Paritosh Joshi: Everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio

12 Jul,2012

By Paritosh Joshi

 

Three times this last week, radio has crept into my conversations, with three quite different people. Let me cite just one. We were talking about our preferences between playing music from our CD collection and dialing up a radio station. My guest was enthusiastic in his approbation for the radio, for a very simple reason too. “When you play music from your collection, you always know what’s coming up next,” he said, adding: “and what makes radio fun is it’s an endlessly unfolding sequence of surprises.”

 

To which I would add that there is something rather relaxing about leaving the hard work of choosing what plays next to someone else, indeed someone else who is specialized in the art and craft of assembling and running through playlists.

 

Got me thinking about radio, so it was the obvious next step to check out what the industry association offered up. Wasn’t hard to locate the website of the Association of Radio Operators for India (AROI). Promptly went there to discover – well, not a lot. Had to get something on the industry and thankfully, the good people at KPMG and FICCI had the latest “Indian Media & Entertainment Industry Report” available for download, which I swiftly proceeded to do. Here’s what I found.

 

The Radio industry in 2012 is worth a mere Rs13 billion, ~ US $ 240 million and represents a mere 1.6 per cent of the overall industry of Rs 823 billion, ~ US $ 15 billion.

 

In five years, it is projected to grow to Rs 29 billion, still just ~ US 540 million but representing a slightly more respectable 2 per cent of the overall pie. Evidently, this will require it to grow faster than the overall pace, which it is projected to do, clipping along at a 21 per cent CAGR even as the overall number doesn’t quite get to a 15 per cent CAGR.

 

Dig deeper and you will find that a lot of the enthusiasm stems from FM Radio Phase III which will introduce private FM to as many as 227 new towns. So that is all it takes to make radio exciting, is it?

 

Let’s take a look elsewhere and find out what radio is really about. A good place to start is any of these: Last.fm, “tunein.com” Radio or “shoutcast.com” Radio Directory. All of them are aggregators, like the portals of yore in some ways, which offer you an endless variety of radio stations from across the planet. An important aspect of what is on offer is the range of ‘genres’ by which the stations are classified. Here’s a list of the genres under the broad category, ‘Music’ on TuneIn:

 

 

Adult Contemporary Country Hip Hop Rock Top 40-Pop
Blues Decades Jazz Soul World
Classical Easy Listening Oldies Spanish
College Electronic-Dance Religious Specialty

 

 

Just in case you might think this was a bewildering choice, I have news for you. ‘Sports’ offers a choice of 21 genres, including, trust me, ‘Fantasy League’.

 

The point I’m making is quite simple really. Radio is all about precise choices and tightly defined audiences. Stations have an unapologetic and uncompromising commitment to their audiences and are only able to attract them because they stick to playlists that reflect the choices of their highly differentiated audience.

 

What does the picture look like inIndia? Our earliest templates from what radio stations must sound like came from Akashvani, the one channel that catered to our teeming millions long before the brash youngsters arrived on the scene with FM Phase I.

 

Akashvani was the ‘one size fits all’ / ‘any colour so long as it is black” radio station. From programming in two, even three, languages to carrying everything from mythologicals through adventure serials (anyone remember Inspector Eagle here?), to the News and various topical features, radio did everything – catered, as it were, to the lowest common denominator.

 

Look at where we are now. Barring one station that chooses to play a purely Western playlist, all our major metros run a whole bunch of stations whose content is largely interchangeable, mainly because their music and even anchoring style – chatty, hip youngsters doing their clever, irreverent thing, are right out of a cookie cutter.

 

Now before I get flamed out by radio folks pointing to the compulsions of recouping sizable licence costs, I must beg forgiveness and hide behind the defence of ignorance. What I do know, however, is this cannot possibly be the best way for radio to go forward.

 

Radio must target tightly and then programme obsessively to that chosen audience. “Let me be just like everyone else” is not good marketing in any category, least of all radio. Keep in mind that radio will shift away from airwave frequencies to the Internet. That’s when the same-same (known, I believe, as Adult Contemporary) content will die anyway.

 

I began by invoking Queen’s Radio Gaga and can’t help but quoting again from the same, wonderful song at the end.

 

“You’ve yet to have your finest hour Radio – radio”

 

Paritosh Joshi was until recently CEO, Star CJ. He has been a marketer, a mediaperson and a key officebearer on industry bodies. He is Strategic Advisor, Ormax Media. He can reached via his Twitter handle @paritoshZero

Post a Comment 

2 responses to “Paritosh Joshi: Everything I had to know, I heard it on my radio”

  1. Nandan says:

    With the indian mobile market at the size that it already is; and with data/smartphone penetration rocketing away over the next few quarters, the issue of spectrum or govt intervention in licensing becomes irrelevant.

    How to migrate audiences to new & mainstream products and how to get advertising monies migrated to a new (measurable) platform is something the current radio companies must think about.

  2. Mumbai Local says:

    Hi Paritosh,

    Just a quick point I’d like to make – my view is that the problem of “same-ness” (in Indian FM Radio) can be traced back to how frequencies are awarded in the first place.

    Case in point Ofcom (in the UK) bases the allocation decision on ‘whether or not a said proposal catering for a wide range of tastes and interests’.

    Hence, interested parties must draw out a proposal on the service they wish to offer and a bid price that the business plan can support.

    To quote a para from the Ofcom website (this one pertaining to National licenses):

    “The Broadcasting Act 1990 states that two of the three national licences must be awarded to formats prescribed by the Act. One licence must be for a ‘non-pop’ station (this licence was awarded to Classic FM), and one must be for a predominantly speech-based service (awarded to Talk Radio). The third licence is open to ‘all-comers’ and was awarded to Virgin Radio (a rock and pop service).”

    Whereas in India, say in 2006 during Phase II, frequencies were awarded to the highest bidder (I think it was a sealed bidding). And needless to say competition was high and the bidding was aggressive.

    And as a consequence of this mad rush, business plans were retro-fitted to suit the outlays. This, as I understand, is the birth place of “same-ness”.

    This is when the concept of “lowest common denominator” became attached to the Indian Radio story.

    That’s it from me – I’d like to know what you think?

    And apologies, this was anything but a quick point 🙂

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