South Asia FM to unleash potential through pan-India presence

By Justin Thomas , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | November 13, 2008
SFM aims for a larger share of advertisers with its growing number of stations

On & #BANNER1 & # the verge of launching its 44th station in Gangtok by the end of November, South Asia FM (SFM) is one of the few private radio operators in the country which has focussed on smaller cities and towns. Promoted by Sun TV Networks, SFM has positioned itself as a local brand.

Speaking to afaqs!, Nisha Narayanan, project head, SFM, says, "Our programming is very different. We do a lot of local programming and use a lot of regional music."

Narayanan explains the programme format: "Unlike most radio stations, which have two-three hour shows, we have around 16 one-hour shows every day. Though operationally it is a nightmare, it gives a lot of freshness to the programming. It's crisp and the entire station's feel is fresh and young."

Just being on air is not enough for SFM. Narayanan says, "It is also about shaking hands and kissing babies." To implement this, she reveals that outdoor broadcasts have been a key initiative for the radio station and found to be very effective, especially in smaller towns.

Satya Patnaik, station head, SFM Bhubaneswar, says, "Being the capital of Orissa, the city has a cosmopolitan culture, hence the music is equally divided between Oriya and Hindi."

Debashish Das, station head, SFM Vadodara, says, "About 60 per cent of (the station's) music is in Gujarati and the rest in Hindi."

SFM draws ads from various sources. Retail takes up 40-45 per cent of the advertising pie and the remaining 60 per cent comes from corporate business. Market specific advertising also plays an important role.

Deepti Shivan, station head, SFM Thiruvananthapuram, says, "In North Kerala, we have more ads coming in from the real estate segment in the Gulf, while in South Kerala, where the government machinery is positioned, we get government ads."

However, Patnaik adds, "It took considerable time for advertisers to accept radio as an advertising medium, but the winds of change have come."

Infrastructure is a key issue while setting up stations in some areas. "We have to face situations such as lack of power in places like Aizwal, where we are in the process of setting up a station," says Narayanan.

Another factor is unavailability of regional music. "Though we are popular for playing regional music, in most of these states, the sector is not organised," she says. "One has to go to individuals to procure their music. Many a time, it begins from concept selling. The first question musicians ask is - why should they give their music to us as their CD sales will go down? Starting from there, one convinces them and that has been challenging."

Narayanan says she thinks that regional artists are more talented. "I think there is great talent outside the metros and the advantage we have is that when we are talking about smaller markets, they are also more innovative and experimental."

SFM started its first station in November 2006. "For the most part of this period, we were setting up stations. Now we are consolidating and putting in stronger teams. We are looking at businesses coming in from the corporate world and also strengthening the retail market," says Narayanan.

On an average, the setup cost per station for SFM has been Rs 2-3 crore, though Narayanan declined to comment on how many stations have broken even.

SFM plans to continue to increase its pan-India presence, which is helping it in terms of sales, advertising and marketing of a larger network.