Digital integrated with Radio is the 'new normal' for the sector

Industry insiders tell us about the measures they have taken to stay afloat financially, while also maintaining relevance with its consumers

e4m by Eularie Saldanha
Updated: May 29, 2020 8:44 AM
Radio industry

One may have endlessly heard of the numerous ways the industry has been trying to grapple with the mammoth difficulties caused by the economic slowdown, followed by the pandemic. However, this testing time has proved to be the saving grace for a few mediums, who have been juggling to prove their worth for a long time. Amongst the three mediums, i.e., Digital, TV and Radio, which have seen a maximum boom in their consumption during this lockdown period, Radio has undoubtedly bagged the prize for engaging 82% of India's population which has been tuning in to medium, with a 23% increase in time spent, according to the latest research commissioned by AROI.

Besides the various associations and partnerships that radio stations have engaged with, additional streams of revenue for the medium in the lockdown happen to come from Influencer Advocacy Marketing, Sponsorship Marketing, Branded Content, 360-degree Partnerships and Content syndication.

BIG FM recently collaborated with Spotify for a commercial content partnership, where Spotify users will have access to more than 15,000 minutes of BIG FM’s content spread across 13 marquee shows and 1,240 episodes.

Commenting on the partnership, Abe Thomas, CEO, BIG FM said, "We have been creating a large volume of timeless non-music content which can now be consumed as podcasts on audio streaming platforms to newer audiences, expanding the reach of our powerful content IP’s". Until now, the radio network has signed over 20 partnerships where their clients can achieve a potential audience reach of 15 crores. In the current lockdown, however, the station's popular IP 'Golden Voice' is being adapted as podcasts too. "We are strongly investing in the podcast segment with recent tie-ups," said Thomas.

Not just this, digital is the need of the hour and Radio has learnt the rules well. The radio digital ecosystem has been churning out various digital properties to engage with its digital audience. Undoubtedly, brands have been looking for holistic solutions across mediums that are most sought after at the moment. Radio being one, there is a huge focus on integrating digital with the medium.

"I strongly believe that innovation, brand integration and providing out of the box solutions to the client’s need is going to be of topmost priority, both on our radio and digital assets. Great content is an asset for every organization and more so in the space that we operate in," said Harshad Jain, CEO, Radio & Entertainment, HT Media & Next Mediaworks Impressively, the Radio medium is not viewing associations and partnerships as a one-way street, but as a way of achieving business and marketing objectives for both the parties signing a deal. "I strongly believe that riding on each other’s strengths is the way to go and will help grow your business to new levels. As a radio company, our partnerships with other mediums, be it TV or Print, helps build scale and reach out to a wider target audience", Jain adds.

Apart from partnering across various mediums of the HT Group internally, the radio station has also built strategic partnerships with other news channels like ABP and digital partners like Reliance Jio, Paytm Insider also plays a crucial role in expanding our reach and acquiring new listeners.

Bearing in mind the restrictions Radio faces with regard to delivering news, one cannot deny that the medium has been one of the most essential in disseminating credible information. Riding on its authenticity, MY FM has had two major alliances since April, one with popular news channels and the other with a renowned North Indian entertainment network.  Although both the tie-ups will help in expanding the horizons of MY FM's business, Rahul Namjoshi, COO, MY FM claims that these kind tie-ups are not done for sporadic spikes in the station's revenue streams, but are instead aimed at strengthening the base of its brand promise, which showcases the potential of its reach.

"From a business perspective, we already have a few alliances in place and are pretty confident to bounce back and outperform the industry once normalcy returns. We haven't got that desperate yet," he added. In terms of financial aid, MY FM's offering remains unchanged. Even then, it continues to receive a lot of traction for its digital solutions due to the kind of reach its social media platforms possess. However, its FCT business still continues to take a hit due to the current scenario.

Since the last few years, stations like RED FM have deviated from being just radio, to aggressively working in the field of audio. Being one of the stations to have prioritized content over music, their recent tie-up with Penguin doesn't come off as a shock. Moving to audio platforms has been an important part of RED FM's business strategy for quite some time now. "We have the geographical presence and at the content level, the audio space allows us to explore a lot more beyond what is only spoken at radio", said Nisha Narayanan, Director & COO, RED FM & Magic FM.

However, the station's associations have been initiated for a long term relationship as well as revenue gain. The idea behind most tie-ups and associations is to take the business forward as well as get higher ROI for the brand. Narayanan believes that post-COVID-19, a lot of projects should be done through collaboration. RED FM has engaged in several such collaborations like the one with T-Series for the care concept, which was a fundraiser announced as soon as the lockdown was actioned. This tie-up worked extremely well for the station due to the huge repertoire of artists as well as the firm presence of T-Series within the music industry. In order to maintain relevance with its already huge consumer base, the show was then broadcast both on Radio as well as on Digital. It also hosted the ‘Rise Indian awards’ in association with Music Plus, to honour the common man who was at the forefront of the pandemic.

Currently, the company's maximum revenue is still derived from the radio business due to the surge in radio listenership, with digital close behind. However, Narayanan does not seem to be surprised by the thought of the digital business taking over. 

Radio City, on the other hand, has had a lot of non-monetary tie-ups with NGO’s from the content perspective to help them give away food, groceries and so on. However, the station has signed a three-year-long podcast with Spotify, which will aid the station financially by having its content shared on the music platform reach a larger audience. "We are in talks with two or three of our partners to see how we can take the revenue angle, in terms of cross-selling, subsidizing each other in a compulsive way, and then going out into the market," said Ashit Kukian, CEO, Radio City who adds that a skeletal amount of government business related to the health communication is bringing in some of the revenue at the moment.  Apart from this, a few of its advertisers have continued to advertise on the station. The company is also working with a couple of other clients in the FMCG business and is trying to complement radio plus digital in a few cases. The local markets, small market retailers and some of the larger insurance players advertising on the station at this point are some of the major sources of its revenue.

To make life easier and business smoother for radio, the AROI had recently appealed to the government for a bailout package to give the medium a few waivers and help them stay afloat in such testing times. However, there has been no update on this, even though the AROI had sent multiple letters including an SOS message to the Minister, seeking a relief of Rs 300 crores, highlighting the fact that the industry stands to lose over Rs 600 crore by end of September after advertising revenues nosedived post the COVID-19 outbreak and the consequent nationwide lockdown. 

On the slightly brighter side, The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting responded to the request with a three-month extension of license fee payments without interest. "While this will reduce the pressures on the Industries to some extent, the support is much less than had been requested for by AROI," Jain of Fever FM said.

The medium has been facing difficulty in keeping the kitchens burning due to the high cost of operation, right from the license fee to music royalty and manpower. Narayanan of RED FM assumes that if these are not taking into consideration, it will only be a matter of time, that many of the radio stations would want to surrender their licenses and discontinue operating in the state. 

Even with all the confusion about the update on the waivers from the Government, Radio players have crossed their fingers in hope for a positive response to their plea. 

Since everyone has been speaking about what the 'new normal' would be going forward, radio players believe that Radio + Digital, with a focus on localisation, will be most critical as the economy bounces back.  Pivoting to a lean structure model, the medium is set to be a platform-agnostic industry soon.

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