Anchor | One Big Idea by Prashant Panday : An opportunity to change the face of radio in India

14 Jan,2013

By Prashant Panday, CEO and Executive Director, ENIL (Radio Mirchi)

 

There is just one simple thing the government must do to release the animal spirits of the radio medium. Get out of the deep freeze!

 

The deep freeze is apparent. The Phase-3 policy of radio reforms was announced in July 2011. It’s already been 14 months and there is not even a mention of when the auctions will take place. In contrast, the Phase-2 auctions were conducted within six months of the policy announcement in 2006.

 

There have been no auctions since Jan 2006. In the last seven years, every other medium has grown dramatically, but radio is stuck in the past. On the one hand we have a strong and vibrant economy (yes yes….even now!) and on the other hand, our major metros offer only 4-9 private FM stations. How is this incongruity justifiable? Why should people of Mumbai and Delhi have to look towards Colombo and Manila to understand how powerful and entertaining radio can be?

 

There is one other crucial thing the government must do before Phase-3 auctions to change the face of radio. It must accept the recommendations of TRAI and reduce the “separation” between two adjoining FM channels from the present 800 Khz to 400 Khz. This one single initiative will help double the number of channels in every city. With so many channels available and with broadcasters being allowed to operate multiple channels, there is bound to be an increase in programming variety. I cannot understand why the great cities of Mumbai and Delhi cannot have dedicated retro channels, or regional language ones or news and talk ones or sports ones…..or why they cannot segment the contemporary music they play now into narrower and more homogeneous genres? With more programming variety, listeners will be a happy lot. Maybe they will even vote the government back to power! The government itself will avoid another allegation of a scam because it will increase its own license fees by an estimated Rs 1500 crores or so by doing so. In short, there is no argument against accepting TRAI’s recommendations.

 

When radio is truly reformed as explained above, its importance will grow. Today, FM accounts for just 4.5% of the advertising spend in the country. That number could rise to 7-8% in a few years time. With growing distances and car populations, radio is already the primary medium for millions of people. I know a lot of people who spend more time listening to radio than watching TV. Now….if more channels could be made available…..radio could also become as big as TV!

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