Radio, or more precisely, private FM radio in India has it tough indeed. High license fees have made it essential to go for a strategy that seeks to appeal to the maximum possible audience size. In content terms, it has translated to an almost uniform usage of music, or more precisely, film music as the staple fare on stations. A situation that has its own pitfalls.
These contradictions and the way forward were the issues discussed at the panel discussion titled" Radio and Music Grow Cinema" on the second day of the FICCI Frames in Chennai. Moderated by Madhav Das, music consultant, the panel included Prashant Panday, CEO, ENIL, Anand Chakravarthy, senior vice-president, Big FM, and G. Dhananjayan, CEO- Films Division, Moser Baer India Limited.
Das set the ball rolling, accusing the radio industry in its current form of 'killing' musical talent in the country, due to their focus on playing 'popular' film music. The existence of barely '25' playback singers of repute was criminal in his view, when compared with the almost 10,000 professional singers in a market such as the US. So deep is the hold of cinema on radio, that he foresaw a future where like music firms which have moved into film making, radio firms themselves would evolve to become film makers, leaving radio as the lesser part of the enterprise. He pointed to both Mirchi and Big FM as cases in point, with both having diversified into or having a strong presence in the film producing business.
Coming to the panel theme, Panday specified the many things radio does for cinema now; pointing out that the medium was by far the biggest influence on cinema today. With music television barely 'registering' on the radar when it came to reach, Panday reckoned radio was the most critical cog in the promotional plans for film producers.
Concurring with Panday, Chakravarthy recalled the situation in 2006, when radio stations had to pitch to movie producers to be allowed to play the songs, going out of their way to get 'exclusive' deals. Now, the situation has all but reversed, he said. This just goes to show the huge role radio plays in popularising cinema. He gave the example of producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who held a special screening of his upcoming film, '3 Idiots' for radio RJ's, to ensure that the RJ's get a genuine feel for the songs in the movie, and speak about them accordingly.
Dhananjayan seemed to support this view, pointing out the many activities that stations do to promote the movies, right from playing songs, to reviewing movies, to other activities. He added his rather radical view that smaller producers wouldn't mind paying, or paying more for the opportunity to give their songs, and movies accordingly, a better chance of getting noticed and helping the box office performance. Radical because, as an intellectual property lawyer in the audience pointed out, this seemed to be an attempt to go two steps backward for the copyright owners of songs, who have all along been locked in a bitter and continuing struggle with radio firms for a higher royalty on songs played.
Dhananjayan was optimistic that the industries projected growth rate of 14 per cent plus between now and 2012-13, that is expected to see it reach Rs 1,600 crores in size, could be exceeded with the many opportunities and innovations being tried by the radio industry.
The panel members would be hoping that in that period, the industry's tetchy but deep relationship with cinema would also mature further, because one can't help feeling that it is this relationship that holds the key to the industry's future growth and evolution.