[MxM Radio] The viral effect is baffling: Anil Srivatsa
By Robin Thomas
Entrepreneuring is said to be in his blood, considering his first job straight out of college was his own business. He has been a veteran of the media field since the past 20 years. He had launched a radio show called ‘Anil Ki Awaaz’, in New Jersey, USA and ‘between the sheets’ in India. He also launched an internet radio channel for Asian Americans. Anil Srivatsa is the Co-Founder, CEO Venturenet Partners Pvt. Ltd. (promoters of Spot Radio and Radiowalla). Prior to launching Venturenet Partners, Mr Srivatsa was the CEO of Kings XI Punjab and before that he was the COO Radio Today Broadcasting.
In conversation with MxMIndia, Mr Srivatsa spoke at length about his Bengaluru-based internet radio company, Venturenet Partners and its soon-to-launch Radiowalla, a service that offers a variety of special interest internet radio channels. He also spoke about Spot Radio, a b2b digital in-store radio entertainment, the break-even plans, and much more.
Q. We are already in the middle of March 2012, and Radiowalla is scheduled to launch in April 2012… Is the schedule on?
Yes, we are on schedule to launch in April. However, there are different stages of launch and the beta launch will happen where a close group of people with get to use the service. This will take place within the next few weeks.
Q. Are you seeing an increase in the curiosity level among people? What’s the kind of reaction you are receiving?
Well, the curiosity level seems to be increasing but the one phenomenon I am unable to figure out is the fact that three weeks ago we had only 260 ‘Likes’ on the Radiowalla Facebook page and today we have over 5000 ‘Likes’ despite us not doing anything to move the needle. It’s probably the viral effect. So, going by all the viral activity we are receiving on the Facebook page, it seems like people are waiting in anticipation.
Q.What about Spot Radio? It’s been a while since launch… What’s the team size?
Spot Radio is doing extremely well; we are best- in-class. We have competitors but, I don’t think there are any companies that have more clients than we do. However it is just notabout numbers but our product, our service, our pricing and our timing. Everything speaks for itself. Our team has been working well. We’ve got a small team putting out 30 radio stations today. We have 30+ clients which meanswe are actually churning out 30+ radio stations with five (Creative) people. We have a total strength of about nineteen world class professionals. I keep saying world class because our talent and product is world class, and it just goes to prove that you don’t need 30 people to run one radio station.Infact, I need 20 people to run 30+ radio stations.
Q. You are currently headquartered in Bangalore… Are you looking at setting up studios in other parts of the country too?
We will set up a studio in Delhi. Ithas a lot to do with the kind of content we want to generate out of there and tap into some great talent available there. We have an outfit in Chennai. Mumbai will be the last, not because it is the least important but, because it is the most expensive to set up an office. So, we are trying to do all what we can everywhere else before we come to Mumbai. Our presence in Mumbai will be felt soon but for now I travel to Mumbai and take care of business development out of there. We may forge a partnership with a strategic partner in Mumbai (Once we find the right partner).
Q. What is your view on content innovation on radio and tell us what led you to start Radiowalla?
I think we have been speaking about innovation in radio for the last five years since I have been involved with the business in India. I think the problem here is that the industry seems to be confusing innovation for differentiation. There is plenty of innovation happening, there is no lack of innovation in radio today. There is infact a lack of differentiation and unless an industry captain takes a personal professional risk this will not change for some time now. Nobody wants to take a risk aseveryone is worried about their next job. I have spoken to many of my peers who secretly harbor ambitions to be able to do something different but none is willing to bell this cat. Great ideas exist among the radio professionals.
I took a risk to a point that I lost my job over it. Radio needs patience. There is no collective will to do something different. If one of them is following one format let them follow that format, there is always a space for another format. This will actually create more advertising spread. Advertisers will be forced to buy advertising on all radio formats to reach a broader section of people with diverse interest had radio organized by format. Now what is happening is that all radio is alike so the advertisers pick the top 3 and leave out the rest as they are reaching the same audience. I believe format differentiation will increase the ad pie and as a result force a more equal distribution of the ad money. This approach would have been better for the Industry in general. Rising tides will raise all ships.
Q. And this was one of the reasons for Radiowalla…
Yes, Radiowalla is about content differentiation and on the internet because distribution is the least of my problems. The internet allows me to create a hundred channels if I want to. This is what Radiowalla is about. It is a platform of audio content which is differentiated in each of its channels, giving a choice to the audience i.e. whoever wants to listen to whatever content, and at any time. We are a linear radio format. What the music industry calls a non-interactive format of delivery. So, it is not just the idea but, technology that supports the idea and the execution of it that makes an innovative product happen.
Q. You had said that you would initially launch only audio channels. Why?
Audio has so much depth. I am not even thinking beyond audio because there is so much to do in audio! It is a non- invasive media. I can do ten things and still engage with audio, unlike any other where it is a one dimensional engagement. Audio is more effective in thought change. I equate Audio to guided Meditation. It is difficult to meditate with your eyes open. Audio has no visuals and therefore more engaging to the mind -Less distracting.
Q.So, you will launch 30 radio channels… Will news be one of them?
Atleast 30 radio channels as of now and yes news will be one of those channels. There is enough to do with non music content. There is only so much music you can do. You count all the genre of any music in English and Indian languages. You can’t find more than thirty. We are trying to cater to the long tail. The focus is on non-music production to add to the magic of music.
Q. Do you think in the long run internet radio in India is a feasible one?
Of course it is feasible. I draw the analogy from terrestrial TV, cable TV and DTH TV. What Doordarshan started was terrestrial television,now is cable television not television? Is DTH not television? Is TV on the internet not Television? Are they all not viable/feasible? What you are seeing now is radio on FM terrestrial frequencies, it doesn’t mean that what happens on internet is not radio. It is the same but, the distribution medium is different. Terrestrial television was different from cable television which is different from DTH which is different from television on the internet but all still Television. Similarly FM is one way of delivering radio, and not the only way.
Q. Should the traditional radio stations in India start worrying about the advent of internet radio?
Well they should worry as anyone would with a competing platform growing…Traditional terrestrial radio has their limitations. There can only be so many frequencies. Traditional radio will never die, all I am saying is that internet radio just offers an extremely different canvas, where you can paint different pictures, it’s affordable and yet has a business model around it.
Q. What is the business model you follow? Is it advertising led or do you have alternative source of revenues?
The business models are traditional. We have a combination of Ad support and subscriptions.To use jargon, the freemium and premium models. There are certain channels that will be available as subscription only and commercial free, while some channels would be available for free but, supported with advertising.
Q. And what about Spot Radio? It is a b2b arm of Venturenet… How does it function?
We create radio for specific brand identities in the retail and corporate space. So the business model is very simple, they pay us for the service to manage their network and some of them allow us to sell third party advertising… so we generate revenue which we share back with our client.
Q. You are building infrastructure, recruiting experts, setting up studios etc. How else are you utilizing the Series A funding? What will the next round of funding focus on?
Our progress on infrastructure building is very public. I have pictures up on our facebook page at every stage. We now have about 19 people and will grow to a few more. The funding has helped us get to this point as it was intended to. As far as the next round of funding is concerned that is a matter of strategy as it is based on a certain milestones that we reach and if we reach those milestones quicker we get to that funding quicker.
Q. And what are those milestones…?
Well, they are revenue milestones and there are business expansion milestones. I believe that if we stay with our current business planit will take us about 18 months to reach a certain milestone but, if we are accelerating that and achieving it sooner, then clearly we need more funding quicker. Thus it is just a matter of which stage we are in now.
Q. When do you plan to achieve break-even?
Break-even should happen in 18 months but, if we had another ten clients in Spot Radio we should have operationally broken-even. I hope to get to this stage inside 18 months.
Q. How would you measure the success of Spot Radio or Radiowalla? What is the benchmark for success?
For Spot Radio, the benchmark for success is very simple.It is as many clients as we have who are paying us and if we start meeting our advertising revenue targets then this is a measure as well. As far as Radiowalla is concerned, the quality of content is the benchmark to success because that will automatically start giving me customer acquisitions. Eventually the number of customers we have will ultimately determine how successful Radiowalla is.So, it’s all in the numbers but, what leads to the numbers are where I am focusing and it the quality of content that will help me retain my customers. I focus on quality of content.
Q. Any specific plans for 2012 thatyou would like to share with us? What can we expect from Venturenet this year?
All I can say is that it is going to be an exciting growth phase for us in 2012. We are looking at further consolidating ourselves, and grow more clients.We are looking at related areas that have not been exploited yet and which are perhaps under the radar as of now. So yes lot of action plans this year.
Q. Do you see the internet radio market further growing? Do you see more internet radio players in India?
Internet radio is a great opportunity! In terms of a global listenership it is a bigger business than an FM station in one city. We are only the beginning of it. There are plenty of those ideas going around and I am sure there will be many who fail and many who will succeed.
Content is still King, distribution can be King Kong but, it will still be a monkey without content. Radiowalla is a content company agnostic to technology. We are adaptive to new emerging distribution technology and we will keep one eye on it. We are focusing on good content and that’s where we are meeting the needs. When you can have your own phoolwalla, doodhwallah, chaiwallah,sweetwalla then now it’s time to get your own Radiowalla.
Q. On a lighter note, how has life changed after becoming an entrepreneur?
I have always been an entrepreneur. So, life has not changed because I like this life and that is why I am in it. In fact my first job out of college was my own business, at 21 I was running my own City magazine for Bangalore. So to me being an entrepreneur is in my blood and every job I have had since then have been in a startup environment, for someone else in their founding team and as a senior member in their founding team. The difference now is just that I am doing it for me and I am the only one I can blame if I don’t do well. With all the ups and downs I have seen in life as an entrepreneur, the one good thing that has happened is that my life is now recession proof. My greatest achievement so far!
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