Alokananda Chakraborty

Radio Mirchi banks on reach and hype

The question is: Will that convert into listenership?

On April 23, the Radio Mirchi private FM station, owned by Entertainment Network (India) Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Times Group, debuted in Mumbai, on 98.3 FM. Radio Mirchi already runs radio stations in Indore and Ahmedabad. With the opening of the Pune station last week, the company completed the crucial western grid, reaching a claimed 60 million radio listeners.

By the end of August, Radio Mirchi plans to launch in Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai. With this, the station will reach 150 million people, according to the company. And there are plans to launch in smaller cities like Bhubaneshwar, Cuttack and Jabalpur later this year.

Currently, the marketing strategy of Radio Mirchi revolves around three crucial pegs - create hype around the name Radio Mirchi, plug Radio Mirchi through the other media that The Times Group owns, and emphasise on the greater reach as well as the success of Radio Mirchi in Indore and Ahmedabad. The company also hopes that its earlier experience with Times FM will stand it in good stead.

Radio Mirchi is banking on a mixture of predominantly musical programming in English, Hindi and Marathi to get its audience glued to their radio sets. And it is hoping to cash in on its formidable reach to woo advertisers. "We are currently the only radio station that is present in all these metros, and we can offer media planners a quality-driven platform spread across the country. That means they can be assured of both quality and reach," claims Prashant Pandey, chief operating officer, Radio Mirchi.

The station is also banking on its earlier experience with Times FM - many of the employees at Radio Mirchi are old Times FM hands - and its ability to coordinate advertising campaigns on its stations across several cities. Radio Mirchi may have the largest number of stations across the country, but smaller stations like WIN 94.6 (a private 24-hour FM station, launched on April 29, by Millennium Broadcast) are banking on the fact that they have the same power of transmission as Radio Mirchi or Radio Mid-Day. All private FM stations have 20 KW transmission strength, which queers the pitch to an extent.

In such a scenario, where the cheapness of radio is likely to ensure that the bulk of radio advertisers are those that go for a one-city-local-audience strategy, greater reach may not necessarily translate into a marketing advantage. Points out Samindra Das of Carat India, who specialises in radio, "While the cross-media holdings of The Times Group and Mid-Day will create the initial hype at the time of the launch, ultimately content and packaging will be the king." Pandey of Radio Mirchi agrees, but feels that the equity of his brand, and the experience with Times FM, will give Radio Mirchi an advantage. "Content will be supreme, and we will concentrate on that. But once that is done, the other factors come into play," he argues.

There is little doubt that it is a high stakes game. The private FM stations, saddled with enormous licensing fees - in Mumbai, a radio station has to pay Rs 9.75 crore per annum, which appreciates at 15 per cent per year - and prevented by law from broadcasting local news and current affairs, will solely depend on advertising to sustain themselves. Add to that the fact that of the Rs 9,000 crore advertising market, just 2 per cent went into radio advertising last year and the predicament of private FM operators becomes evident

Another crucial question bigger operators like Radio Mirchi are grappling with is: Will radio be a stand-alone medium or just a support medium? Points out Das of Carat India, "Radio listenership will not compete with TV viewership as the consumption pattern of both media is different. Radio listenership is passive as it is more of a background entertainment medium. People are not going to switch off their TVs and listen to radio."

Pandey disagrees. "TV and radio don't go hand in hand. People watch TV in the main room, while radio is listened to elsewhere. Before we launched in Indore, the average person spent only 70 minutes listening to radio, as compared to the 135 minutes that he spent watching television. But today, a radio listener spends a total of 123 minutes listening to radio as compared to the 128 minutes spent by an average television viewer watching TV," he argues, quoting a recent IMRB study that targeted SEC ABC radio listeners between the ages of 15 and 35.

Only time will tell if what happened in Indore will repeat in cosmopolitan Mumbai. © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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