Alokananda Chakraborty

Which way is radio headed?...

... A single-minded question that confounded both players and audiences at Frames 2003

The scenario presented couldn't have been bleaker. "One needs to think survival and not scorching pace," cautioned Sumantro Dutta, chief operating officer, Radio City. "High licence fees make the business unviable," he said. At a whopping Rs 10 crore per frequency as licence fees in Mumbai and an inflow of Rs 2.2 crore as revenue earned, Dutta isn't incorrect in projecting the "unviability" of the private FM business in the city and indeed in other metros where private FM broadcasters are operational. "Licence fees in Bangalore is Rs 8 crore while Lucknow hinges at Rs 7.5 crore," he said at a seminar titled ‘Radio - The Second Coming' on the first day (March 14) of Frames 2003 in Mumbai. Dutta minced no words when he highlighted the dropout rate among players from the earlier 23 to the current 9. "Twenty-three companies had bid for 108 frequencies across 40 cities," he said. "And now we are reduced to merely 13 stations across nine cities," he added.

Dutta's clarion call - "Rationalise licence fees and give India and its people more stations." "We are not talking about hundreds here, we are talking about thousands," he said. But, Tariq Ansari, managing director, Radio Mid Day, did attempt to put things in perspective when he said, "Rationalisation of fees is not about making the business viable but bringing more choice to the consumers/listeners. All stations sound just the same and the only game in town is the numbers game where the lowest common denominator programmes get you the largest audience share." Incidentally, Ansari's statement comes at a time when GO 92.5, the station promoted by Radio Mid Day has moved away from its earlier strategy of targeting English speaking audiences only to include the more mass Hindi speaking segment as well. Listeners find more number of Hindi songs playing on the station as compared to a few months ago when the skew was distinctly English. Ansari, on the sidelines of the seminar did admit that Radio Mid Day was looking at the "numbers game" as well.

However, his discussion point about "killer applications in radio" met with vigorous nods from members in the audience who, like Ansari, felt that players in the private FM business were not being too "imaginative". "In a city where 50 per cent of the population speaks Marathi, I don't understand why there is no station or programme targeted at that segment," he said. Other killer applications according to Ansari included old Hindi music and devotional music with "endless possibilities" for more.

Veteran radio jockey and broadcaster Ameen Sayani pitched his case for Community Radio stressing that he hoped it would become the "voice of the people". "Anything good takes years to happen in India and I hope community radio picks up in the country." As moderator AP Parigi, managing director, Entertainment Network India Ltd, the Bennett & Coleman-owned company that has promoted Radio Mirchi said, "It is not a question of earning revenue but the force multiplier effect it (community radio) has on society."

The singular representative from the music industry on the panel namely Shridhar Subramaniam, managing director, Sony Music (India) Ltd, was forceful about the fact that the blatant usage of songs had impacted the sale of music cassettes and CDs. "Worldwide, sales go up when radio promotes it," he said. "Obviously, it isn't happening in India," he added.

He was categorical that both businesses were competing with each other rather than being complementary to each other. "There is no doubt that radio and music are complementary businesses," he said. "However, radio companies should be paying us for the content used by them." To which Ansari of Mid Day concluded, "There is no questioning the fact that we have to pay but the most unfortunate part is that there is no agreement on what the rate of payment should be." © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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