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Star India - the company, which gave a new lease of life to an almost forgotten medium - Radio. In an exclusive interview with Peopleone Consulting, Sumantra Dutta, Chief Operating Officer, Radio Division, STAR India recalls the days of the company's entry into the field of radio, the potential of radio as a medium, STAR India's expansion plans in the field of Radio, it's brand building efforts, his dreams for the radio division and more…

Interviewed by Beena Nandakumar  

Our government policy does not allow a foreign player to enter the field of radio. However today STAR has a stronghold in this sector. How could STAR make it?
Star is perceived as Asia's pacesetter in electronic media today. Music Broadcast Pvt. Ltd., the owner of the FM Radio licenses have approached and commissioned STAR to handle the key aspects of their Radio business solely because of STAR's proven abilities in the management of electronic media in Asia. STAR's involvement is in terms of providing expertise in the areas of content, sales and marketing for the radio stations.

How is STAR India's Radio City FM doing now?
Radio City 91 FM in BANGALORE

  • Ushered in and launched India's first 24 hr FM Radio station on 3rd July 2001.
  • Consumer/ Advertiser Feedback has been very encouraging
  • Currently the only private FM station in Bangalore

    Since launch of Radio City in Bangalore:

    -FM Radio listenership since launch has gone up by 56%
    -Time Spent listening to radio has tripled - 1 hr to 3 hrs
    -85% at home listening, listenership at workplace showing a growth trend

Radio City 104.8 FM in LUCKNOW

  • Capital of India's most populous state and seat of power with population of 2.7 million
  • Launched in Dec '2001 by Superstar Amitabh Bachchan.

    Since launch of Radio City in Lucknow:
    -FM Radio listenership in Lucknow has doubled
    -Time spent listening has gone up from 1 hr to 3 hrs

Licensing fee is too high in this field. Do you think it would be easy to recover the money that you invest on radio? Why?
The bidding of licenses were done at a very high price and the bidding parties who essentially drove the costs high are not in the business anymore and are in a way completely responsible for driving the costs up.

What would you say about radio as a medium to advertise on?
Post the launch of private FM radio in India, Radio City has become a rage in Bangalore and Lucknow and even though these are still early days, (only 10 months into launch) Radio City in Bangalore has already got close to 240 brands on air in this period. The consumer feedback and trend of repeat purchase ensures that advertising on Radio lives upto the promise of offering the highest cost efficiencies and deliveries working wonderfully well for brands that are being advertised on Radio City 91 FM.

It's a known fact that FM Radio is the best media vehicle for local advertising and the local markets will suddenly have access to quality inventory on Radio City 91 FM at the most cost effective rates.

It is also unfair to expect Radio City and STAR alone to build up the category of Radio as an advertising medium across the country. We need all the arms and legs we need to do that successfully and in that we welcome competition and hope that other stations would come up quickly adding to the presence of FM radio stations across India. As in any new category, more FM radio stations will grow the pie for FM radio advertising.

With the all-pervading influence of TV, radio is almost a dead medium for the common man. In this sort of a situation, what gave STAR the courage to foray into this field? What are your plans to compete with TV, which has invaded almost every Indian house?
Lack of investment in quality programming that is relevant to the local listeners has limited the growth of radio in India as compared to other entertainment options.

With the govt. allowing privatisation of FM radio in India the scenario is set to change rapidly with organisations such as STAR who are the pace setters of quality entertainment in Asia stepping into the area of programming in Radio.

Whether it is the presentation of the station or the way in which the RJ's are trained to build relationships with the listeners - the objective is to set the pace for the success of FM radio in India. With the backing of STAR's amply proven abilities in the areas of content, we will draw on the best internationally and replicate the same albeit with Indian flavor. This will not only raise the bar very high but would also considerably shorten the process of evolving FM radio and rocket speed the entire process by bringing to Indian listeners radio content that is at par with international quality. Much in the same manner in which we launched KBC and whilst there was competition that followed with others jumping into the game show fray, they were very pale imitations of the original and we all know what the audience verdict was.

What is Radio City's revenue model? What are your expectations about the growth of radio in India? Are you optimistic? If yes, what are the reasons?
The principal source of revenue is advertising. The percentage of advertising spend on radio is at present a very small amount but with the move by the government to privatize the sector, there is an opportunity to grow the radio pie with investment in quality content which will certainly lead to ad spend growth.

Radio as a medium is the most cost effective option for a local advertiser. Research has proved that listening to a message is much more effective than reading it. Most local revenues normally go to the press or outdoor media. These are the two mediums which will be affected by radio directly as they deliver the same consumers i.e. local region.

With innovative marketing, variety in content, quality of content and good client/advertiser servicing coupled with aggressive market coverage for sales, FM radio will be able to boost its revenue status and become an important medium for consumers and advertisers alike.

Internationally, Radio gets about 8 - 10% of total ad-industry revenues/ spend whilst in India this figure is just around 1.5%. With the advent of quality content now becoming available on FM radio in India we should be able to graduate to the international norm in about 4-5 years.

Today radio city is just a music-centered channel. Why? What are your expansion plans in the field of Radio?
Being the first entrant and the first one to launch, our initial aim was to raise the bar in the areas of programming, sales and marketing for FM Radio in general and set a high benchmark for others, which has been demonstrated with the launches of Radio City stations in Bangalore and Lucknow.

The programming initially will be broadly music led and will be provided/selected specifically to suit the tastes and preferences of the region.

The greatest strength of radio is its non-intrusive nature - unlike any other medium, it can be consumed while doing other things or even using other media like Internet and newspapers. It's immense mobility makes it fit to be a constant companion that informs and entertains you wherever you go. People therefore, end up listening to radio for much longer hours and develop a deep bond with the medium.

What about your brand building exercise?
'Brand Building' is an ongoing process especially for a category where the medium is the message. It presents itself every time we choose to play a song on air, a new filler program, create an ad for an advertiser and every time our Radio Jockeys take to the mike to speak. With a deep respect for our listeners backed with effective research, we ensure that the sound that is presented is something they would love to hear every time they tune into Radio City. Being able to do it successfully and consistently will ensure creation of a Radio City into a strong brand.

Radio is about the community. A brand name should have an appeal across all age groups, all sections and going by some of the names of other stations suggested, it instantly leads you to think of niche groups that are being targeted. Our aim at Radio City is to cater to the broadest section of the masses. In a nutshell, we'd like to be the STAR Plus of radio stations.

Radio is about building a relationship with listeners. All other media is driven by driver content- a big story on the front page of a newspaper draws readers or a blockbuster film on a television channel attracts viewers. A radio station has to form a bond with listeners. It has to aspire to be what the listeners want us to be. We have a unique and cutting edge proprietary research mechanism in place, which lets us know and probe what people want to listen to. What will differentiate us apart from the content which will also include non music formats drawn from the huge programming library of Star, will be our generic brand name Radio City which will have all the elements of Star packaging, delivery, quality etc. Star's exposure to entertainment media is our main strength. Also through the Newscorp alliance, we have been able to access the best international talent, Radio City has brought in the best trained people in technical, research, engineering, sales, marketing, programming -the works. The team in Mumbai comprises of approx 40 people. No other radio operator has the lineage or the experience in entertainment media to equal nor does it allow the kind of high energy and growth environment that we have.

What are your dreams for the Radio division of STAR India? Where do you see your Radio division in the next two years?
If the trend that Radio City has set in Bangalore is anything to go by, it will not be long before Radio rocks India though it does take time for habits to change, initial research shows us that consumers are desperately hungry for FM radio to launch.

The immediate aim is also to achieve total awareness for FM radio and establish Radio City resulting in an increased number of listeners tuning in for much longer times than ever. As the appeal of music cuts across all age groups, our target audience is broad and includes music lovers.

Leaders are no more judged by the size of their operations but by the width and depth of their thinking abilities. Its now about who did it first. We at Radio City will want to be the pioneers in radio programming just the way Star Plus has become a case study in cable and satellite television. Radio City will be the university of radio learning in India much the same way that STAR has become for television.