FICCI signals need for rapid radio reforms

By , agencyfaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | June 26, 2007
The industry body has prepared a blueprint to give a further fillip to the fast-growing Indian radio scene

Radio is one

of the fastest growing sectors within the media and entertainment industry with a CAGR of 28 per cent - beating the overall industry, which is flourishing at a CAGR of 18 per cent. And this has now given the industry confidence to push once again for more reforms.

FICCI (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) has raised some issues that needed to be addressed sooner rather than later. These include allowing news and current affairs programming in private FM radio, a level playing ground in policies for satellite radio and FM radio, more frequencies in all markets, and more foreign direct investment in radio broadcasting.

In one of the first steps towards taking the industry to the next level, the FICCI Radio Forum has been constituted under the chairmanship of AP Parigi, CEO and managing director, ENIL (Radio Mirchi).

One issue that the forum is pushing with full strength is getting the nod to allow news on private FM - the only mass medium not offering news and current affairs as part of its programming. TV, newspapers and the Internet are all allowed to broadcast news. How long can radio work under this disadvantage? "News can broad-base the industry and increase the listener base tremendously. Currently, most radio stations operate within the genre of music alone," says S Keerthivasan, business head, Fever FM.

Adds Anil Srivatsa, COO, Radio Today Broadcasting, "I'd like to look at this from another angle - that radio is not being given the opportunity to take advantage of news content if it chooses to - and from this standpoint, we (radio) need to have the same opportunity."

FICCI's memorandum to the information and broadcasting ministry says, "Other forms of media don't have the kind of reach that radio has. Thus, for the poor and underprivileged, the only available medium of news and entertainment is radio."

Another issue that has been raised by FICCI is the lack of a level playing field between terrestrial and satellite radio. At present, there are no FDI limits for satellite radio, the limit is 20 per cent for terrestrial radio. "FDI norms as in the case of terrestrial FM radio should be applicable to satellite radio also in order to ensure a level playing field," says FICCI's memorandum.

Take, for instance, Worldspace, the only satellite radio player in India, which has a base of around 60,000 subscribers for its bouquet of 40 radio stations. Its bouquet of news includes NDTV, BBC Asia, CNN, Bloomberg, WRN (current affairs, economics). "Satellite radio is radio - the only difference from terrestrial radio is the mode of delivery. There should be a level playing field for FM radio in India to bloom further. We strongly recommend that since news and current affairs are allowed on satellite radio, it should also be allowed on FM radio," adds the memorandum.

Srivatsa shares FICCI's view. He says, "I think satellite radio should be held to the same investment and other regulatory standards as satellite and cable TV channels, while FM radio regulatory regimes and guidelines should be upgraded at par with print and TV."

Keerthivasan adds, "A rapidly growing industry like radio needs huge funding in the initial years. Foreign investment can help grow the industry to its full potential."

And if you were wondering whether your radio set was already flooded with too many radio signals, the industry wants more. FICCI says "Any broadcaster should be allowed to own multiple licences in a city. The most significant outcome if multiple licence ownership is allowed is that diversity of content for listeners is assured." In other words, multiple licences to broadcasters in a city. Say, one licence for Hindi music and another for English in the same city. Is this a first step towards having dedicated music stations?

"Worldwide, radio stations cater to different audience profiles. Multiple licences in a city can certainly lead to market segmentation and catering to various listener preferences," says Keerthivasan.

However, all don't agree with the one city-many licences idea. Says Srivatsa, "In an environment in which radio is still evolving as a business and developing a programming identity, I feel it is too early to add to the confusion of allowing one operator to be allowed a second or more stations in the same city."

Clearly, with such a big wish-list, radio now has bandwidth to dream really big. But it remains to be seen how the government views the opening up of what it perceives to be a politically sensitive medium.

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