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Vineet Singh Hukmani

MD | 10 Jan 2012

We are and will be the player who is ‘away from the herd’ in each city. But each city will have a formula of its own for success… In every market we will be distanced from the herd and will allow the ‘highest associative value’ to client brands. This makes us India’s most differentiated network and the only one that allows profiling of audiences.

Vineet Singh Hukmani is the Managing Director and on the Board of Directors of Radio One Ltd. He joined Radio One four and a half years ago as CEO and was soon elevated because of the various innovations he brought to the revenue model, decentralisation of the business for speed, and growing the business yield of the company manifold. During his stint, Radio One has been declared the No. 1 radio brand and No. 7 media brand from among 125 media brands in India, in a survey done by Pitch magazine among media planners and buyers in November 2009. He has been instrumental in setting up the Live concerts division of Radio One, which is now a new revenue stream for the company. He has also incubated the digital business under the brand IndiaONE, which has topped the Apple iTunes charts for iPads and iPhones recently.

Prior to Radio One, Hukmani was instrumental in turning around various mid-sized companies using innovative strategic shifts. The first being Cheil Samsung Communications, Korea’s largest advertising agency, which set up office in India. As COO – India & SW Asia, Hukmani was instrumental in transforming the agency to a Rs 220-crore full service agency. He was also instrumental in securing the Rs 80-crore Hyundai business, which was the largest account handled by Cheil India outside the Samsung business.

In conversation with Shree Lahiri of exchange4media, Hukmani stresses on the need to shun the herd and also shares Radio One’s plans to go international in Mumbai and Delhi.

Q. What is the current state of radio?

We researched clients and listeners about what they thought were the problems in radio and we got two clear answers

1.All radio stations sound the same
2.All radio stations sound ‘dumb’ (to an educated audience)
We had begun to correct this two-fold problem across our markets, but now the change we make will be highly audible in Mumbai and Delhi. We want Radio One to be different, intelligent, international and involving to ‘English speaking’ Indians who have a global outlook.

Q. What is the greatest disadvantage of radio currently that is not faced by other media?

Our research showed that radio reaches all but does not engage a certain profile of audience. It is, therefore, impossible to ‘target and engage’ a SEC AB 25-40 on radio without a huge spillover into irrelevant audiences. People who prefer their infotainment in English have lapsed or are lapsing fast from radio. Radio today tries to reach SEC A B C D E all 12+ and this means it cannot offer a profiled audience to a brand. Radio aims for the lowest common denominator and, therefore, automatically cannot engage an educated audience. Every other medium allows fabulous profiling of audiences. English newspapers, English news channels, English sports, movies, lifestyle have shown us the way.

Q. How would you define your audience?

There is a clear and well profiled audience, the kind of person who reads an English newspaper every day front page to last page. There is a huge amount of content there and this is a 4.5 million universe in two cities – Mumbai and Delhi. There are 1.8 million people in these two cities who consume ‘English/ international’ television, be it news, movies, sports. It is these 7 million people who have fuelled the growth of Facebook and Twitter in this country in the last three years. It is these people who have allowed news television in English to grow into a formidable force. It is these people who love to listen to even Amitabh Bachchan and Sachin Tendulkar speaking in English and mind you, every Indian celebrity has a strong English side. To many, sports in English is more desirable than in any other language. This audience loves a two-way dialogue and radio is inherently designed for that large community feeling.

Q. Is the market ready for English in radio in Mumbai and Delhi?

There is a huge misconception about English per say in radio circles. Famous speeches like ‘Freedom at midnight’ or ‘Tryst with destiny’ by Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru were made in English on radio and a very long time ago. Every parent wants his child to excel in English and it is this quality that has made us so competitive in global markets. Indians today ‘thrive’ globally because of their comfort with English as against the Chinese or many other ‘non-English adopting’ countries. So, if English or an international feel can do well in infotainment in print, TV, Internet, cinema and outdoor, then why not in radio? The audience is ready. The radio medium is lagging behind on this front and we aim to correct it. English/ international beckons with open arms! The listener and advertiser have already embraced it in other media and they will do so in radio too.

Q. What will be the programming highlights in the new format?

The most critical change is the host. We will not call them RJs anymore. Our new hosts reflect our values of different, intelligent, international and involving. They bring a maturity to the dialogue with a listener who has a global outlook as defined above. The programming will engage this listener repeatedly across different time bands and make our special listener feel totally at home on Radio One. It is because of the talent of the host, information and entertainment will be shared much more easily, because the host is a ‘perfect reflection’ of the listener, unlike in other radio stations where upmarket jocks are forced to cater to lower SECs.

The second change will be three prime shows in the day that are well segmented in their offering and offer a very strong ‘engagement product’ to the ‘show presenter (advertiser)’. Non-music content will be of the highest quality and will stand on its own as will international and friendly music. Music that you have heard and loved, nothing too edgy or obscure. Music that will keep you in a happy, breezy mood.

The third change is that weekends will not be treated as ‘secondary’ as most radio stations do. We have made considerable investment in talent and programming on weekends and even weeknights to ensure the profile of audience we are engaging is satisfied right across the week with the highest quality.

Q. What about the other cities?

We are and will be the player who is ‘away from the herd’ in each city. But each city will have a formula of its own for success. So, if all radio stations are Kannada in Bangalore. We are a 100 per cent Bollywood station, which again allows a better profiling of audience. While in Pune, where all radio stations mix a regional and Hindi playout, we again stick to a well profiled person who speaks a certain kind of Hindi only and loves a certain kind of Hindi music. While other radio stations in Ahmedabad talk a lot, we ensure the maximum music every hour and the station again is more premium and upmarket. In Chennai and Kolkata, we will target the English newspaper readers who love local and international forms of music. In every market we will be distanced from the herd and will allow the ‘highest associative value’ to client brands. This makes us India’s most differentiated network and the only one that allows profiling of audiences.

Q. How do you think other players will react given that no differentiation lasts long in the radio market?

The others are networks first and then perhaps cater to individual cities, much like a McDonald’s that has to be standardised as it is all about reach. We are an excellent profiler and engager, first at the city level and that then makes up our network, almost like a gourmet restaurant that succeeds city by city and ends up being a national brand. It is impossible for the mass players to be able to profile and target better. They have and will attempt to cater to all 12+ audiences from a CEO to a rickshaw wallah. So, if an advertiser has a lot of money to waste in spillover and wants to carpet bomb, then mass networks will find favour, but if they want better ROI because of better targeting on air and engagement on ground, then we will deliver better. A language change in media is the biggest profiler and us using English in Mumbai and Delhi is not easily copied by the others as that goes against their strategy of mass reach and carpet bombing. Even in Bangalore, where we are the only Hindi player, competition has stayed in Kannada as that’s where their game is.

Q. Will business not get affected because of the change?

We are more confident than ever that business will go up from our current levels due to three reasons. We have already experienced this in Bangalore, Pune and Ahmedabad.

1. Every client we have spoken to wants a differentiated product in radio so that they can target better and engage better. They already do this in print, TV, Internet, but not in radio. So this is not rocket science for them.
2.Every client in local retail too wants to shun the competitive herd in his local market and wants to cater to a higher value audience. We are already showing them how not to commoditise their local retail brands and move up not down
3.The economic environment is demanding a much better ROI and a highly targeted on air and on ground engagement. We are poised much more superiorly on this than any other radio station.

Q. What can the audience look forward to at launch time?

We have a simple but large invitation to our audience at the time of launch. ‘Discover how global you are!” We will engage English speaking Indian homes with this invitation and will allow advertisers to take advantage of ‘the excitement of change’ in the radio space. Come February and let all witness and sample the change.

Q. What is the larger business strategy and how are you readying yourself for Phase III?

We have seeded new revenue streams in the Live concert space and in digital in premium devices and these will dovetail with the international radio product to cater to the same ‘well profiled’ audience. For Phase III, we will target more metros that have a sizeable population that has a global outlook. We want to reach a total of 10 cities from the current seven. We don’t want to be big on reach, but continue to be high on profit as a result of being high on engagement and superior targeting. It is time to shun the herd and be the only radio station company that is really different in every city. It is time to offer better ROI to the advertiser. It is time to play the game with our own rules!

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