2012 – A F.R.I.E.N.D.S’ style mix bag for radio

With some disappointments and some achievements, the radio industry had its share of ups & downs in 2012, says Radio City's Apurva Purohit

e4m by Apurva Purohit
Published: Jan 1, 2013 7:17 PM  | 5 min read
2012 – A F.R.I.E.N.D.S’ style mix bag for radio

While the year majorly ended on a note of disappointment due to various reasons, it still offered a lot and witnessed a number of high points. As uncanny as the connect may sound, the year was like the F.R.I.E.N.D.S gang, who are all different from each other and hence make a wonderful combination. With some disappointments and some achievements, the year was a F.R.I.E.N.D.S’ style mix bag.

A year end is typically the time to stop, reflect and take stock. On all things good and bad that happened in the preceding 365 days. And if the balance sheet largely shows more credits and less debits, then it is also a time to thank whatever powers that be for allowing mostly tail winds and not head winds to blow forth!

In largely an atmosphere of doom and gloom, MBPL grew at double digits for the second year in a row. This put us firmly ahead in terms of market share gain since the industry itself grew at half the rate. It was with a sense of satisfaction that we closed the year end numbers, as all of us watched the hard work of the last 7-8 years culminate into results. The lesson for all of us this year was that great output only comes when you consistently and persistently put in your 10,000 hours of labour. Only then does the learning and the effort translate into result. And for me, it is really the fact that we have had a consistent team, whether it is our RJs who have been doing the same shows for five-plus years or the senior leadership, which has been running the organisation for 6-7 years, which is the biggest reason for the success we are showing today . We have untiringly and repeatedly done the same thing over and over again till we have gained a level of expertise in it; whether it is the morning jocks coming on air with a great show sharp at 7AM every single day, or the marketing team repeating its GPL or Super Singer activity for the nth year, or the sales heads reinforcing their relationships in the markets one more time!

And certainly there were several reasons for us to rejoice internally, not only our listener and revenue market share gain , but also the Great Places to Work award, which we won amongst 500-plus companies across industries (we were ranked 12th).

However, I call 2012 a mixed bag year in spite of these successes, because as an industry we have somewhere failed to push our agenda through with a government which is unwilling to take even the smallest step forward in policy making. The FM Phase III policy, which was announced a long while ago in July of 2011, is still not seeing the light of day, largely because of an inert government, but equally because most players still seem to be unclear as to what is the single point agenda they should be driving and thus have differing and varying points of view that get articulated. Every time the government shows signs of bringing closure to the policy, some bright spark wakes up and comes up with yet another change they would like made in the policy. So, some people talk about reducing channel spacing, not recognising that technically it will take along time for that to happen, causing more delays, or that more frequencies in an industry already beleaguered with low ERS will push it into a certain spiral downwards. Players who bid in Phase II after making their business forecasts based on a certain number of frequencies will almost certainly take legal action if new frequencies get announced in the same markets within their 10-year tenure, causing more chaos in an industry which requires some semblance of stability for organic growth.

At the same time, if the government continues to push ahead with its agenda of using the highest bid price of Phase II as the base reserve price for Phase III, and given that there are limited frequencies available, that also is going to result in a market determination of price which is incorrect and artificial. And if this false market determination of price ever becomes a benchmark for renewal of licenses, the government can definitely lay  its dreams of growing the industry and collecting high revenues in Phase III and in the future to permanent rest.

So what does the government need to do? Clearly, the first signal it needs to send out ito say that it is serious about implementing future reforms is to allow the GOPA to be signed as quickly as possible. With the limited deregulations GOPA permits, such as networking and news in some form will at least point out to the industry that it has a future ahead.

The government then needs to sit with the industry with a clear mandate that it will move ahead within a few months and discuss with all players issues that they find palatable and at least move ahead with those. Clearly, opening out 300 more towns to FM is in the best interest of both and thus Phase III with the same auction methodology as Phase II and no artificially fixed reserve price is something everyone will concur with and can be the simplest solution to quickly move ahead. Post which, there are always Phases IV and V and so on to sort out the more contentious issues, such as allowing more frequencies, etc.

It is certainly possible to do this; the only thing lacking is the political will to make it happen. So, as we usher in the New Year, let us fervently wish that the government finally finds its missing resolve! 

The author is Chief Executive Officer of Radio City.

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