Officer of BBDO India said, “I think with the growth of mediums and digital platforms coming in, radio has taken a back seat. Radio has always been doing awesome work and has the potential too, but of late with everyone coping up with the growth of mediums in media and advertising industry the radio is being sidelined to some extent. People consider radio, a traditional medium, as too noisy and today the industry wants to focus on technology 

driven interactive ideas. I strongly believe if people put their hearts and minds behind it, radio as a medium would again start flourishing." Adding further he said, “When it comes to advertising, we see how much money the advertiser is investing in the medium and hence it is imperative that they know what to expect from the medium.  People today consider radio to be only an announcement platform. They should also understand the potential radio as a medium has.”

Adman Bobby Pawar ,Director and CCO, South Asia, Publicis Worldwide was of the opinion that it is not about radio as a medium lagging in terms of creating content but it is about how people are approaching that medium. “Somewhere there is a dearth of good ideas. One needs to understand what kind of content works with the medium,” he said.

Retro music too comes with high potential as a genre and a change from the mass formats. But it is the steep license fees which prevents broadcasters from venturing into this genre.

Thus with various opinions pouring in  from the industry experts it can be deduced that the fate of the radio as a medium rests with stations and advertisers who need to nurture this medium and bring it on par with other popular mediums of our time such as television and new media. The government is not to be blamed for their minimal embargo and restrictions on content on the radio stations since there is still ample scope for this medium to flourish with differentiated content which is the need of the hour.

Media
@adgully

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