While print and television have gone digital in a big way, radio has not tapped into the medium in a full-fledged way. The opportunities are there, in fact, quite a few FM players are going the Internet way with websites, blogs, social networking, and virals. However, it will be a while before Internet radio makes its appearance. The digital medium is still a young medium and is a mere 2 per cent of the media spends. Radio industry’s share of the advertising pie stands at 3.5 per cent.
Government laws as of now do not permit Internet radio, therefore, FM stations cannot exploit this medium. However, some FM stations like Big FM and My FM have gone the podcast way and are airing popular shows like breakfast shows or humorous capsules. After the Bangalore launch, Big FM plans to take the podcasting fever to other cities as well.
In the West, podcasts have come a long way. In fact, mobile podcast has become a norm and is just a matter of time for this to pick up in a big way in India. Most FM stations have their own websites, which are interactive, informative and even feature music and video clips.
exchange4media takes an indepth look at the scope and roadblocks in the way of radio going digital in India.
Making the most of digital
Prashant Panday, CEO, Radio Mirchi, pointed out, “At present, unfortunately, no one in India is making any use of Internet at all, at least from the radio streaming point of view. All broadcasters have reasonably well-developed websites. The websites are mostly used for networking, blogs, and information, and so on. The Mirchi website is exceedingly popular – it just got voted the most popular website in the radio and television category by Metrix-Nielsen in a survey spanning 1.5 million voters.”
Abraham Thomas, COO, Red FM, stated, “It has been Red FM’s endeavour to extend itself beyond radio to offer its content and properties across platforms. We have been using digital as a means to build listener interactivity and promote our various properties through dedicated social networks, specially created content, engagement through online contests, blogs, and virals, to name a few.”
Anand Chakravarthy, Senior Vice President - Marketing, Big FM, told exchange4media, “We have a specialised division called Big Digital in Big FM, which offers clients digital solutions. It also offers VAS products for mobile service products. Mobile VAS is a great source of income for digital platform in radio, where we offer content to cellular service providers, which they can monetise and we get the benefit. First and second source of revenue being SMS and mobile VAS, the third source of revenue is creating solutions for clients – radio services for all kinds of clients. We use our website, where we create online solutions for clients as they want not only radio solutions, but online solutions too. We use digital solutions to create value for clients and give them radio plus digital (mobile solutions or online solutions) and this is just the tip of the iceberg.”
Harrish M Bhatia, VP - Northern Region, AROI, and COO, My FM (Synergy Media Entertainment Ltd), said, “My FM launched its website simultaneously during the launch phase of the radio station and we have on-air links available on the website. The online portal is also very interactive, allowing listeners and users to connect with My FM and express their opinions and thoughts. There are several properties on the website that allow My FM’s listeners to participate in the My FM family through My Blog, My Poll, My Downloads, My Song Request, and My Podcasts, to name a few.”
Jayyant Bhokare, COO, Radio Indigo, informed, “Today, we cater to half a million users on our website on a monthly average, thereby creating a base for people to interact with the station, getting feedbacks. This has benefited us a lot and helped us do a much better job. As we get larger in this network, you can also get into options like giving movie tickets or even ordering a pizza through our website, and there are so many things that are possible and we can provide our consumers.”
So, is digital the future?
According to Panday, “Generally speaking, yes. Digital in the larger context is also the way that radio will go. Internet radio will grow in India as Internet penetration increases. Music royalty issue and Internet streaming also need to be sorted out. Apart from the Net, I look at telecom models emerging as well as methods of digital broadcasting like DAB or DRM. Many things will change as the move towards digital gains pace. Consumers will get more choice; broadcasters newer streams of revenues. The exact shape of this new world is not well defined yet.”
According to Thomas, “The FM industry will be able to truly use the digital platform once it is able to offer FM on a digital platform. Currently, that is not allowed by the Government and until that time, all digital efforts are directed towards brand promotional activities like online marketing, social networking, SEO, mobile marketing, etc.”
According to Chakravarthy of Big FM, “The opportunity is big because one of the biggest USPs of radio is interactivity. Secondly, in India a large number of listenership happens on mobile phones and, therefore, there is already a close relationship between the FM station and mobile phones. The other important aspect is that fairly decent revenue streams come to radio through SMS. Currently, Internet radio cannot be exploited because Government laws do not allow it. Music royalty issues are yet to be sorted out, and once that happens, opportunities are certainly high.”
Having a different take, Bhatia said, “Digital radio cannot become the future of radio because digitalisation will kill the salience of radio as a mass medium. Although technology can enhance the penetration of radio, its essence lies in being an easily accessible, cheap and common medium of communication. The current model of FM radio is providing increased employment opportunities, digitalisation would kill employment generation.”
Bhokare opined, “Digital is the future of radio, in fact, the two can be integrated very well. Website is an extention of the station outside, since we are allowed to podcast on the web. It has a lot of potential and throws a lot of value for us. From the mobile aspect, too, it is another extension since we are on a move, and through the mobile it enhances the quality of listenership. I think digital is an immediate future in radio.”
Radhieka, Corporate Ad Manager, Tomato FM, noted, “It’s always good to progress technologically, but not on a weak foundation and uneconomical operations. These are the basic problems faced by the broadcasters, which need to be addressed before the country takes the next leap to digital radio. Digital radio will surely offer the consumers more choice with better quality. But quality costs money and broadcasters are under pressure to make savings. They must balance the importance of sound quality against the cost of providing new services.”
How to reap the benefits?
Radio Mirchi’s Panday said, “The first thing we need is critical mass. We have that with mobile phones, but not with Internet penetration. The second thing is to remove all forms of barriers – music royalty, regulatory issues. The third thing is to make it affordable – music royalty. And then we must have some unique and engaging content. In many ways, this is the most challenging. What is it that listeners will want from their ‘converged’ devices? A lot of effort is on – not only from the broadcasters, but from many others as well. I don’t have anything specific to offer at this stage. Mirchi is also making its efforts.”
According to Red FM’s Thomas, “All new technology is designed keeping in mind media convergence. The technology on offer today allows radio content to become platform independent, the ultimate benefit is of convenience and choice to the consumer. We look at radio as a medium; our business is creating Red as a media brand offering content across multiple platforms. In India, Internet on mobile is what is poised to really expand. Already, mobile phones are the preferred mode of listening to radio and it won’t be long before the line between mobile, Internet and radio disappears for the consumer.”
Radio by 2010-12
Big FM’s Chakravarthy hoped that by then radio would surpass by large amount and hopefully even surpass television. “It’s a challenge, and not necessarily impossible. Over a period of time, the category will grow more, and more consumers will come into this category, it will become far more powerful even in terms of advertisers. You will find the content more exciting and not only relevant, but using newer formats and new kinds of stations. If the Phase III opens up, it will be an advantage and help spread our networks. If multiple frequencies open up, that will be another development and news and current affairs will again grow the category,” he added.
On an optimistic note, Bhokare of Radio Indigo said, “The future of radio is really bright, and we are already getting there. As a medium, it is a really fantastic medium to reach out to people..”