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Gautam Radia

CEO | 26 Jun 2002

"Our current programming strategy is 'more dhak dhak and less bak bak'!"

Gautam Radia is no stranger to Indian media. After being the Founder - Editor of the Intelligent Investor from 95 to 97, Gautam embarked for the war torn Sri Lanka, where he took charge of the 300 person Maharaja Broadcasting. Maharaja Broadcasting owns and operates 2 national TV stations and 3 leading national Radio Stations.

Whilst in Sri Lanka, Gautam built FM radio stations from the scratch and was credited to increasing the share of radio advertising spend to 20%. In 2000, Gautam returned to India where he started up Millenium Broadcast Company to launch radio stations under the name "WIN 94.6". WIN 94.6 was launched in Mumbai on 1st May 2002 and is scheduled to commence operations in Delhi by end August 2002. In the opening interview of exchange4media Radio Channel, we pick Radia's mind on stations programming strategy, differentiators and his chances in a David Vs Goliaths fight.

Q. On Radio, perhaps the biggest differentiator is 'programming'. What is the programming strategy at WIN? And how do you see it evolve?

We are completely a listener driven station. Our current programming strategy is 'more dhak dhak and less bak bak'! We don't want the RJ to talk too much. We want our songs to do the talking. Also, it is not very easy to get RJs who can engage people in conversation and occupy a mind space meaningfully. So, as a key element of our programming strategy, we keep RJs role limited.

But, this strategy will keep changing as the market matures. Over a period, if research says that people have accepted the Radio FM and the jockeys, we may have jockeys do more talking. Not that we don't have good RJs. We are proud to have the best team of Radio Jockeys in town. We have names like Veera, Rishikesh Kanan, Cyrus Barucha, Roshan Abbas. No other radio station can boast off a line up like that. Their talent really speaks. And despite being a radio company only, with no cross media interests, we have been able to attract and retain them.

Q. As the 5th player Radio Today's Radio RED enters Mumbai market, what do you think of allowing 5 stations to operate in Mumbai from the word go. Do you think it is too much competition in a nascent market?

On the contrary, I think a market needs multiple stations to make Radio listnership a habit! Statistics tell us that listnership is low in monopoly markets.

Indian media history will also agree with me. In 1992, when Doordarshan had a monopoly, the average time spent watching TV was 32 minutes but, now when there are many channels, the average time spend watching TV has increased to 125 minutes. This could only happen after the advent of new TV channels, and people have a choice to watch. Same thing is also applicable to Radio.

The amount of time people spend on Radio can only increase if the listener has choice. If you have 5 or 6 radio channels, people would start spending 100 to 125min, which is a global average of radio listnership per day.

Internationally, many markets have more than 10 stations. For example: in Manila there is an excess of 48 radio stations; in Colombo there is an excess of 20 FM radio stations plus some medium wave channels; in Bangkok there is an excess of 35 FM radio stations; in Paris there is an excess of 50 FM radio stations, in London there is an excess of 15 or 20 FM radio stations.

The fact remains that Mumbai is a complex and diverse market with number of communities and number of religion, 5 radio stations are not too many.

Q. Moving on listnership trends, will radio listeners be as fickle as television viewers? We expect them to be more settled…

No. In the initial stages we'll see far more station surfing till the loyalty actually settles down. In fact, it will take around 6 to 9 months for people to say that this is the radio station that I listen to all the time. Fact of the matter is that very few people are spending 100% time on one station. I would say less than 5% or 10% people listen 100% to one station. Over a period of time you will find that listeners are loyal to one station on which you would like to spend 50%-60% of time and then there will be a second favorite station on which you would like to spend 15% - 25% of time and the balance time would be spent on other radio station. One radio station will not take away all the listening. As they keep surfing the TV channels, they will also surf radio channels. Whenever they find either a best music or best jockey or an interesting event.

Q. How do you differentiate yourself from other players present in the market?

We are hit music radio station and our main focus is to ensure that we play hit music because that is the prime promise that we have made to the listeners and advertisers and we will stick by that. Our production and packaging are significantly different. Our station packaging and promotion are done in UK and South Africa. So, you will find that our station production is at different level. Our jockeys have their unique and different style. We have made great effort to ensure that we play the right music. We have researched over 3800 songs to ensure that we put the right Playlist.

Since new songs hit the market every day, instead of making just a judgment call, we need to ensure that we have the highest level of conviction before we put any new song on the air. So we'll constantly research the audience tastes.

Q. Given the cross media power of your competition, how are you working to acquire listeners?

Well, we started off to create awareness first. We used the outdoor medium, some 70 hoardings in Mumbai including the Patel bridge hoardings. Coinciding with the launch, we kicked off our below the line campaigns. We signed a strategic deal with Cross Roads where our radio station is played in the mall. Cross Roads has a large number of traffic going through the stores. We have stamped around 50,000 car stickers by now. Then we launched series of innovative promotions like this one where all those who have secured 94.6% (our FM frequency) in SSC, will be paid their first term fees by WIN 94.6. We have WIN Mobile, a Toyota Qualis painted in our logo colors that was parked in places like schools, colleges, cinema halls, high traffic areas, and promote the radio station there. We give a free drink to everybody who visits our Mobile because it's pretty warm in Mumbai.

So, these things are really working well. There is high degree of participation from the listeners.

Q. Moving to a larger question about cross media promotions. Each of your competitors has strong multi media presence. Given that it gives the edge in acquiring listeners, how does it affect your station strategy?

We believe that radio is a pure play and a medium by itself. Also, the jury is not out on the convergence debate. If you read the recent comment made by the COO of AOL Times Warner, he admitted that convergence is not something that they have benefits out of. It is not clear yet if convergence actually works. Globally there are no standing shining examples!

So we don't suffer from any disadvantage. In fact we feel that we are ideally structured to run the radio business.

Q. Lastly, What future do you see for radio as a medium?

We see the future to be good but there will be some months of trouble, as you know that our license fee is very high. So, we will take some time to break even.

We have just seen the first round of licensing. There will be second round, third round of licensing where there will be option of other cities, where radio FM is not present. So, there will be a fair amount of growth in the radio category and being the players in the large markets Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai, it is very important for us to grow this market as rapidly as we can.

Fortunately for us there has been proliferation of small radio sets, which has infused lot of excitement in the market. The estimates are that around 2 million radio sets are sold in the market by now.

We have begun very well and lots of people are listening to radio, people are spending serious time with the radio, lot of people like what they hear. If they don't like something then they switch to another station but then come back.

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