How the radio industry is braving the COVID-19 scrouge

In the time of the pandemic, industry heads reveal how they have been coping with remote working, dropping ad volumes and market uncertainty in the radio biz

e4m by Noel Dsouza
Updated: Mar 23, 2020 10:59 AM
Radio Industry on Coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic has left everyone feeling anxious about global health and where the world is headed in the months to come. At such times, media has the solemn duty to assuage the paranoia and curb the spread of misinformation. The Radio Industry through its social messaging is looking for the best ways possible to respond by keeping their listeners aware and inciting a feeling of positivity. But with the government asking organisations to let their workforce operate from home, how is the industry coping with the change? More importantly, how is it adjusting to the ad volumes dropping?

e4m spoke to radio industry experts on how their channels are dealing with the pandemic COVID-19 and dealing with the market uncertainty that looms large.

According to Abraham Thomas, CEO, Big FM, the radio channel has moved completely to a remote working model over the last weekend. “Since Monday morning, all our 59 stations are live from their homes. We have built-in contingencies and our disaster management plan helped us to shift seamlessly to remote working using our sound equipment systems connected via VPN. Our business teams are interacting with over 500 clients on a daily basis through video conferencing, messaging, email or phone calls”, stated Thomas.

Thomas added, “We are trying to lead by example, by being there for our listeners in this critical time, staying positive and safe, dispelling rumours while practising social distancing and hygiene at the same time.”

The advertising business has been upended by the coronavirus. Many experiential and on-ground radio activities have been cancelled.

“Our advertisers have responded favourably by preferring to deal with our sales teams digitally. Our support teams are also equipped to service client requirements from multiple remote locations, maintaining the highest level of sales servicing, creative solutions, scheduling, traffic, billing, and collections”, remarked Thomas.

On the advertising front, MV Shreyams Kumar, Joint Managing Director, Club FM, Mathrubhumi says that their sales team is constantly in touch with advertisers through the usage of video and audio conferencing facilities available to them at work. He shared, “We are ensuring that regular follow-ups are done by our sales team of our clients' well being and safety, any assistance needed by them is treated with utmost interest and safeguarding the client’s requirements. We are facing slow growth in the business but the existing campaigns of the clients are still ongoing and we are the certain large business house will come up with many more campaigns once the situation is under control, the market will certainly experience growth as the new financial year will begin with new advertising budgets to roll in the market.”

Club FM created a coronavirus jingle that has gone viral across social media platforms, which speaks about creating awareness about the virus and its prevention measures. Kumar shared, “We have aired stories about individuals who have so far recovered from the virus (Kerala based). We are applauding the efforts of various people on the air who are involved in treating affected individuals such as health authorities, airport officials, etc. We have started a unique social media campaign ‘Hand Wash Challenge’ which is based on making people share their videos singing a 20-sec song while they wash their hands. Many celebrities have come forward to take up this challenge to spread the message.”

Ashit Kukian, CEO, Radio City is trying to break the myths around COVID-19 by getting experts and doctors to advise people on the precautions they should take. “As far as the revenue perspective is concerned, COVID-19 is going to affect businesses because a lot of restrictions have been put up on a lot of places, whether it is malls, retail outlets, gyms, restaurants, etc., which is obviously going to affect the volumes and the revenue business on a short term basis. In the next one or two months, there will be an ad volume drop happening”, remarked Kukian.

He added: "The way we are trying to counter that is by looking for opportunities that will come up. For example, FMCG products like hand sanitisers, hospitals, and now a lot of people are moving on to online education and because employees have work from home there will be a lot of OTT binging. We believe that these are the categories that will come back and ensure that they have a share of the advertising pie on Radio.”

The other positive side of this pandemic is that it has put the attention on how technologically equipped companies are. Kukian commented that they have 80 per cent of their organization working from home. From digitally enabling them or through various map app systems that they use to the virtual structure for on-boarding of advertisements and servicing clients online.

Looking at the market situation, one of the largest and most awarded private radio networks in India, 93.5 RED FM has taken a conscious decision to cut down on all additional costs. This involves not participating in industry awards this year owing to the current market scenario. While RED FM’s business is running, as usual, they have been taking precautionary cost cuts, anticipating a tough Q1 because of COVID 19. For the time being, they have put all their on-ground events on hold.

COVID-19 has not only created a health scare but has affected the experiential industry enormously.

Talking about this announcement, Nisha Narayanan, Director & COO, RED FM, and Magic FM, said, “With the economy slowing down and the outbreak of COVID-19, there’s uncertainty across industries. Amidst the challenging times, it is imperative for all of us to take radical steps. At RED FM, we have decided to forego all the industry awards this year so that we can utilise this money towards more critical projects. With the usual continuation of our on-air and digital platforms, we are working to maximize the awareness of this pandemic. We need to be cognizant about the fact that encouraging any sort of panic and social gatherings will worsen this situation. We are hoping for businesses to return to their normal state in the upcoming months.”

According to Indira Rangarajan, National Programming Head, Mirchi Love, “In the current times where one now has to follow social distancing, we too have abided to the safety guidelines. Our employees are our family and we do realise the risks that entail. However, our operations will not be affected as our team and dedicated set of RJs shall work from home, keep themselves safe, and at the same time continue to entertain and inform our listeners with regular and authentic updates.”

Lastly, Rajeev Nambiar, CEO, Hello FM, Malar Publications Ltd shares that they consider Hello FM and Radio in general as an essential service and hence we haven’t declared leave or intend in shutting off our services.

Nambiar concluded by commenting, “The impact of coronavirus and the consequent cancellation of sporting activities/campaigns booked has caused an irreparable dent. If you see our services, like that of marketing perishable commodities. The month of March was for making amends and hoping to bridge shortfalls, but the Virus has had its Yorker effect.”

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