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Anish Trivedi

Popular RJ and CMD | 20 Jul 2002

"Radio Stations can't have different day-parts for different audiences"

In our quest to understand Radio better, we were looking to chat up with someone who understands Radio, both from the programming and the business side. And preferably, first hand! Difficult choice, in the nascent stages of the medium. And then we chanced upon Anish Trivedi. Anish, earlier a top notch banker with Oppenheimer & Co, is now successfully running his five year old radio production company - Banyan Tree and also host a popular Breakfast Show on Mumbai's GO 92.5. He has been involved with radio for over 20 years, beginning with a show at USC's college station. He went on to host one of the first shows to air on India's privatised airwaves in 1993.

In his Cuff Parade office, Amit Agnihotri of exchange4media discussed about the content dynamics of radio business, and if he believes that in the maxim-'radio is a passive medium.' To which Anish vehemently argued-'it is a crap.'

Q. From Banking to Banyan Tree. For a radio content company, Banyan Tree is a strange name. What is the inspiration?

Well, The Banyan Tree in Indian tradition is the centre of local activity and information. Schools and village meetings are still conducted under the shade of its branches, and its spreading roots symbolise an ever-expanding embrace of the community. As a company, we recreate this sense of community amongst Indians worldwide!

Established in 1997, Banyan Tree Communications is the largest independent producer of radio programming in India. We produce almost 1000 hours of original content every month in a range that includes music, entertainment, news, chat and current affairs shows. And we market this content across a number of broadcast media, including terrestrial, cable, satellite and Internet radio.

Q. And how has been the going?

Unfortunately, private radio has taken a long time. We expected a far more active environment. In the interim, we have done programming for AIR, Satellite radio channels, Airlines and several other niches. We are glad that finally the airwaves are free!

Q. But isn't radio a low cost-low return medium? How lucrative is it?

Yes, Radio is a cheap medium whether for advertising or programming. To create half hour TV soap, the costing begins at Rs 3 to 4 lacs but for a radio play the costing could be as low as rupees twenty thousand!

So as a corporate growth strategy, we have grown by adding volume. As I told you earlier, we also do programming for hotels, retail outlets and airlines.

Q. Ok. To understand the content dynamics in radio space, what is the agreement with music companies? Is it pay-per-song?

Yes it is. When we use a music piece, we have to pay two kinds of fees- one to Record Labels for using the their music and two, to the artistes or singers as royalty.

Q. We heard some controversy over these bodies hiking the prices?

The record industry feels that they have lost enough monies over the years on Daler Mehndi, Alisha and other and have now decided to make money by hitting at the very industry that will help them recover some!

So while they asked All India Radio Rs. 150 per hour as royalty, they turned around to private stations and asked for Rs. 1,500 and satellite stations like World space Rs 3000. Numbers pulled out of the hat!

They though lets make money this way since we are incapable of generating enough tape and CD sales.

Q. Ok. But how does the glut of free music on private music stations impact the sales of music labels? Does it suppress it?

Most certainly, the private radio stations help sell more music on tapes or CDs. Fortunately, some labels like Sony or Virgin realize that there might be a short-term dip but after listening a promo or a song, the guys may get convinced to buy the CD.

But, unfortunately a lot of music labels in India feels that with private stations they can make a quick buck. This is really thoughtless. Hopefully they'll realize that stations are partners in sales and not adversaries.

Q. Moving on to media characteristic, it is often cited that radio is a passive medium and it is television that is intrusive. Do you subscribe to this theory?

Absolutely not. Radio is very much an active medium. It is television that is passive. Viewers watch television with little interaction. They hardly pickup the phone to call or SMS.

On radio, this interactivity is a way of life; 'Call up for a dedication' or 'Voice your opinion' are popular radio programming formats.

So, when people say that radio is passive medium because you listen in background, I think it is a complete crap.

Q. As per early research numbers from Nielsen-ORG Marg radio research, there seem to be two 'prime times' on radio. One is the morning drive-time peak and the other is the evening peak. Given that you host a popular breakfast show on GO 92.5 FM, in Mumbai, is the audience composition in these time bands significantly different?

Well, frankly, we are all grouping in the dark. In India, at this point in time, no one has a clue. But if you were to ask me about the international experience, numbers out of UK and US surely suggest that Breakfast radio is extremely popular.

At the other level, the listenership patterns in these are two day-parts, are very different. The morning day-part listenership is fairly consistent day after day. That's because Mumbaities have a very consistent morning behavior. But evening is another story. The listenership is likely to be in flux. A quick qualification is that I know this is true for Mumbai. I don't really know enough about the other centers.

Q. On programming strategy, all five stations in Mumbai are 'hit music stations' playing same songs over and over again. Is this the way things will be! Will programming move on to different genres?

Good question and we don't have an answer yet. We are at pilot stage of development of soaps and plays for various stations. Will that be a differentiator? We hope so and so does the station.

But at the end of the day, unless you have a very large number of stations, say 100, there won't be much of differentiation. We aren't getting a Jazz station soon!

So at this point, I believe, it is the way you fill the silence between the music that matter. What a station will put out between a VIVA and a Britney Spears, those 30 seconds, the RJ talk, will matter.

Q. Are stations clearly targeting a well-defined audience? Also, in your view, can a radio station cater to different audiences at different day-parts, by changing the programming?

To be honest, most radio stations are not very discriminating. Most meeting that I walk into, across the country, I find station head talking 'my audience is people between 18-45 years.' I think there are at least 3 audiences that are clubbed together!

To answer the other part of your question, can a single station have a morning drive time programming, aimed at executive, and then turn towards housewives in afternoon; I don't think that is possible. Being different things to different people at different day-parts is perhaps not possible on Radio. What happens if my drive time listener tunes in afternoon when he is driving for a meeting? A cookery show will turn him off!

So, a station should know its audience and keep them glued from morning to evening.

Q. So, the identity of a station is very important...

Yes. People identify and tune in to a station and not the show. They tune in to GO 92.5 every morning, not to hear Anish Trivedi on the Breakfast Show, but to hear GO 92.5.

Q. That being modest, Anish! They tune in for both....

Perhaps. I hope so!

Q. Ok. To conclude this chat, tell us, how has been your experience of moving out of banking to full time radio professional?

Well, banking was long time ago…. Radio was always a hobby. I went on air in India some nine years ago. I keep joking about the fact that it has been 22 years since I did my first radio show. That makes Ameen Sayani and myself the oldest radio professionals in the country! Thankfully, my hobby became my profession. I got lucky.

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