‘Every channel sounds alike’ is the sentiment echoed by everyone who is concerned with the private FM radio business in the country. Be it marketers or the listeners, everyone is asking for differentiation. In this scenario, exchange4media caught up with some of the radio operators across the country for their views on the subject of multiple licenses in a city. Interestingly, all the players are calling for such a move to take place in the industry for similar reasons.
Apurva Purohit, CEO, Radio City, said, “It is actually the government’s call. I understand from their point-of-view that Phase II is still rolling out. We may be impatient, but it would be a year by the time the 91 stations set up. Only after that one can expect something in Phase III. The point is that if all of us are allowed only one frequency a city, all of us will go for the lower end and the niche content will never come.”
Pointing out that single frequency is one of the primary reasons for channels not being able to innovate and differentiate, Abraham Thomas, COO, Red FM, said, “Everybody tries to be a mass market station, so with differentiation, there can be niche players with talk channels. Also, players will look at innovations, and with the main channel remaining a mass channel, the second one will be a niche station.”
Prashant Panday, Deputy CEO, Radio Mirchi, remarked, “Given the state of evolution of the radio industry in the country, programming diversity will not come across unless players are allowed to operate in more than one frequency.” Elaborating on the advantages of more than one frequency, he observed, “The holder would differentiate the two offerings, and costs like sales and infrastructure would be shared. That makes multiple frequencies attractive and you can even sell your stations like a bouquet.”
Nisha Narayanan, Project Head, Sun FM, shared her agreement with the other players for multiple licenses in a city. Citing Telecom Regulatory Authority India’s position on the subject of ‘sameness in programming and little variation’ in 2004, she said, “TRAI had recommended that each entity should be allowed to hold three, or one third, of the licenses in a city.”
She added, “With multiple licenses in a city, I’m sure the problem of similar content on all channels will be solved to some extent. But the possibility of similar content across different licensees could persist, as long as the TG remains the same. We will have truly diversified content only when we make a conscious effort to be different, and I am sure this will happen as the market matures.”
Tarun Katial, COO, Big FM, pointed out that spectrum will be an issue. He added, “With the growth of smaller specialist formats, there will be a great boost of different kinds of music. Moreover, it would be a big boost for advertisers to reach segmented audiences.”
Answering to whether multiple licenses in a city will solve the problem of ‘similar content on all channels’, Anil Srivatsa, COO, Radio Today, replied, “Yes, I believe this problem will be solved, but only if the licensee is willing to commit to a differentiated format and not be allowed to deviate. Also, it will make no sense for the additional stations that have been allocated to carry the same radiated power as the ‘A’ class stations.”
Observing that the government need not worry about monopoly, Panday said, “Just like in print and television, in radio too, there would be a couple of large operators along with a whole lot of other operators who will provide the divergence and viewpoint that the government is worried about.”
Neeraj Chaturvedi, Station Head-Delhi, Fever FM, also agreed with the players and said, “With a segmented market, channels can have talk shows and different genres for niche audiences. For a marketer, it’s great as then I would have great segmented targetting.”
Sharing her thoughts on an alternative for creating differentiated content in the medium, Narayanan said, “The other alternative is for the FM policy itself to mandate diversity in content, so that no two channels in a city are allowed to carry the same content. But I hope diversity will come about through choice rather than by regulatory fiat.”
With such an overwhelming support for multiple licenses from the industry, it is time for the government to start thinking on these lines when the discussions for Phase III kicks off.