CEO | 21 Jul 2014
"Every day I get some feedback on our radio shows specifically the Annu Kapoor show. I haven’t seen so much feedback on television shows as much as I have heard about him. In my 15-year long career, this is one show that has given me maximum feedback outside of Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi."
Tarun Katial, CEO, RBNL, has had a remarkably successful career in Television. Katial produced popular soaps on Indian television and has had successful stints with STAR TV and Sony Entertainment Television. In the earlier years of his career, he also worked with Saatchi & Saatchi, Enterprise Nexus and Ogilvy & Mather. In early 2006, Tarun set out to launch 92.7 BIG FM, now India’s largest FM network with 45 Stations. He has been responsible for taking the radio business to a position of leadership and reaching the medium to the farthest corners of India. In a conversation with Priyanka Mehra, Katial is optimistic about radio getting its share of attention from the government, talks about localisation being the DNA of BIG FM, about committing himself to strengthening content, and more...
Q. What has changed the game for Big FM and led to the success with audiences?
The change in format, going retro with talent. We have Nilesh Misra doing ‘Yaadon ka Idiot box’, Annu Kapoor doing ‘Suhana Safar’, Talat Aziz with Carvaan-e- Ghazal. You cannot duplicate talent. We have invested a lot in talent, and as we speak we are in talks with another very big artist. All this cannot be replicated.
Q. So the risk has paid off the channel is a revenue driver, given the fact that it has seen a sharp spike in rates?
We have moved from a 9 per cent share and No. 5 position to No. 1 position in Mumbai over the last six months, and that has been the big story for us as a company. We embraced local insights, local format and launched retro in Mumbai. We took a huge risk but it paid off hugely.
Annu Kapoor’s show Suhana Safar , added reach not only for our channel but also the reach to the category of radio listening. We are the No. 1 breakfast show and almost during any part of the day, we are the No. 1 brand. Across the four metros, we are either No. 1 or No. 2. In Bangalore, we are at No. 2, in Kolkata, at No. 1 or No. 2 and in Mumbai, at No. 1. We do very well in Delhi, where we are mostly No. 1 or No. 2.
Our rates have increased by almost 100 percent over the last three months, and our advertisers have come back to us with better ideas and volumes.
We are looking to do a lot more local insight mining, extensive research for our stations and sign up local talent. We are working with unique talent in every market which is helping us strengthen our growth.
Q. What led to taking this risk and moving to retro?
There was a lot of duplication in the market with the same kind of talk and same kind of music. We had some good listenership but were trailing with no clear leadership and were oscillating between positions three and four. We felt we needed to break through; we did extensive research and felt there was a need for old music, which is quite timeless in today’s times.
New music today does not last for more two weeks to two months. Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, RD Burman, Asha Bhosale are timeless gems. It was of course a little risky and a lot of people told us you won’t be contemporary and you won’t get stars to your station. We decided we are consumer-centric and this is what the consumer wants. We added talent around it and it really changed things for us. We did extensive research even in the retro music genre in terms of the kind of music we should play. We have bucketed it as timeless and time-bound, i.e. we play more of timeless music and less of time-bound music. There is a certain set of music directors, artists, and actors whose music we play more than others. A lot of science went into this, we had to also change a lot of our talk because radio talk was seen to be immature and frivolous cacophony, so we had to find a lot of new talent that would go with older music, and talk to audiences like people, not jokers.
It took some time for everything to fall in place. We launched a new breakfast show host with Siddharth and a new evening host with Dilip in Mumbai. Two new hosts at one time is a big risk but we did that in Delhi also. Eventually, it has all come together. Time spent on our stations is close to five hours a week, which is possibly higher than any medium in Mumbai, with our average reach 40 -45 lakhs over five hours every week.
Q. Any shift in consumption patterns emerging?
A lot of consumption is happening over the mobile and on the go.
Even at home it is on the mobile. What iPod and MP3 players did in the west the FM over the mobile is doing for Indians. Over 50 per cent of consumption is happening over the mobile.
Q. What are some of the learnings from this risk that took off has become a big story for the Group?
• Consumer-centricity; you could worry that you are at the corner of the street and alone, but maybe it is better to be alone than to be with the crowd.
• Marginal differentiation will not help. We could have played some old music during some parts of the day but if you believe an idea, go with it 100 per cent.
• If you believe in it, get your team to believe in it also. If they don’t believe, they won’t be able to execute it. Our team believes in our retro-positioning and now speaks that language.
• You have to collaborate with the right kind of talent, the job becomes that much easier.
Q. What is the way forward look like?
The way forward is going to be defined by Phase III. If we do multiple frequencies in a city, we are definitely not going to do a second retro channel. What Phase III and multiple frequencies will allow is more people to innovate like we have. Allow us to innovate more, looking at age, demographics and language as a cutting point. It stops no one from doing a Marathi station or youth station in Mumbai , a lot more data and insight mining will take place.
Q. What are your immediate plans?
Adding more talent to our radio channel.
Q. Given the retro positioning , how does the channel stay contemporary ?
Every single artist today is inspired by a legend who they are extremely happy to talk about. We also have a Bollywood editor in Bhavana Somaiya who does movie reviews every week. We are not disconnected at all. Somaiya is somebody who is not frivolous and is taken seriously.
Q. What is the radio sector looking like post Budget?
We are waiting for some announcements from I& B Ministry. We are hoping radio will get its due and Phase III will be announced, and also the migration policy that has been approved by TRAI will be put in force.