How Fever managed to raise the temperature

By Dhaleta Surender Kumar , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Media Publishing | July 13, 2009
In the past six months, Fever has managed to gain share in its markets by changing its strategies

Fever FM is, till date, the last FM channel to be launched in Delhi and Mumbai. Being from the HT Media house and backed by plenty of money and hype, it was expected to do well from Day One. Yet, it took the FM station nearly three years to get its act together since its launch in Delhi in October, 2006.

In Mumbai and Bengaluru, where it was launched in January and March, 2007, respectively, the odds were against it as the common transmission infrastructure (CTI) promised by the government was not in place and the station got a bad name for bad reception quality.

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However, in the last six months, the station has not only improved its reception quality but raised its share, as per RAM, All people 12+. As for the company's fourth station in Kolkata, which was launched in January 2008, the lessons from the other cities had made it to put things in the right perspective from the very beginning.

In May 2008, Fever Mumbai had an average listenership share of 5.1 per cent only for the month. Six months later - November, the figure increased by 1 percentage points. However, in Week 19 (May 3 to May 9), Fever's share was 16.5 per cent displacing Red FM, the leader till then in the city. Though for the month, its average stood at 13.68 per cent.

In Bengaluru too, things weren't any better, last year. The station had a meagre average listening share of 3.35 per cent in May 2008, improving marginally to an average of 6.33 per cent in November. However, helped by some strong turnarounds during this time, the share shot up to an average of 15.25 per cent for the month of May 2009.

The scenario was relatively better in Delhi. However, in May 2008, though at the No. 2 position, Fever was way behind Mirchi - less than half of leader's share of 23.95 per cent. One year later, Fever has managed to narrow the gap with an average of 15.63 per cent (for May 2009) share, as against Mirchi's average of 25.8 per cent.

It certainly was not the second wind for the station that pushed up its rankings, so what helped Fever to raise the temperature? The station, since its launch, was positioned as a premium channel positioned at SEC AB, with a mix of English and Hindi music played in the ratio of 20:80. Also, it portrayed its USP as "more music and less talk".

Post launch, it held promotions such as the 'Fever Bolo' contest and the 'Bingo Tick Tock Boing!', which offered prize money in the range of several lakh Rupees to contestants - one of the biggest offered on Indian radio. "Every promotion will give you only a 20-25 per cent of listenership spike," says Neeraj Chaturvedi, national marketing head, Fever FM.

Each promo did get Fever the spike for the promo period, and also got the audience to sample the station. However, the stickiness was missing as the programming mix didn't seem to be right. Every other station played the same music and what differentiated them were the RJs (radio jockeys), who had their own loyal following for their distinct styles of communication.

According to Premjeet Sodhi, chief planning officer, Lintas Media Group, the problem with Fever was that it "was the choice of a small set of English music skewed listeners and not the mass, which mostly preferred listening to Hindi songs."

Realising its folly, the first thing the operator did was to get rid of the English songs. It became a 'totally a Hindi songs' station in Delhi and Mumbai, meanwhile bringing in the SEC C and D in its target group fold, too. In Bengaluru, too, where it played a 20:80 mix of English:Hindi songs, it went for a 50:50 mix of Kannada:Hindi songs in April 2008.

In October 2008, the Bengaluru station completely sacrificed its Hindi listeners for 100 per cent Kannada songs. Along with the songs, Hindi and English speaking RJs had to be sacrificed to rope in regional language speaking RJs. "There is a market for Hindi listeners, too, in Bengaluru, but that caps at 10 per cent," says Chaturvedi.

It was also a move to lure in advertisers. "Most advertisers look for reach number and it must have been tough for Fever to sustain as a niche genre. The station has attempted to create original music based content such as 'Fever Music Mahurat' and 'Somnath Tiwari' song spoofs in Mumbai," says Sodhi.

Chaturvedi accepts that advertisers were reluctant to come on air just for SEC A and B. They wanted to reach out to SEC C and D, too.

Prashant Kumar, managing partner, Central Trading Group, GroupM, says, "Fever managed to bring in more numbers by engaging the audience, changing the programming mix from Hindi:English to totally Hindi in Delhi and Mumbai; and Kannada in Bengaluru. Besides, I believe that bringing in new RJs has given the station a fillip, too."

The lineup of presenters was changed in Mumbai, too, where "the yuppie kind of presenters gave way to seasoned presenters, roped in from rival stations".

Though Chaturvedi won't concede that there is more talk now on the station, he'd like to put it as: "The audience engagement has gone up". 'No stupid jokes, no astrology and no recipes' still remains its proposition. "People are tired of astrology and recipes, and it isn't that we are bereft of humour," he adds.

The changes weren't sudden, though. They were unveiled one by one "as we took the audience along. We surprised people. That's probably the advantage when you are the last player in the market and no one is looking at you. Competition wasn't even tracking us. We were that behind," says Chaturvedi.

Kumar believes that Fever seems to have learnt its lesson well. "Fever seems to be playing not just popular Bollywood music, but all genres of music. A lot of thought seems to have gone behind the scheduling of the programmes - what mood would work at what time of the day," he adds.

While some stations only pick up new Bollywood songs, Fever plays all genres of Hindi music going back till the '70s, leaving out Hindustani and Carnatic classical only. "As for classical, people have their own followings of different gharanas. It is niche within niche," reasons Chaturvedi.

Even though it went for the mass audience, Fever still calls itself a premium station, or rather "a premium mass station" for using only a part of its inventory and dropping many spots. However, that does not mean that advertisers are ready to pay a premium for a clutter free environment, concedes Chaturvedi, adding, "As a potential, we are handicapped if we don't get a premium. But let's wait. The advertisers will wake up some day as we have been able to achieve one of the best time spent listening (TSL). Still, we would like to play more music and wouldn't compromise on that."

Besides the programming, Fever faced some infrastructural problems in Mumbai and Bengaluru. The last mover disadvantage was certainly working against it. Usually, the government puts up a transmission tower or CTI, which is shared by all the stations. The stations pay a fee to the government for this. However, in Mumbai, the CTI was not in place and all the channels had put up their own towers.

The presence of high-rise buildings made matters worse and the best of the locations had been picked up already by the early movers. Fever was known for disrupted transmission and fell out of the listener's choice till it got its transmission tower relocated to a better position in mid-2008.

The problem was similar in Bengaluru, too, which, according to Chaturvedi, lies in a basin and the transmission quality was bad till the Karnataka government got the CTI in place. It also made use of a trademark technology called Fever Digisound, which improved the sound quality manifold.

To make sure that things were in place, a survey was conducted to audit the sound reception, helped by promotions such as 'Sun Mumbai Sun', in which common sounds such as screeching of brakes or birds chirping were played out to the audience. "Fever Digisound worked for us wonderfully," says Chaturvedi.

Satyajit Sen, managing director, North and East, ZenithOptimedia, seconds Chaturvedi's assertion. "Even though the station plays music similar to other stations, Fever's digital sound gives the audience a better sound experience, even in areas of high-rise buildings. It's an edge Fever certainly has over its competitors. Also, the quality of RJing is far superior to the other stations, which generally can qualify as plain rant," he says.

But are planners willing to consider Fever as a strong contender and include it in their media plan? They have their own doubts. Meenakshi Madhvani, founder and managing partner, Spatial Access Media Solutions, though personally prefers to listen to Fever, for the "uniqueness of its content," however she feels that Fever may have to increase the count of its stations to be considered. "Unlike TAM, which is taken seriously as a currency for TV, RAM tends to be taken lightly. When you are dealing with a five market plan, Fever may not have its presence in all the cities. Here, we as planners may prefer to go with the No.2 station of the city, just for its sheer presence in the five markets. Here, Fever in spite of having started doing well, may not be taken seriously," she says.

Sen too feels that it is too early to find a trend in Fever's recent high ratings. "A sudden high can be attributed to many factors, such as promotions or an event. However, to find a trend with Fever, we'll have to wait at least for another six months to see if it can sustain the ratings. However, there's no doubt that it has surely made its presence felt finally," he adds.

Sodhi too, is optimistic and doubtful at the same time. "The fortunes of the top few players change very frequently as the listenership is spread across various stations and there is not much loyalty observed for any particular player. Constant revival of programming content with new and innovative stuff would be the only route to success," he says.