The infant of yesterday of the Indian media industry is growing and is already a child that knows how to talk and walk. The healthy baby is going to grow into a healthy teenager soon and an adult thereafter. Which is this child of the Indian media industry that I am referring to? You guessed it right, I am talking of the growing Radio industry in India.
The radio industry in India is poised to grow from about 2 per cent of advertising spends to about 5 per cent in the next three to five years. That's not bad for a medium that is only seven years old as an industry in its new private FM avatar. Radio's challenge in India is to be sexy and active. While ‘young’ and ‘sexy’ fit themselves well into the same sentence, one wonders if seven years is too young. But it is growing; and growing faster than it is ageing.
One might say it is maturing rather responsibly, too. And as with all youth, it is experimenting. How else does one explain the birth of a women-centric radio station in the capital? And this is only the beginning, I think, with differentiation becoming a key.
Evangelising the medium is another need of the hour. There has been no dearth of attempts at branding by the leading stations, and now, we’re seeing some of them begin advertising on Television too. Here again, differentiation is bound to play a key role in the days and months to come.
The roll out of radio is far from over and the medium needs to be given its due as it tries to find its feet. To give it the credit it deserves, the older stations have shown a level of brand maturity with creation of properties and by building interactive options with aplomb. And the newer stations are realising that the longer they take to climb, the more difficult it gets. They are all into fast forward mode.
Clear and sometimes united (and at most times individual) attempts have been made to build the case for Radio as a medium with advertisers. While the truth is that until a scale, a critical mass is achieved, this will remain an issue, it is not impossible and it is not too far away. When the localisation advantage of the medium is coupled with national networks with cost effective reach, the perception changes will manifest themselves into monetary returns. That is when the global average of the ad spend pie for radio will move seem like achievable.
For starters, look at the Outdoor medium. After how long has a metric been (finally!) arrived at? Radio has done far better in evolving as a medium and the ILT – RAM charts will find their way into media planners’ laptops with more regularity soon.
The case for the allowance of news and current affairs on FM radio is being built strongly. Representations are being made in all seriousness of purpose and multiple frequencies will add another dimension to differentiation altogether. When will full-fledged news be allowed in the Indian FM Radio domain? My guess is soon, in the next 24-36 months. At least that’s what I would expect or the industry would expect. And why won’t we? It’s been seven years now.
If radio is criticised as a medium that is passive, and it is a challenge for today’s radio owner, radio station head to get the medium to become ‘active’, it is moving in that direction. One saw as many stations in Chennai reverberate to the pulse of ‘Sivaji’ as national television channels. Getting people to respond to contests and promos through their mobiles is welcome but we need to go beyond that. How do we get Radio to be an active medium? The answers are being figured out and possible solutions are being executed as we talk radio. And Talk Radio is one of the many options.
At Radio Asia 2007, the biggest buzz was about DAB. The BBC pioneered Digital Audio Broadcasting and was the first broadcaster in the UK to build a transmission network and start broadcasting DAB in 1995. The advantages of DAB are many. In effect, DAB technology allows broadcasters to transmit far more radio stations within the same comparable amount of radio spectrum compared to FM. It was this inherent advantage born of technology that that permitted the BBC to launch the five 'digital only' services in 2002. Is that a way forward? We don’t know. What we have been told is that 25 per cent of Google’s traffic comes from radio podcasting. That must be music to many peoples’ ears.
Moving back to the FM mode of radio that’s setting air waves in India on fire as of now. For all the reasons cited above and some other basics like the kind of investments that have gone in, I think that will happen sooner than pundits predict it to.
Several service providers are and will be launching Radio on the mobile and one hopes that not just increases reach, but also aids measurability. We’re seeing Radio tie-ups lending reach on public transport like buses and auto rickshaws. Cars were always there. Malls will soon be, if they aren’t already, playing your favorite FM station.
Kids are earning earlier today. They are impatient. They want to start earning when they’re in school. I hope they spend what they earn responsibly.