When the management of Clear Channel, the largest FM radio player in the US, was declaring its intention to sell 448 of its 1,110 FM stations, its high profile President of International Radio business, Bob Cohen, was in Delhi and Mumbai, meeting industry players, government officials and regulators ‘educating’ himself about the ground realities in this part of the world.
“Indian radio has an interesting and bright future. I am impressed by the attitude of the government and regulatory bodies. It is difficult to find anywhere else in the world in history when this much product has come up on air at one time,” said Cohen.
When asked about his specific plans about India, Cohen said, “Well, I think it’s too early to talk about that. Are we interested in this market? Yes, we have keen interest in what is going on here. This visit is the first step towards familiarising myself and the company with the emerging radio market here.”
“I don’t think any business with international aspiration can afford to ignore India. It is my responsibility, whose job is to explore markets around the world, to be familiar and aware of a market like India,” Cohen added.
When asked how he found the regulators in India, Cohen had some good words for the bureaucrats. “I think they should be commended for moving to Phase II, which was a very progressive move. Rightly so, they are cautious about the future because they have taken a bold step and they want to see how it goes. My impression is that everyone is very progressive about what things could be like in the future,” he said.
Cohen had some interesting observations on the regulatory mechanism, especially regarding the 20 per cent limit to foreign investment in the FM radio sector. “The 20 per cent limit is certainly a hurdle that one must get over. Perhaps some day they (the government) will look at opening it up. Perhaps it does not make sense to have this restriction if you don’t allow news and current affairs on FM and one is playing only entertainment content. I think this is the policy on television and magazines in India and perhaps there will be a move (for private FM radio) to that model too. Maybe in future they will only control FM radio stations carrying news and current affairs with the 20 per cent foreign investment limit. But again that should be an evolution. But certainly the present limit is a hurdle,” he pointed out.
However, Cohen was quick to add that there were other things that foreign players looked into other than the investment limit. “I see a consumer economy growing here. There are small media and large size businesses here who will benefit from a healthy broadcasting environment where they can market their business services and that will happen,” he said.
So could we expect him to return to India in the near future after his first ever four-day trip? Here, he did not sound like a businessman, but rather like a thrilled tourist. “India is a fascinating country to visit for anybody who knows it, who have read about it. I hope this is my first of several trips to India. I think it is an amazing story that is developing,” Cohen gushed.