In the five years since the deluge of FM stations hit the airwaves, listeners were first awestruck by the cornucopia of choice, then looked on with bemusement as every player tripped over each other by changing formats, and then shook heads in resignation as the choice offered was really no choice at all. Five of the seven players went vernacular, one going the Bollywood way and the last taking up the English space.
Having said this, Bangalore probably offered more ‘choice’ than any other city. The apparent lure of the ‘masses’ made even the most experienced radioheads take their eyes off the road just a bit. The reliance on the Radio Audience Measurement (RAM), a measure with loopholes a high school student would be embarrassed with, drove everyone further round the bend. Every player across every city targeted the dubious numbers thrown up by RAM, and ended up cloning each other. While the Bollywood-format stations have sprung up like spots on an ageing banana peel, Tamil Nadu is replete with with Kollywood formats, Karnatak with Sandalwood and Kerala with Mollywood.
One of the best decisions we made at Radio One, Bangalore was to get out of the RAM mindset. We realised that Bangalore was a predominantly retail market which puts its money where its mouth is. Enquiries and walk-ins are all that matter – not numerical gobbledygook. Retail also realised the power of audience profiling. When Radio One starting playing Bollywood in 2007, retailers clearly understood that the psychographics of its listener was clearly middle-of-the-pyramid. It wasn’t the scarcely populated English niche right at the top, nor was it the overpopulated, vernacular base. It straddled the middle path.
In the four years that followed, Bollywood became more and more ubiquitous, starting with downloads of ringtones and caller back tunes, to nightclubs hosting more and more Bollywood parties and not least, stars landing up in droves to promote their movies. It might not be pretentious to say that Radio One was at the forefront of this movement.
Advertisers were making a beeline towards a vehicle which clearly had a well defined listener profile, irrespective of the numbers that RAM threw up. The logic was simple – the bottom of the pyramid, which constitutes 60 per cent of the listenership had five players fighting in it – Mirchi, Big, Radio City, Fever, and Red, whilst the middle of the pyramid, which constitutes between 30 per cent – 35 per cent had only Radio One in it. We were a tad surprised that no other player had caught onto what was obviously a winning formula. Mid-2011 had Fever finally seeing the futility of chasing numbers and gravitating towards Bollywood. In the whole year that they have been around, the Bollywood market itself has expanded, making it amply clear that there is, maybe, even place for one more!
We expect at least one more player to change format to Bollywood in Bangalore. The field will then be evenly split between three players in the Bollywood space and three in the Kannada space. Of the eight licenses that Bangalore has, one hasn’t been bought out yet. That should ideally be an English station.
We also forsee formats within these formats – retro, contemporary, and maybe even folk. Advertisers should then be convinced of radio’s efficacy in being able to deliver well profiles audiences, tailor-made for their brands.
Those that manage radio stations will, by then, realise the futility of chasing audience numbers for the sake of chasing them. There will be structural changes in the market when every player re-orients itself. Advertisers will gravitate towards radio, paying it its due premium. Radio will then stop being the poor cousin of TV and print.
Bangalore will then be looked back upon as the market that started the radio fire. What will happen with the Government’s policies and the third phase of licensing, is another issue altogether.
The author is National Marketing Head, Radio One and Station Head, Radio One Bangalore