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Prem Kumar

COO | 04 Sep 2012

We are growing at a good rate. Last year, we grew almost 70 per cent. We have been able to differentiate and that shows in the numbers. Most of the brands that come to us are exclusive to Chennai Live. We are reaching almost 90 per cent of our target audience. We have exclusive brands who advertise only with us such as Taj, Hilton, Apple, BMW, Mercedes, Aloft, Paypal, Microsoft and more.

In a career spanning about one and a half decades, Prem Kumar, Chief Operating Officer, Chennai Live 104.8 FM, has made a name for himself as a strategist in establishing businesses, brand management, product management and advertising, sales and e-commerce. He has to his credit the launch of a variety of products in the consumer durables segment for business houses like Sony India, Murugappa Group, and so on. Kumar started his career with electronics giant Sony India, where he was involved in the launch of Sony’s Plasma and LCD television sets in India. After his stint with Sony, Kumar joined the Murugappa Group as Business Head for their sanitaryware business and established the Faucets Division of Parryware Roca. He also had a brief stint with Indiamarkets.com as Head of E-commerce.

In an interaction with exchange4media’s Deepa Balasubramanian, Kumar speaks about the challenges faced on being the only talk radio station, content strategy, audience response and the road ahead...

Q. In a competitive market scenario, where does Chennai Live stand?

When we started out four years back, we were very clear that we wanted to differentiate ourselves both in terms of the content and the format. Of the eight stations in Chennai, seven stations play the same Tamil songs. Thus we decided to have English content and stand apart from others.

We thought in terms of format as we did not want our station to be typically music driven. Of course, we do play international music, but our focus has been on talk shows. Talk radio internationally means only talk, but that will not work in India. If you see our link duration, it is about 5-7 minutes in the morning and 2-3 minutes in the evenings. The idea is not to break an interesting conversation just to play music. So we are kind of an infotainment channel, where we add value to people’s lives.

Q. What are your plans to reach the top position?

When we started out, we were criticised by a lot of people and told that English will not survive in the Chennai market. Before we started, there were two channels who had experimented with English, namely Mirchi and Radio City, but after a very short period they went Tamil. I think we had the guts to stay English and do well from the beginning, which is reaping us amazing dividend now. This is because we are niche and we have differentiated ourselves. In any market if you try to stand apart from other competitors, you will definitely be successful. Moreover, by going English, we also reach out to the cream of the audience and we believe that we will reach the No. 1 position very soon.

Q. What made you think that English radio station will be a hit?

I would say why not English? In the last five to six years, Chennai has undergone a massive change – people have come into the city from outside, and English is one language that everyone understands. Chennai has a population of 1 million that consumes English, which is a sizable number.

Q. How do you plan to stand out from other radio stations in terms of content and format?

We have an initiative called ‘Band Hunt’, where we offer a chance to various bands that are not so popular to play their music on our radio station. For winners it is an exciting initiative as we give them a chance to bring out their own CD.

We also have programmes like ‘Book Show’, the only book show in the country. We also have something called ‘Paper Band’, where we interview authors; we conduct a live quiz show; we have a sports show as well. Thus, we are an infotainment station and not just play music.

Besides, we are the only radio station to have the name of the city in its brand. This is because we wanted to reflect the city.

Q. What are your future plans for Chennai Live?

We intend to promote independent music in a big way by providing a platform to upcoming musicians. To that extent we have tied up with organisations like NH7 and Blue Frog. We also intend to take this on ground by having an independent music festival. Apart from that we would have a lot more shows with engaging content.

Q. Please tell us about some major campaigns by Chennai Live that have seen huge success?

We had conducted a campaign called Mr Auto in association with the Chennai Traffic Police, which was a superhit campaign. The campaign was directed at autorickshaw drivers, who are generally a hated lot because of their rash driving, using abusive languages and so on. This campaign was a hunt for the best autorickshaw driver in the city. The aim was to encourage autorickshaw drivers to undergo a change in attitude and make travelling a pleasant experience for commuters. We had people voting good or bad for the best autorickshaw person and the most number of ‘good’ votes won the title of Mr Auto 2012 and a cash prize of Rs 25,000.

Q. Please elaborate on the strategy for Chennai Live for the 2012-14 period.

We will continue to enhance the production value of our shows with a lot of new shows planned with more engagement with our listeners. Apart from that, we would launch some big properties across live performances. For this we will collaborate with other reputed brands to bring the best to Chennai.

Q. How has the content strategy for Chennai Live evolved over the years?

I would not say evolution, as we were very clear from day one what we wanted to do. I would say we have become better at managing the format that we set out to achieve. When we started initially, we were also struggling a lot, but we knew what we wanted and to get there it took us some time as we required infrastructure as talk radio meant a different kind of eco-system vis-à-vis a music station. Also, we are the only station to have required a show producer as our content is infotainment. In many radio stations you do not need a producer because they are just music radio stations.

Q. What is the percentage growth in ad reveneues? Who are the major advertisers with Chennai Live?

We are growing at a good rate. Last year, we grew almost 70 per cent. We have been able to differentiate and that shows in the numbers. Most of the brands that come to us are exclusive to Chennai Live. Last year, RAM carried out a three-month study from July to September, which showed that we got a listenership of 6 lakh. We are reaching almost 90 per cent of our target audience. We have exclusive brands who advertise only with us such as Taj, Hilton, Apple, BMW, Mercedes, Aloft, Paypal, Microsoft and more.

Q. What are the new trends that you see in radio?

People are not willing to experiement. Most of the stations are in their comfort zone. So I think there is no major trend in radio that I see at the moment. Hopefully, this will change.

Q. How do you foresee the radio industry five years down the line?

With Phase III coming in, the number of radio stations will increase from 300 to 1,000 stations and radio will become a huge medium; then advertisers can no longer afford to ignore radio.

In the current context, the Government doesn’t allow one operator to have multiple licenses in a city. But as per the new policy, one can have multiple stations, which would offer more choice to the listeners and aid in the growth of radio.

Q. How do you see Chennai Live five years from now?

We as a group are extremely large with a turnover of Rs 20,000 crore. This is our diversification into media space. So our objective is to attain success in this space. We want to get the model or the formula right and then we will roll out in other cities.

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