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Romen Sood

Station Director | 31 Jan 2004

“We are expecting a listenership of more than 100 minutes in Kolkata.”

Romen Sood, Station Manager, Radio Mirchi, Kolkata has years of experience in the communication arena. Having worked for ITC, Clarion and Mudra, Mumbai, Sood’s career includes stints on both the client and the advertising side. In this session, Rina Mukherji from our Kolkata bureau met Romen Sood to understand the Kolkata market and therefore the potential of Radio FM advertising in the city. Sood during his interaction also delves into the psyche of an average Kolkatan to arrive at the best programming mix for his radio station. Probably it’s his long years in the advertising business that urges him to treat Radio Mirchi as a “brand” and hence, to think of its positioning accordingly.

Q. Prior to launching Radio Mirchi here, you said, “We are expecting a listenership of more than 100 minutes in Kolkata.” How do you expect to achieve that?

In the cities where we launched our station, we found that the general TSL (Time Spent Listening) for daily listeners of radio following the launch of private radio stations was above 100 minutes. Our post-launch household listenership research in Kolkata indicates a TSL of 114 minutes. So what we had anticipated has happened.

Q. In spite of so many radio stations, the general feeling among listeners is, ‘If you have heard one, you have heard them all.’ In fact, a Madison Media study had found that most could not even identify stations at all.

Whereas all private stations in Kolkata follow a music format, Mirchi has managed to create a distinct identity for itself.

Our pre- launch research and knowledge of the Kolkata market (through Times FM) had clearly indicated that to appeal across SECs and age categories the spoken language had to be Bangla. The music preferences, on the other hand, were clearly in favor of contemporary and retro Hindi. Hence, we went in for a largely Hindi play list (with some select Bangla numbers) with Bangla used by RJs and in interviews/ promos.

Also recognizing the great appeal for retro in Kolkata (which is higher than in other cities) we opted for a large retro play list, as also separate and appropriate time bands. This clearly differentiates us from competing stations, which are either pure Bangla, (music and talk) or largely Hindi/Hinglish.

Our content is very heavily Kolkata- centric and we have on air ‘Go Go Ganguly’, ‘Mr Hot Crackpot’,’ Ding Dong’, special shows like ‘Oof Mrs Sen’ which are widely recognizable in Kolkata and enjoy mass appeal. These are all a result of constant and sustained effort at programming innovations. Additionally, the focus on Bollywood (which again is unique to Mirchi) is maintained through star interviews (far more than any other station), Bollywood gameshows, trivia and movie information.

Radio Mirchi maintains an extensive ground presence and interaction with listeners through events and promotions (consumer fairs, music events, food fairs etc) or through association with major relevant events important to Kolkatans such as ground floats and extensive on air focus for Pujas, and official radio sponsorship of the Kolkata Book Fair). These have given us a clear competitive edge. To a Kolkata listener Mirchi has a unique sound and is perceived as a ‘brand’ rather than parity ‘product’. This I believe is the key reason why Mirchi is the preferred station for Kolkatans.

Q. The focus, one finds is always on safe entertainment rather than talk shows or news features. Are radio stations too scared to innovate?

Mirchi has chosen the entertainment route as a conscious strategy. We have been in the forefront where innovations go – whether it concerns pioneering the largest on air contest (Kismet Khol de – with over 50 lakhs worth of prizes to be won), the first contest to give out mega cash prizes on air (Khel lakhon Ka), consumer and food fairs, combined on air and on ground promotions (RJ Hunt), or anything else.

Regulatory provisions of our license do not allow us to air news. As far as talk shows go it is a different format altogether and we believe that a combination of talk shows and music is not listener friendly. Further it is globally proven and accepted that radio is not an appointment listening medium and hence deviating from the music format to include an occasional talk show is being neither here nor there.

Q. The total ad spend on radio advertising in India is a measly 1.5 per cent, as compared to 5-15 per cent in countries abroad. In spite of projections of radio ad spend growing to 7-8 per cent in the next decade, one cannot discount the growing penetration of television in rural and urban households in this context. Your comments please.

The low ad spend on radio as a percentage of overall ad spends is a matter of some concern. However we believe that the category will certainly grow in the coming years with more radio stations coming up in existing and new cities. As competition increases it will only help expand the category in terms of listenership and revenue.

As media, television and radio provide different opportunities for communication solutions to advertisers. Radio is far more local, immediate and interactive than other media and has a large listenership across the day. Therefore, there are several utilities such as the traffic beat or stock updates on Mirchi, which are not possible or cannot provide as many GRPs to clients through mainstream TV channels.

TV and radio also do not really compete for listener/viewer time. This is the global experience and validated over more than 2.5 years in India. Which is why globally TV and Radio have grown independently of each other and radio commands a 7-8% of advertising revenue in mature radio markets.

Q. How are the various stations positioned in Kolkata? (We find several claims and counterclaims of leadership out here).

We have done extensive research in Kolkata – both recall based household listenership surveys as well as regular ‘observation based’ Car tracks (which are empirically proven to be largely accurate predictors of in home listening). Both studies indicate a clear leadership position for Mirchi across the period since launch.

The car tracks have consistently indicated a share of around 60% for Radio Mirchi since the time of launch upto present. We have had 60% (October), 59%(November) and 61% (December) and unduplicated listener share (which means all competition totals about 40%). The car tracks reflect our share in the in key higher SEC/affluent car owning segment, which is the mainstay for many brands. The household research gives us a 66% share of listener share in Kolkata, which is in keeping with the car track share.

Our leadership is also borne out by the fact that we have a 70% revenue share in the Kolkata market. Further, of our advertiser base, over 80% are repeat clients. Clearly advertisers recognize Mirchi’s leadership and realise value spending on our channel. All our research has been conducted by the Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB), which is one of the foremost market research agencies in the country today.

The credibility of any research depends on the research agency employed as well as the rigor and processes employed. There are research studies being actively quoted by competition where the sample size for Kolkata is 200. Given the population and heterogenous nature of the city, a minimum sample size of more than 1000 is essential to accurately assess market share across age/SEC/occupation/sex segments (which is the sample size of our household research). Even our car track research has used a sample size of 250 in each track.

Drawing accurate conclusions on listenership shares needs a comprehensive study of research undertaken. Mere toplines without adequate details can be misleading. For instance, a ‘programme’- based research is fine for TV but not for radio since the latter is no appointment- based medium.

Q. At the moment, the license fees for radio stations are extremely high and companies are finding it extremely tough to break even. What do you have to say to that?

Yes, it is true that high licensing fees are posing a huge problem in making stations viable. If the present high cost structure continues it may force many stations to shut shop. From a consumer point of view it severely restricts the programming options available since niche stations are unviable. However, we hope the radio industry can work in conjunction with the government to create a more conducive playing field in the near future.

Q. Studies have shown that unlike many other countries 72 % of listenership is at home, with only 3 % in cars. Do you think proliferation of FM stations can effect a change there?

The comparison that you allude to is with western countries where in- car listenership is higher than in India due to a) much higher density of cars per capita and b) longer driving durations.

In India our car tracks have shown that a very healthy 60% + of car –based listening to FM. However the miniscule proportion of cars as a percentage of the overall populations in our cities is the reason for low in- car listening in India. But though small, in- car listenership reflects on the affluent segment of the population that is again very important for a number of brands.

There will certainly be an increase in car listenership over time but the overall impact is likely to be small given the constraints.

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