FM Radio: Is there space for all?

By , agencyfaqs! | In | April 26, 2002
By the end of this month, five FM radio channels will battle to rule Mumbai's airwaves. Is there enough space for all of them?


Mumbai is gearing up for the battle of the airwaves as five FM radio channels launch almost simultaneously. The Times Group's Radio Mirchi took off this week, and Radio Today (from the Living Media stable), Radio Mid-Day (from the tabloid Mid-Day), Radio City from the STAR India-PK Mittal-promoted Music Broadcast, and Millennium Broadcast (promoted by NRI Gautam Radia) wait in the wings to make their voices heard.

The question is, do all of them have enough space? In a city of 16 million, half of them on the streets, the FM population is estimated at anything from four to six million. Already, archaic government policies - that allow foreign television channels but not private local news - have saddled the aspiring FM channels with a chain around their collective necks - a ban on the broadcasting of news and current affairs. Meaning that, the FM channels will have to bank on a mixture of music, meaningless chatter and entertainment to fill up 'air-time'.

With this limited fare it is debatable whether there is enough of a radio audience to sustain all the five channels. As the medium is new, there is no firm opinion among media planners. But radio has advantages - it is cheap, meaning advertising volumes, and some of the players have a substantial cross-media presence that can be leveraged to promote the new medium.

And the different radio channels have their strategies cut out. Radio Mid-Day, for example, is planning to target the SEC A and B car-borne segment. In a city where it takes longer to reach the airport from the tip on the city than it takes to fly from New Delhi to Mumbai, that should not be too difficult. Says Rajesh Tahil, head of Radio Mid-Day, "In the afternoon slot, we will have to compete with television for the attention of housewives. What we are aiming at is the top 20 per cent of the radio audience. Thus we have decided to choose an audience, and go with it."

On the other hand, Radio City is aiming at as broad an audience as possible. "Radio, as a medium is aimed at the broadest audience possible. In short, anyone with a pair of ears is our audience," says Sumantra Dutta, chief operating officer, Radio Division, STAR India. Radio City is banking on the fact that radio, in several cases, is an add-on medium, something that is listened to with half an ear, as for example, when someone reads a book with the radio on. "Radio, rather than being a standalone medium, is a medium that is consumed with other media," argues Dutta.

And, then, there is the question of advertising revenue. What radio companies are banking on are their cheaper advertising rates. For example, while a 10-second slot on STAR Plus could run into lakhs of rupees, a 10-second slot on its radio channel will cost just few hundreds. However, the question is one of quality and brand equity. Cheap rates mean that quite a lot of people will clamber on to the FM bandwagon, and some media planners feel that this will keep the really big names away from the medium. As a senior media planner points out, "Many top products/companies would not want their premium products juxtaposed with advertisements of the local panwallas."

On the other hand, say some planners, being cheap, volumes will make up, even if the big names stay away from the medium. A Delhi-based media planner in a Top 5 agency avers, "Radio will eat into localised media, as it is much cheaper." He adds, "Of the channels that are being launched, the ones that will benefit the most are those that have presence in other media."

Thus, Radio Mid-Day and Radio Mirchi have an advantage by virtue of the fact that they belong to front-running media houses. As a senior advertising professional comments, "The Times of India, which owns Radio Mirchi, successfully used its offline presence to plug its Internet site Such cross-media promotions might even take the form of complementary or substantial reductions in advertisements in the offline area, so as to encourage investment in radio advertisement." © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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