Planetradiocity has been a pioneer in the web radio space. Beginning operations in 2008, Planetradiocity has continued to add to new channels catering to international, Bollywood, indie, and regional audiences. At the helm is Rachna Kanwar, Business Head, Digital Media & New Business at Radio City. A veteran digital specialist, she has spent over 19 years in the media & entertainment industry with multi-dimensional experience across radio, TV, documentary films and Internet.
Kanwar had worked with Bennett Coleman & Co (Times FM, Times Internet) prior to joining Radio City. In conversation with exchange4media, Kanwar speaks about Planetradiocity, the business potential, the music loyalty quandary, among other things. Excerpts.
You have launched two new stations on Planetradiocity targeting regional audiences—Radio City Malayalam and Radio City Tamil. How do you maintain balance between genre-focused channels and language-focused channels and what is the reasoning behind new launches?
There are essentially two types of stations—genre-based and language-based. One sprouts from the terrestrial stations that we operate. So there is Radio City Hindi, which is like the language of choice for Radio City too. If you see, there is no terrestrial radio station broadcasting in Malayalam. Through Planetradiocity we are also entering places where terrestrially we are not present. We do extensive research to identify the need gap and understand what the listeners want. Then we also take a look at what is already available in these areas.
How do you maintain synergies between the web and terrestrial arms of Radio City?
There are lots of ways to maintain synergies. For example, we have a lot of Radio City listeners who might have moved out of their city but would still have good memories of Radio City, so we try to bring them that local flavour, they are used to. We also try to retain a lot of programming from terrestrial radio on web radio, in terms of our some of our shows, like Love Guru, that are very popular on the terrestrial channels. The other way is in terms of activities or the big properties we have, which also have digital integrations.
Music royalty has been an issue for both web and terrestrial radio. The situation with terrestrial radio seems to have reached some kind of a resolution, as have similar stalemates among Internet radio operators and music labels in countries like the US. What is the situation in India?
The situation is still in status quo. In fact, it has worsened for us in the last couple of years. Earlier, the licenses were handled by one association; Phonographics Performance Limited (PPL), but since the last year and a half, we have to approach each individual music label to negotiate music licenses and royalties. This becomes very difficult for us. Also, there is no standard minimum guarantee. Everyone has their own logic and their own structure, which changes every year. These are some of the difficulties. However, this year we have seen that a lot of people in the music industry also seem keen to resolve this issue.
Would reverting to having a single agency/industry body solve the issue?
I cannot speak for them (music labels). There was PPL earlier, before they ended their ties with them. I am sure there must have been some reason behind them keeping digital licenses with themselves. What will help us is a standard minimum guarantee and some transparency.
So, according to you, what is the ideal solution?
Even the US went through a similar cycle. It is the same case with us and I believe we are nearing the end of the cycle. Both the parties (operators and music labels) have to make business sense and understand and agree on this. How this happens is something that I cannot decide as an individual. It can only happen if we meet and discuss it together.
Planetradiocity has been in operation for a long time. In terms of business and monetization, how has the response been from advertisers?
This year we are focusing a lot on evangelizing the medium by reaching out to a lot of people and make them understand what the product is. There are a number of offerings in terms of music available in the market. For example, you have playlists, which are not very interactive but when you talk about web radio, it is an interactive medium. There are a lot of ways in which client messaging can be fit in. So when you have all these options you really need to make clients understand the potential of the medium.
To come back to your question, it has been a slow ride, but what has been heartening to see last year is that though the actual figure (revenue) may not have grown so much, the number of clients has grown. Even from smaller cities, the number of brand wanting to experiment has increased.
Your revenue model depends on advertising but is subscription an option you are exploring?
At the moment we are not but we would want to experiment with it later this year. We have it on our mind.
With a new government in place, a lot has been discussed about what expectations the radio industry has. From the perspective of an internet radio operator, what are some of the things you would like to see change that will make your life easier?
I would say we have to recognize that web radio is also radio. Right now it is sort of a grey area and nobody really seems to be clear on where to put it. By doing this all the policies and decisions taken in terms of music licensing, to begin with it, would become clearer and it would really help sort out this issue.
The Phase III migration will open up the private FM industry for more expansion. What does it mean for internet radio?
It will be great for the radio industry per se and as part of the industry of course we will benefit from it. At this point, I cannot talk about how we will benefit. Our expansion and our growth is in many ways independent from Radio City (terrestrial channels) but as radio expands to smaller cities, we will definitely grow too.
You spoke about the need for evangelism earlier. How is Planetradiocity approaching it?
We have two target groups. One is, of course, our listeners who we reach out to through our marketing campaigns. We have been making a lot of efforts and the numbers suggest that people are enjoying what we are doing. We are doing a lot of visibility campaigns as well. The stress is going to be on how and why web radio is different from all the other music available on the web. The other target is of course our clients. We get them to experience what the product is like. Apart from making revenue we want them to understand the product.
So what is in store for Planetradiocity this year?
We will be expanding in both areas (genre and language) this year and going forward. On the web side, we are exploring Marathi and Kannada language stations. In terms of genre-focused channels, we want to expand our Bollywood offering. We will also be launching more stations under the devotional genre. In fact, we are also looking at expanding this particular genre by partnering with people and bringing out talk shows, etc.
What are the plans for the mobile platform?
We are making our website mobile and tablet optimized. We already have three of our channels available for mobile devices—Radio City Freedom, Radio City Malayalam and Radio City Smaran. We are also in talks with music labels for mobile licenses so we can start launching our other channels on mobile devices too.