Radio still needs to be evangelized: Harrish Bhatia

02 Mar,2012

Harrish M Bhatia, the Chief Executive Officer, MY FM, is said to have several landmark achievements to his name. He is said to have played a key role in making MY FM, the radio business of Dainik Bhaskar Group achieve its break-even position within a short time since its launch. Since the launch in 2007, he is said to have successfully launched the MY FM brand in 17 cities in under two years and led the company to operational break-even in just three years. In conversation with MxMIndia’s Robin Thomas, Mr Bhatia shared his views on MY FM’s Q3 results, the radio business post break-even, his FM phase III plans and much more.

 

Q: Let’s start with the Q3 results. The ad revenues grew 22 per cent in Q3 2011- 12 and EBIDTA stood at Rs44 million… The results must have provided MY FM an extra boost for 2012? What would you say are the key factors behind the growth?

We have always believed in the growth story and economic vibrancy of the 17 non-metro markets that we operate out of. The surge in the demand for consumer goods, services, FMCG products, better education avenues and son on makes the non-metro markets interesting and rewarding for marketers. While global slowdown may have affected the revenue of metro players, retail advertising remained unaffected as the consumers in these cities are not exposed to the daily stock market fluctuation.

 

MY FM, with a strong focus on the non-metro markets, unparallel content offering like My Ramayana and Murari Babu in spiritual time band, daily song request shows like Dil Chahta Hai and listener engagement initiatives such as the award winning CSR – Ek Koshish and CJ943- City ka Campus Star with VJ Ranvijay and great HR practices, have all led to this outstanding performance.

 

Q: The radio industry is, more or less, completely dependent on advertising revenues. Do you agree? What are the other sources of revenue for MY FM?

Intelligent and smart advertisers who believe in radio are using radio to its true potential by going beyond FTC through innovations like sponsorships, content integration and activations. There is infinite scope to innovate on radio. Traditional advertisers, however, on account of their own consumption habits, are not taking the medium seriously.

 

Radio offers opportunities to create unique ‘Radio properties’ and build ‘sonic triggers’ that are hard to replicate on other mediums. Long term properties like Ramayana, Murari Babu discourses in the spiritual time band, the remix show hosted by DJ NYK and others on MY FM should be seen as a strategic investments by advertisers to build a connect between the consumer and their brand.

 

Q: MY FM achieved break-even way back in 2009… Has there been any change in the business since then – more focus on internal communications or infrastructure, getting more talents?

Break-even was achieved as a result of cost optimisation and resource rationalisation.  The scenario has changed a lot since then with a focus on innovative HR practices and an ‘Employee First’ policy that includes:-

  • Trainings the Talent: Based on the leadership roles, key talent are identified and sent for training and workshops that best suits their development needs – from training by UK Radio, London to workshops at MDI and IIM-A.
  • Variable pay policy: Innovative policy for employees across the board liked to their quarterly performance.

 

 

Q: You have always maintained that the actual growth of radio is coming from the non metros… Has the FM radio listenership in metros reached a saturation point?

Trends indicate that there is an exponential growth of listenership in non-metros on accounts of factors like more leisure time, low internet penetration, power shortage and so on, while it is growing at a slow pace or almost stagnant in metros.

 

FM penetration has already reached decent levels in metros with hardly any scope of growth – 88 per cent inDelhiand 87 per cent in Kolkata. While non-metro cities like Ahmedabad andNagpurhave low penetration levels of 53 per cent and 69 per cent respectively.

 

Q: It’s been five years since MY FM came into existence in 2006. You have had several landmark achievements since then. What would you say were the high points and the lows for MY FM since it first started?

Highs:

  • Fastest launch of stations in a record time of under a year.
  • Achieving operational break-even within 3 years of launch.
  • Appointment of an ombudsmen.
  • Content innovations like MY Ramayana, Murari Babu, DJ NYK, My Vastu, Numerology show with Sanjay Jumani, Kahani ki Kitab Se and others.
  • MY FM joining the league of select stations with the launch of its TVC and song last year.

 

Lows:

  • Government policies that have resulted in the industry being unviable for investment.
  • Limited growth on account of content restrictions imposed on a nascent industry.
  • Absence of an acceptable radio measurement tools.
  • Talent crunch during the initial years.

 

 

MY FM is present in 17 cities and 7 states. How is the radio consumption behaviour in these cities different from those of the metros? In Mumbai for instance, a chunk of listenership comes in the morning. Is the trend same with the mini metros?

Radio consumption is very different in non-metros. InIndore, late morning records the highest listenership, while Jaipur has high listenership throughout the day; whereas Ahmedabad peaks in both morning and night time bands. Moreover, the time spent on radio is much higher in non-metros and set to go up further with increase in FM listenership on mobiles.

 

Does the medium still need to be evangalised to advertisers or are advertising willingly flocking to radio?

Yes, radio still needs to be evangelized. Radio is the medium that many professionals include in their quarterly and yearly plans at the last moment to highlight the probability of their idea being executable.

 

Moreover, media spends are not being proportionately allocated to radio even though it has outgrown other media in time spent. As per the recent RAM research conducted in the four markets- Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Nagpur and Indore – average time spent listening to radio is 160 minutes as compared to IRS figures of 107 minutes watching TV, 85 minutes reading newspaper and 30 minutes on internet respectively.

 

Smart and intelligent advertisers who believe in radio know that if properly planned and used innovatively, the radio can do wonders for a particular brand. Unlike TV, Radio is the only medium that has the power to address area-specific challenges through a focused communication in their own local language and is value for money. Big radio players should come forward for the growth of the industry and to highlight its mammoth reach and effectiveness.

 

Q: We have learnt that AROI is working on content codes for radio stations. Is it high time that radio also follows self regulation?

We welcome any such move. We are already following a stringent AIR code for content.

 

Q: Although news will be sourced from only AIR, nevertheless how prepared is MY FM for news? Does MY FM have the infrastructure ready for news or is it that the present infrastructure is more than sufficient for AIR bulletins?

Yes, MY FM, being part of a larger news media group, already has the infrastructure to broadcast news. However, we believe that radio players should be allowed to carry their own news-based content, making it relevant for our listeners.

 

Q: You seem to be quite active on Facebook and Twitter. What about your website? Can you share with us your digital media plans? How are you using the digital medium to engage listeners?

Digital media is an integral part of all our campaigns and promotions – both for communication and engagement like content participation, feedback on music preferences and so on. Radio is an aural medium, however, with the launch of the “radio dikhta hai” campaign, listeners became viewers as they are able to see the radio and the RJs hosting the show on YouTube. We recently concluded our microsite contest encouraging listeners to participate in brand evolution by sharing their ‘jiyo dil se’ moment with the best entries winning big ticket prizes.

 

Q: Currently what according to you are the key challenges facing the radio industry? And what are the trends to watch out for in the coming years?

Challenges:

  • Deregulate radio: Content restrictions are a big restraint for the industry and our creative freedom gets affected due to the limitation to provide any kind of news-based content.
  • The most important is the Music Royalty Issue. The royalty issue continues to worry FM stations, especially the smaller FM players or those in small towns.
  • Absence of an acceptable radio measurement tool, due to which media planning and buying is done on the basis of researches like IRS, is another challenge that we face in our industry.
  • The license fee for new stations is a challenge, making the medium unviable for investment by existing and new players.

 

 

Trends:

  • Expansion of radio post Phase III rollout, covering newer towns, increasing radio footprint.
  • The way consumer soaks information is more fragmented and varied like never before. Not only has the mechanisms to reach to the consumers changed, the vehicles option have also multiplied. Radio has evolved and outgrown all other media with consumer spending more time on it. To reach out to such a consumer and influence them by appropriately allocating media spends is going to be a big thing for advertisers in 2012.
  • While metros will remain a staple for marketers, an increased non-metro footprint will be critical for volumes in the long run. There is a growth opportunity that is vastly under-rated by many marketers today, which could emerge as a key growth engine for the next 10 years.

 

 

Q: What are your FM phase III expansion plans?  Would you explore the metros? New genres with multiple frequencies? 

Yes, we would be exploring metros in Phase III as long as it makes business sense.

 

MY FM has major expansion plans for Phase III. However it is too premature to discuss this. Moreover, as mentioned earlier, the license fee for new stations is a challenge that needs to be address before the Phase III rollout to encourage bidding.

 

Q: What is the overall workforce or team size of MY FM? Is employee retention a challenge in the radio industry? Or is there a talent crunch that needs to be first dealt with?

MY FM currently employees 350 full-time employees. Retention is never a challenge for key management / leadership team. It’s the support staff that is a challenge. Moreover, MY FM’s robust HR practices are one of the best in the industry allowing development and growth of talent.

 

Q: On a lighter note, what is a typical day like for Mr Harrish Bhatia, CEO, MY FM?

I believe in pushing myself each day. I am very passionate towards my fitness and wake up at 5am every day to jog and do yoga which is followed by breakfast with family. I reach office around 10am and quickly move to make an agenda for the day that needs to be looked into, pointers to be discussed with the team and any meetings in the course of the day as well as near future. I meet the Business Heads/Programming Heads for programming review followed by lunch.

 

After lunch, I catch up with the senior management for strategising and ideating, checking emails and reverting back to any queries. At the end, I review the work according to the daily agenda and makes sure that the work assigned for the day is done.  After winding up work, I head home, spend quality time with my family and friends, watch television, checks emails on my iPad and hit the bed for another challenging day.

 

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