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Vehrnon Ibrahim

Chief Consultant, | 14 Jun 2013

FM radio needs to get out to more people as part of pop culture, not merely similar streams of film music that it is perceived to be now. The future need has to be to generate loyal listeners, not the current trend of listeners flirting with a station for the duration of a song then going somewhere else. Loyalties are not happening. This is a unique Indian phenomenon. On the whole, the general RAM numbers are encouraging. The quantum of listenership of FM radio in India seems high, but in reality RAM is not an accurate assessment of the industry success and traction.

Vehrnon Ibrahim, Chief Consultant at Vehrnon.com, has more than 10 years of experience across the radio industry. He initiated his career as a Format Controller in 2000 in Indigo FM. Over the years, he has spearheaded various verticals across radio stations such as Red FM, Radio One and Oye!

In conversation with exchange4media’s Saloni Surti, Ibrahim speaks about radio’s image of playing similar content, absence of measurement and an RJ’s approach towards the listeners.

Q. Even post Phase III, the content scenario is not likely to change as the license may cost broadcasters a fortune. How, according to you, should broadcasters approach content differentiation then?

Need gap programming - simple as that. Find out what the market needs through carefully designed research, and programme accordingly. The research will highlight what are the gaps to fill, and good programming people will develop relevant programming for the market. Also, as long as music royalties remain the same, no matter the size of the market, the smaller cities and towns may need to look at non-royalty music programming. This just makes good business sense and could be very interesting indeed.

Q. Do you think the Indian radio industry is at par in terms of content? Are the broadcasters experimenting enough?

No, not enough clever experimentation on product or marketing is happening, and this is a tragedy. Unless we can get fresh ideas on air, listeners and advertisers will not take us seriously. The need in FM radio is to know what is working, be consistent at what is working and know what has to be reinvented. Unfortunately, with RAM and IRS, I don’t think there is a clear picture of what radio real estate actually exists.

Q. In the absence of a standard/ detailed measurement, do you think content can play a role in convincing advertisers to come on board?

It’s an uphill battle. But there are new measurement and assessment research technologies that can be used now by the stations as a group or individually. Too many poor decisions have been based on insignificant numbers that needed to be justified.

Q. Due to its dependency on music, radio is usually accused of offering the same content. How can broadcasters change this mindset among clients and listeners?

Well, that’s a loaded question and I have a different opinion on it. FM radio needs to get out to more people as part of pop culture, not merely similar streams of film music that it is perceived to be now. The future need has to be to generate loyal listeners, not the current trend of listeners flirting with a station for the duration of a song then going somewhere else. Radio listening happens on devices with instant station changing capability, so there is no need for the user to stay with a station not playing a song they like, they bounce to the next frequency up or down, depending upon which button their finger is on. Station names, brands, presenters, etc., are not hooking listeners for long enough duration for habits to be formed. Loyalties are not happening. This is a unique Indian phenomenon. On the whole, the general RAM numbers are encouraging. The quantum of listenership of FM radio in India seems high, but in reality RAM is not an accurate assessment of the industry success and traction. Seeing fake FM station or RJ branded T-shirts sold on the footpaths might be a better gauge.

Q. With the increasing commercial players, are radio companies losing their image of being ‘citizen’s voice’ somewhere?

Well, I have said that there is no such thing as CSR in the radio industry. Firstly, FM radio is not a corporate beast to listeners; it’s a friend of the family. Secondly, everything we do is for the public, so why make a special deal about a single activity? We need a mindset change in the office and the studios, yes, our responsibilities are to the shareholders and owners, but success is achieved through the regular people, the listeners, by being part of their lives, reflecting what they feel, offering them relevant content they enjoy and yes, being their “voice”.

Q. RJs are often called too friendly or too reserved. What should be a RJ’s approach towards his listeners?

I have hired many RJs and all of them had a simple likable quality that I felt could be useful on radio. That’s what I look for. But they have to be themselves or it wouldn’t work. You see, we want a friend when we try to enjoy an RJ, and at the heart of a friend is someone you can trust. If there is any hint of deceit, it falls apart.

Q. Currently, there are almost 15 minutes of advertisements and minimum 10 minutes of RJ links in prime time. Do you support this kind of time allotment?

Well no, I think 15 minutes no matter how compelling the product is, is asking too much of a listener. But unless the radio companies as a body regulates itself, nothing can be done. Again, it’s going to take guts for a single group to limit the amount of ads run per hour. Talk time is a matter of good product management.

Q. A few tips that you would want to give to radio broadcasters…

It’s a simple enough game - be differently appealing. Do something well that is not being done, which serves a need gap. I’ll give you an example: Delhi has mostly Bollywood music stations, all are reaching for a minimum 15 per cent share in order to make business sense, so they all target everyone, a station playing exclusively Punjabi music, but speaking in Hindi would never get to #1 maybe, but would make solid business sense with a lower running cost. More importantly, it would generate a cult following of dedicated listeners. What holds everyone back is the idea of only going after a segment, a niche, and this has put everyone off. I can’t blame the current players, who have very high running costs to break, so they all go after the sacred “mass”, even though they know that only the top few stations will break. Going after the dreaded “niche” segments is too frightening. But it should not be. It should be an existing option.

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