Ashit Kukian’s leadership, industry insight and operational expertise have strengthened Radio City’s culture of innovation and expanded the company’s operations. He is responsible for driving revenues for the brand through traditional and non-traditional revenue streams. Kukian also manages the seamless integration of functions spanning creative sales innovations with programming.
Kukian’s expertise in sales spans over 20 years, with over 15 years of experience in the business of media management.
Prior to venturing into the radio industry, Kukian previously did a 13-year stint with Bennett, Coleman & Company (BCCL). As part of his portfolio there, he led a significant turnaround at Zoom Television, where within a year of launch, he was instrumental in positioning the channel as a premium Hindi entertainment channel for a high-end urban audience.
During his tenure at BCCL, he was the driving force behind expanding leading brands – Femina and Filmfare, wherein he played a critical role in launching Femina Book of Travel, Book of Interiors, Book of Fashion, etc. During the course of his career, Kukian has also worked with leading brands like Laboratories Garnier Paris, Berger Paints and Johnson & Johnson.
In conversation with exchange4media,Kukian shares his insights on the road ahead for the radio industry and Radio City.
How have things been for Radio City recently?
We are clearly in the business of radio because we believe in radio. When you look at Radio City, one of the things we think is “What can we do differently from which the medium can gain?” For us it is always radio first and Radio City later. Whatever we do, from content to advertising, has to do with adding value to the medium. That is the guiding philosophy for us.
Having said this, people come to radio for entertainment and music. Everything we do moves around music and is guided by a lot of research. For example, we started the Radio City Freedom Awards, to give a platform to Indie music. Gully Premier League, again, uses radio as a format to promote cricket. So we do a lot of things which are both consumer and listener-centric and we try to marry both. Every year you will see us picking it and making it bigger from a consumer viewpoint.
There is a lot of optimism about marketing in general this year. What are your thoughts?
Today, marketers and advertisers have taken radio as a medium of merit, but how do you make it larger is the question? Today, radio in India is about 4 per cent of the market. In some other countries it is about 15 per cent. So how do you bridge this 4-15 per cent gap? That’s why the whole aim for us is to provide more interesting content. Increase the engagement and then take it to advertisers. By doing this, you get a listener who is happy with the content and an advertiser who has an engaged and involved listener. We try to keep an interesting mix depending on what consumers like.
Being a medium which is a personal, it lends itself to various things. It is no wonder that political parties have taken to radio because they know it is something that can influence masses.
You seem to be doing a lot of on-ground activities. Why is this?
As media evolves, communication will become platform-agnostic. You have to go where your customer/ audience is. We have a full-fledged team called Radio City Connect, which looks at on-ground activities for both advertisers as well as for our own events.
I think the trend started long time back. More and more marketers have understood that their consumer is not hooked to one particular medium. The consumer has a plethora of media that they consume. So if you want to make a really arresting communication, then it has to be 360 degree. The challenge is how well or how differently you can do this and this is where people like us who are primarily in the radio business will have to determine how we bring in value through interesting propositions.
So, how does one bridge the 4-15 per cent gap? Is branded content an option?
As we progress, branded content is something that will be a part of any media mix. This is the best way of doing things because you are contextualising the content of the communication that the station is providing. A particular person visits a radio station because it plays their kind of music or their kind of content. So there is already an affinity that you have built with the particular audience. Because of this affinity, influencing becomes easier. In this case, content integration for a brand, if it is relevant to the audience, is the easiest thing we can do and if done creatively it can give you the results you are looking for.
What is Radio City’s content strategy? How do you differentiate yourselves?
Though a lot is spoken about this, there is not much differentiation one can do, but you can decide the kind of music you play. We will never do “breaking” songs unless we feel it is something that the consumer wants. We do a lot of research to see the kind of music that the listener in a particular city wants to hear. We are fairly research-led when it comes to deciding our music. You have to keep in mind the right mix of music as well as era, and the age groups you are catering too. Apart from music, a lot of things we do, like the segment “Babbar Sher”, have become benchmarks now. Then we have retro shows with Ameen Sayani, popular shows like Love Guru, etc. So it is the small things that we are doing right.
Aren’t other radio stations also playing with the same kind of concepts?
Which station does a ‘Musical-e-Azam’? Who does a show with Ameen Sayani? To give an example, there was a point in time when everybody was doing quiz contests on TV, but it took a KBC to differentiate itself from the other game shows. It is the treatment and the understanding of what the audiences wanted.
You spoke about the importance of 360 degree campaigns. Where does radio fit in this mix and what is Radio City doing to stay relevant?
After print and TV, radio is the lead medium for advertisers to talk to consumers. I look at it in two ways. This is a day and age of competition.So, firstly, you align your resources in the medium that you operate in and the second is that you align yourself to competing media, example, print and TV.
We saw this in a limited way long back. For example, there was a time when Whirlpool and Ariel used to have joint communications. I don’t know what the reasons were and why it was not taken forward, but I think that is a great way of working—where you work with someone who is not conflicting with you from an overall perspective, while also complimenting you.
How important will the non-metro markets be going forward?
They will be very important. As you go forward, of course, revenue will continue to come from metros but as more cities have opened up, it will give opportunity to local advertisers. Historically, it has always been the local advertisers rather than big corporates who have used the medium because radio is seen as more of a local medium. It will have a large role to play, both in terms of geographical reach to give scale to the advertiser as well as the ability to customise the content for the market. The greatest advantage is that even though you can have a common thread for what the brand stands for, you can still play around with it for each of the markets. India has still not exploited this completely.
Why do you say this has not been exploited?
When I say exploited I mean both from the perspective of not having invested enough to get advertisers on board and showing them the benefits of radio. Radio, as an opportunity for local advertising, needs a lot of investment. You need people on the ground that will approach the local advertisers and convince them to come and advertise. Because the conversions are not as fast as they should be, so stations are looking at what the ROI is—“if I am putting 10 people here, why am I getting only this much”. It has become a chicken and egg situation. Once people know that this medium can deliver as much as, say, print, then the growth will happen.
Holistically speaking, could this also be a reason why radio has always lagged behind TV and print in terms of ad spend share?
If the local players start investing then it will definitely grow but even the large corporates have not invested as much as they could have. It is a mix of both reasons. The local brands need to come in while large corporates will also need to increase their spends. The way the market is poised right now you will see the change happening, especially with the ad cap issue on TV.
Will the ad cap issue have any significant effect on business?
I believe that this is just another shot in the arm. As a medium we have only seen it grow over the years. When the industry struggled, we still saw a double digit growth.