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Ashwin Padmanabhan

Business Head | 01 Jun 2013

Radio is also a social media. Any media which allows you to come together, interact, comment and participate in a discussion is a social media. Internet by itself is not social media; applications like Facebook make it social. Similarly, radio also has certain elements that drive participation, social interaction and communication. In that sense, I do not see that radio and social media are competing.

Ashwin Padmanabhan has been a part of Big FM since its inception. He not only expanded Big FM to some of the smallest towns of the country, but also has deep understanding of local content and sensitivities of these markets.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Saloni Surti, Padmanabhan shares his views on how digital has impacted radio, how radio can leverage digital and in terms of management what is the right way forward for the Indian radio industry.

Q. How has the recent growth in inflation impacted advertising activity across radio?

Advertising activity has increased lately. We see more and more advertisers coming on board; advertisers are using the medium not just in a tactical way, but in strategic way as well, creating long term engagement. Who would have ever thought that Apple would spend on radio so extensively? Today, Apple’s budget is split between radio and print. They are actually looking at radio as a lead medium to penetrate smaller towns. How well you understand the medium and how well you connect to the brand determines how much will a campaign succeed.

Q. How has increasing ad rates worked out for Big FM? What led to the decision?

Broadly, the way I look at increasing ad rates is a correction. We had a severe effect on our pricing in 2009-10 and we could not bring it up in 2011 and 2012. So, in that sense from 2010 to now, which is three years, we saw the demand going up and thus, this is the correct opportunity to rectify the prices. In the last eight to 10 months, our inventory levels have gone up by 30-35 per cent. In most of the cities, we are going with 90 per cent full inventory levels. This clearly indicates that demand is back. Hence, the need to increase the prices.

Q. Which are your major advertisers pan India?

Unilever is one of our largest clients. We do good work with them; we do customised work with them. We recently did an activity with Close Up. Microsoft is also one of our major clients. They are exclusively with us; we brought them on radio. They will now use radio for their third successive campaign. They marketed Windows 8 with us, also Microsoft 365, which is running currently, and the Windows 8 computer campaign. We usually see products such as antivirus using radio extensively. This is for the first time that a technology product is using radio.

Down South, we have clients like GRP Jewelers and Kalyan Jewelers. They initiated with Kerala, but now they are expanding pan India and we were a big part of their store launch in Mumbai. We have clients like Muthoot Mini, which also started in the South and is now expanding its footprint. Regionally, we have clients like Chettinad Cement and Bharati Cement. We have a number of small clients such as Ghadi in Kanpur.

Q. How has digital and social media affected radio?

Radio is also a social media. Any media which allows you to come together, interact, comment and participate in a discussion is a social media. It can be radio, television or digital. Internet by itself is not social media; applications like Facebook make it social. Similarly, radio also has certain elements that drive participation, social interaction and communication. In that sense, I do not see that radio and social media are competing. Man is a social animal and will communicate through any given medium.

Q. How can radio leverage social media?

Broadly, we look at it in two ways – for us, web-based social media is for creating opinion leaders and a certain imagery. It is for driving certain perceptions and values of the brand. Mobile-based digital media platforms are about driving sampling for our products, getting more and more people to listen to our products. Mobile is traditionally used as a method of participation and in any reality kind of a format it becomes the technology to communicate with the radio station.

That was from the activity perspective; the second is from the communication perspective with your own set of registered users. Thus, we could promote a new show or a specific show like ‘Yaadon ka Idiotbox’, setting up a reverse message kind of a system for all those who are connected with us. We also have a mobile radio stream for quite some time now. We have tied up with Idea using the mobile spectrum, wherein consumers can dial and tune in to streaming in various languages.

Q. What are your expansion plans in tier II and III cities?

It is very difficult to say at this point. We are present across most small towns. We will pick and chose and fill certain gaps that we feel exist now. We might also look at potential synergies between our television and radio business when we decide on our building strategy.

Q. Which management model does Big FM follow? Which model, according to you, will be best suited to the Indian radio industry post Phase III?

We are quite decentralised. We have very strong regional-based and cluster-based structures because we believe that the ability to manage a large a network across the country, especially in a media content industry where the product is not defined and changes locally, the regional structure is the only way forward if your strategy is about localised content. Somebody might not have the local content strategy and they might have a centralised structure. Thus, the kind of structure also depends on the content strategy.

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