Indrani Sen: FM Radio in an Existential Crisis

29 Jun,2020

By Indrani Sen

 

Covid-19 has enforced an existential crisis on FM Radio Industry in India. The industry is totally dependent on advertising and ground events-related activities tied up with social media deals as their sources of revenue. All ground events came to a sudden halt after the attack of coronavirus and advertising expenditures dried up as sales took a nose drive. The economic slowdown of last financial year had already impacted the FM Radio industry in FY20 and there was a fall in the revenues of all major companies operating in the segment. According to FICCI EY Report on Indian M&E Industry 2020, revenues of FM Radio Industry grew 5% in the first half of 2019, but fell by18 % in the second half.

 

Due to the decrease in advertising support thanks to lack of business activities during COVID19 followed by the national lockdown, FM Radio industry revenue fell by 80% in April, 2020 and 90% in May 2020 compared to last year. It is estimated that during the first two months of FY21 (April and May) the industry has suffered loss of INR 200 crores and by September, 2020 the loss will mount up to INR 600 crores. The unpaid past dues of DAVP and MSMEs has added to the financial crisis of the various companies owning different brands of FM Radio.

 

Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI) approached the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in March, 2020 with a concrete proposal asking for immediate short term financial support and long term changes in policies. AROI asked the Government for moratorium in license fees and other charges, waiver on interest for delayed payment for a period of one year, clearance of dues from DAVP pending for more than a year and restoration of Government advertising on FM radio channels.  MIB has so far allowed only three months’ extension of licence fees payment without interest which hardly offers any financial relief and is in fact a very small concession offered by the Government who has in the past ripped good financial benefits through auctioning of private FM stations and continue to earn annual revenues from the industry.

 

How has the FM radio industry been dealing with the pandemic in their content? Most of the stations stepped up their programming for educating their listeners about the virus and safety measures and various ways of dealing with home quarantine. Government policies stopped them from making their own local news, but they carried health bulletins from various hospitals and other local government organisations free of cost. A large portion of their content shifted from entertainment to information. Red FM and Magic FM launched a programme “Care Karona” on their channels encouraging their listeners to become facilitators of correct information by educating their maids, drivers and everyone who is in direct contact with people to contain the ripple effect of virus. My FM from the Bhaskar Group introduced a programme “Real Ya Na Real”for busting fake news. Radio City, Mumbai raised donation off INR 8 lakh through their programme “Dabbewale Ka Dabba Bharo” for helping Mumbai’s dabbawalas affected by the lockdown. A recent article in The Print (https://theprint.in/features/how-fm-radio-spread-positivity-and-created-a-sense-of-community-during-the-lockdown/437111/) has praised the way FM Radio spread positivity and created community feeling during the lockdown.

 

What about the listenership of FM radio during Covid-19?  As per the Indian Readership Survey, listenership of radio remained stable across the last three studies at 20%. Urban radio listeners are almost twice (28%) the size of rural listeners (15%) base (listened during last 1 month). However, the findings most likely relate to total radio listeners (AIR channels as well as Private FM Radio channels) and no separate estimate is available regarding the contribution of the Public and Private radio channels in the radio listenership. There has been a lot of speculation during the pandemic about the listenership of FM Radio going down during the lockdown as people could not listen to their car radios and at home had to compete with TV and Digital Media for attention.

 

A recent article in www.moneycontrol.com  referred to a research done by AZ Research during the lockdown showing daily listenership of Radio has gone up during the Pandemic. “Radio is one of the very few mediums that are currently offering you new and fresh content. That has helped increase the listenership for radio by three million to 51 million listens a day post-lockdown, according to a study by AZ research.” (https://www.moneycontrol.com/news/trends/entertainment/coronavirus-impact-more-people-listen-to-it-now-but-radio-is-still-struggling-5232061.html)

 

The online version of Deccan Heard referred to the same study done by AZ Research in details in an article published on April 9, 2020 ( https://www.deccanherald.com/national/coronavirus-lockdown-radio-listenership-increases-by-23-per-cent-study-823395.html) “The study, commissioned by the Association of Radio Operators for India (AROI), also said radio industry has witnessed a  listenership of 51 million people, which is nearly as much as television’s reach of 56 million and social media’s reach of 57 million.” AZ Research conducted the study across a sample size of 3,300 people across India in selected cities having FM Radio channels and found that 82% people have been tuning in to radio during the lockdown period.  As per the study, FM radio has a credibility score of 6.27, second only to the internet which is at 6.44, while TV has a score of 5.74.

 

As per the Pitch Madison Advertising Report (PMAR) 2020, the Top 5 categories of Radio ADEX in 2019 were Real Estate, FMCG, BFSI, Auto and Telecom accounting for only 39% of the total while in case of TV   the top five categories contributed to 78% of the total ADEX.  FMCG accounted for only 9% of Radio ADEX as against 49% of TV Adex. As we gradually unlock the lockdown and our economy limps back to “new normal”, advertising of various goods and services have started reappearing in TV and Print. The advertisers should try to consciously support FM Radio Industry by allotting a small part of their investment to the medium; my assessment is they would not be disappointed with the return on their investment.

 

 

 

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