Indrani Sen: Radio Rumblings & Selling without Currency

16 Nov,2015

By Indrani Sen


Currently radio is the fastest growing traditional medium in India. Why the Radio Industry is not feeling the need for a valid media currency after investing a whopping Rs 3,000 crore (including the migration fees) in the Phase III of FM Radio expansion? Why is RAM, our only syndicated radio listenership study, limited to only four cities since 2007 when six years back in 2009 (after the Phase II auction), 91 cities formed our Private FM Radio Network? How can the Radio channels be so indifferent to RAM that some of them have stopped subscribing to it? As per the FICCI KPMG 2015 report, radio revenue will increase from Rs 1,960 crore in 2015 to Rs 3,950 crore in 2019. Are the advertisers buying radio time blindfold or is there a hidden card which is helping radio stations to sell effectively without the help of a regular currency?


What is ailing our Radio Audience Measurement studies?  We had a good start in radio research in late 1990s. The advertising industry felt the need of radio listenership measurement even before the advent of private FM channels and the pressure which mounted on AIR resulted in Audience Research Unit starting its Radio Programme Listenership (RPL) ratings in 1998. In early 2000, MRUC started Indian Listenership Track (ILT) in partnership with AC Nielsen ORG- MARG based on yesterday’s listenership (YDL) which is also referred as Day After Recall (DAR).  MRUC commissioned a research to evaluate which of the two radio research methodologies (between DAR and Diary) was the most robust in Indian context and the Diary Method scored above DAR.  ILT was discontinued after 2006 as TAM announced the launch of RAM from 2007.


A joint service between IMRB International and Nielsen Media Research, RAM is an independent division of TAM Media Research and provides listenership data based on the Diary Method on a weekly basis. RAM started with a lot of promise in Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru in 2007. Kolkata was soon added as the fourth city. The panel size of 600-plus individuals each in Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata has been static over the years though new listening devices have been included in the diaries.


RAM was criticised soon after the first ratings were released for using the 2005 NRS universe estimate without proper corrective measures. The universe estimate was finally corrected in 2011 (two years after Phase II auction) showing huge growth in population in all the four cities. Certain demographic distributions based on the new universe estimates and other findings were also challenged by radio industry experts. Large FM radio organisations found that they had to invest in independent research to understand the behaviour of the listeners in the markets beyond the four RAM cities. They chose to rely on their own research across all markets and began unsubscribing to RAM. The limitations of RAM drove some of the advertisers to conduct their own research to understand the efficacy of radio as a medium for their target audience and they stopped using RAM.  It became a Catch-22 situation.


The exodus of FM Channels from RAM resulted in lack of financial support to the syndicated research. Apathy of the radio industry is the reason for RAM getting stuck to only four cities over eight years though they announced periodically their intention to add on more cities. It is probably too late now to revive and revamp the syndicated radio listenership research in its present format.  A new audience metrics needs to be set up in India based on a proper sampling structure for covering the entire FM Radio network (AIR and Private) and providing useful information to the radio and advertising industry.


The Association of Radio Operators in India (AROI) should collaborate with BARC for setting up the structure of the radio audience research. BARC has been set up with the intention of providing measurement of “Broadcast Audience” including both TV and Radio. After setting up the TV audience measurement system successfully, BARC needs to focus on radio audience measurement system.  AROI would have to ensure complete support by the radio industry to the new avatar of the syndicated listenership study.


The question which needs to be addressed is can the radio industry afford a large scale sophisticated radio listenership study based on audio meters? As per the FICCI-KPMG 2015 report, against industry size of 543.2 INR billion for TV and 284.5 INR billion for Print, the size of the radio industry is miniscule at only 19.6 INR billion. It is obvious that unless advertisers and media agencies actively support the syndicated research on radio listenership study, it would not be financially feasible.


A number of media planners are now using IRS data for preliminary analysis of penetration of FM Radio in their target audience and selection of radio channels. However, the analysis often cannot be conducted due to inadequate sample size in the selected target audience. While MRUC is planning the new IRS, can they examine the scope of providing additional information on penetration of FM radio as a medium?


Meantime, regardless of the coverage provided by RAM, the FM radio industry continues to thrive and grow at a compound annual growth rate of 18% (FICCI-KPMG Report, 2015). What is the secret of the success of this medium? Radio operators in India are today selling radio time based on a 360 degree approach which is helping in the growth of radio advertising.  No deal happens without ground activation and digital support through mobile texts and social media interactions. Often TV or Print or OOH support from the same media house is also solicited through FM Channels.


The advertisers are satisfied as they have an indirect measure of the radio listenership through social media sites and the success of activation programmes are reflected in the sales graph. Recently, in a media seminar conducted by Calcutta Media Institute in Kolkata on October 9 and 10, 2015, Jimmy Tangree of 91.9 Friends FM said “We also do radio” while moderating a panel discussion.  He explained that no radio show happens today without the digital/ social connection. This is the hidden card behind the success of the medium and explains how the radio industry is successfully marketing radio time without the support of a regular media currency.


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