Digital radio is incoming, is India ready to tune in?

Industry experts believe digital radio platforms will offer tremendous opportunities for all stakeholders, from listeners to channels to independent audio creators to, of course, advertisers

e4m by Shantanu David
Published: Oct 18, 2022 8:53 AM  | 4 min read

Even though radio has had perhaps the best ROI when it comes to traditional media’s last-mile advertising, the medium took a huge hit during the pandemic, especially as digital communications and media exploded across consumer bases.

As reported by Pitch Madison Advertising Report (PMAR) 2022, “Whilst the good news is that there was a 36% increase in spend on radio, radio AdEx has failed to recover fully and our (the report’s) estimated Rs. 1,733 crore in 2021 takes radio back to the year 2016, when it had registered a spend of Rs.1,749 crore. In terms of share, Radio AdEx which had registered 4% in the years 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 now stands at only 2%, which is similar to what it achieved in 2020.”

It is for this reason that even for radio, the future is digital. Enter companies like HD Radio, which are an online marketplace for hyper-local radio content with digital sound quality and additional features. Perhaps more significantly, its data network allows it to broadcast digital traffic and both crucial as well as instant information including everything from changing weather conditions to the latest sports scores and emergency alert messages.

Increased Spectrum

Ashruf El-Dinary, SVP, Xperi Digital Platforms and HD Radio, says that the digital radio broadcasting technology allows both AM and FM channels to do more with their spectrum. “It’s really designed to enhance the analog broadcast. If you think about analog, it only has one audio program at a time. But with digital radio, we can use that spectrum to send up to four, maybe even five audio programs on the same frequency.”

This obviously hugely increases not only the content quality and quantity, but also the scope of advertising opportunities, And despite recent reversals, radio still plays a key role in people’s lives. Indeed, radio has endured the test of time, says Mitesh Kothari, Co-Founder and CCO, White Rivers Media, who believes that in addition to having a significant national audience, it continues to be one of the most dependable media.

“With digital radio on its way, broadcasters and listeners alike will now have an improved multimedia experience. With digital radio channels free of static and other annoyances, broadcasters can finally guarantee that their audience always feels connected to their hometown, regardless of where they are,” says Kothari, adding now that customers can access these digital channels, radio stations can more precisely target audience segments while still providing for their core audience.

Aditya Mehra, Creative Director, South India, FoxyMoron, points out that one of the key indicators of how digital radio is growing in India is the steady influx of advertisers. “Ad volumes have increased over 14% since last year.  Given the current ecosystem, audio OTT is going to be the next big thing,” he says, adding, “Consumers now have an appetite for audio content consumption in the form of audio stories, podcasts and entertainment. With a growing presence in regional markets, consumers will benefit from free and easy access to a host of interactive experiences.”

Open to Opportunity

El-Dinary believes that radio is a technology that should be open and affordable to everyone, including in their native dialects. “We’ve been working in this space for 20 years, and we have a very large ecosystem built for product development, both on the transmission and receiver side. We’ve in fact developed a feature phone for 20 dollars which has an in-built digital device so everyone can have cheap and easy access to communications.”  

As noted by the PMAR 2022, “Almost all radio operators, to increase their revenue base, have now started looking at adjacent areas to augment their FCT base revenue. Digital engagement, content and newer distribution channels are some of the areas being focused upon. Resumption of economic activities in Tier II and Tier III markets also attracted many local advertisers to radio.”

El-Dinary feels radio is at a point in time and place where it needs to change and “many in India are sensing that. “A recent E&Y report that says there is a growing relevance and need for digital radio, also points to the fact that the industry needs to work closely with the government to ensure a seamless transition from analog to digital radio,” he says.

Echoing this sentiment, Mehra says that digital radio platforms are going to open a lot of avenues for advertisers and partners, “with increased multimedia experience and content programming. Reach can also be leveraged through more business and revenue growth opportunities. Broadcasters can now compete with other streaming platforms, thereby adding more value to existing programs.”

El-Dinary concludes by saying that with this enlarging ecosystem, which has both ease and economy of access, as well as an ever widening bandwidth, there are tremendous opportunities for all stakeholders, from listeners to channels to independent audio creators to, of course , advertisers.



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