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NAB Show 2008: The Indian digital agenda, and the changing radio story

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NAB Show 2008: The Indian digital agenda, and the changing radio story

LAS VEGAS: The Indian Super Session saw the experts delve further on the digital scenario in India, and the benefits that it brought to different mediums. The panel also spoke on radio and the changes that the medium was experiencing in India. E&Y’s Farokh Balsara moderated the session.


Radio came under the scanner significantly. AP Parigi, CEO, ENIL, took the audience through the history of radio in India and why the medium had a miniscule share. He said, “This is the second coming of radio. In the last 50 years, this medium has given 90 per cent coverage. It was under state control first, and then went into reforms, but I think it is well on its way to be a must-have medium for media planners. Radio in India is already performing some miracles – nowhere in the world can you roll out 250 stations in just a few months.” I&B Ministry Joint Secretary Zohra Chatterjee added here, “We are looking at how to make the sector grow. Around 266 stations were auctioned in Phase II, and 700 more would be auctioned in the next 3-6 months, and would be a lot more liberalised.”

Parigi said, “FM industry is out of its infancy into its adolescence. It has the reach, frequency and penetration. Even if you look at a more mature market like the UK, Internet revenues there are three times that of radio, though the latter has five times the audience. Indian radio has a huge landscape of opportunities. With news and current affairs coming, the stickiness of channels won’t change.”

The panel also discussed examples in markets like the US, where less is more, as also the satellite radio experience. Parigi explained here that radio was a localised medium. He said, “After six years, WorldSpace has all of 160,000 subscribed and there already are talks of poor viability. Radio is an ideal medium when local; if you meddle with the DNA of the local medium, then there would be trouble.”

Anurag Batra, Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief, exchaneg4media Group presented a different view here. He said, “If you look at Mumbai, the biggest media option is a radio station, and for the rate that it is available at, it is a good buy. Any media business is about two things – brand and content. Digital audio broadcasting has its benefits and when the time will come, the players would raise to that opportunity as well.”

Parigi added here, “If you look at digitisation, and you classify mobile telephony in that domain, then India is unique. In Mumbai, about 40 per cent of FM listenership is through the mobile phone.”

Digitisation – Distribution, new mediums, new avenues of growth

A strong positive aspect of the discussion was Zohra Chatterjee reiterating that digitalisation, especially in view of the Commonwealth Games, was the priority for the Indian Government at present. She said, “We are looking at how to do it, given the costs that it entails. We are learning from our experience of the CAS rollout. We are encouraging platforms like HITS and 74 per cent FDI would be allowed for these initiatives. End of the day, it is the broadcasters and the Government, who would benefit from these initiatives. The consumers who are poor won’t be able to afford this anyways. Also, with the last mile operator problems, there aren’t as many takers as the Government would like to see for these initiatives.”

She also spoke on the Government looking at cross-media ownership policies. IPTV and mobile TV regulations, and TRAI’s recommendation of allowing competition in the terrestrial network also came up for discussion.

Batra agreed with Chatterjee that IPTV in India would be big. He said, “Unlike in the US, where the likes of Google and Yahoo! came outside the media companies, in India, they would come from media companies. Digital in India is already big – data shows that there is a sizeable population on the Net, and more than 10 million people purchased on the Internet. The beauty of the medium is that once you have built the community, the road ahead is simpler.”

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