Alokananda Chakraborty

Radio City plans to expand the market

Spreading the message of FM radio is at the top of the station's agenda

Radio City, the FM radio brand from the STAR network, was a bit late in coming into town, contrary to earlier expectations that it would try to gain the first mover advantage. In an August 2001 interview to agencyfaqs!, Sumantra "Sumo" Dutta, chief operating officer, Radio Division, STAR India, had said, "One thing that we will bank on is our first mover advantage, and what we plan to do is to set up a very high bar, which anyone will find difficult to reach, and therefore, surmount."

However, for a variety of reasons, the station could not do that, and launched second last, with Red FM, from the India Today stable, being the latest entrant. So has that affected the marketing strategy of the station? Not really, says Dutta, "All stations were launched within a few weeks of each other, and all stations should be in a market creation mode right now, rather than a market share mode."

Radio City certainly has a lot going for it - the heavy cross-media presence of STAR, the brand name, a spanking team, with international experience in radio and quite a lot of experience running radio in Bangalore, where it has captured a big chunk of local advertising. However, the challenge in Mumbai will be to carve a niche for itself in the already crowded FM market. One way would be to push the growth of the market as a whole from the current 1.5 to 2 per cent of the total advertising budget, to around 5 to 6 per cent, or even 10 per cent. However, many analysts feel this is a bit optimistic. Says Katy Merchant, senior vice-president, IMRB, "While it is unlikely that radio will reach the 10 per cent that optimists predict it will, it has enough potential to double its current share." The other is to stand out from the rest.

The key advantage that Radio City has is that it belongs to the STAR stable, and that it already has considerable experience running a station in Bangalore. In this, the station is on the same wicket as the Times of India-promoted Radio Mirchi, which has similar experience of running stations in its earlier version of Times FM. And Radio Mirchi has the Times of India tag to boast of.

Coming to programming, Radio City has decided to target the entire gamut of the FM audience, rather that go in for a specific target group, as some stations such as Go 92.5 FM has done. "We are banking on research that looks at the kind of music the people of the region want to listen to," says Sumo, outlining the pivot of the programming strategy of the station.

Dutta, without going into specifics, says, "Copying is the best form of flattery." Industry sources say that he could be referring to the decision of some stations to replace English music programming at 10.00 am, with Hindi music programming, after the success of Radio City's classical Hindi music offering in this slot, and the decision of Win 94.6 (Millennium Broadcast) to launch a programme, "Top 8 at 8" in Mumbai. Radio City has the same programme in Bangalore at 8.00 pm and in Mumbai, has "Top 9 at 9." Gautam Radia, CEO, Millennium Broadcast, promoter of Win Radio, bristles at any suggestion that his station follows a trend set by Radio City and calls such charges "preposterous." He says that the station's programming has a lot more to do with its experience with WorldSpace satellite radio, and the lessons learnt then.

Such turf wars aside, the fact is that right now most players in Mumbai are in the "market creation" mode. Yet, just weeks after they were launched, most stations have been able to carve their own niches, points out Sumi Warrior, associate business director, Carat India, who keeps a sharp eye on the radio scene in the city. Ground realities too reflect this. Win 94.6, for example, has seen its 10-minute slots at 6.00 pm, 7.00 pm, 8.00 pm, and 9.00 pm taken up completely. On its part, Radio City hopes to repeat its success in Bangalore, where more than 200 brands advertise on it, paying between Rs 1,000 to Rs 3,000 (depending on the time of the day) for a 10-second slot.

However, while in Bangalore, more than 40 per cent of Radio City's advertising comes from local advertisers, in Mumbai, local advertiser response is, according to some industry sources, "still lukewarm." That seems to be reflected in the advertising break-up of Radio City, Mumbai, with 90 per cent of its advertisements coming from national advertisers, mainly from the insurance, banking, FMCG, and auto sectors. The remaining 10 per cent comes from local hotels, eateries, and clothing stores.

The listener is also in the same mood. Most radio listeners have not identified any favourite station yet, but surf around instead. And, even when listening, they are unlikely to know which particular station they are listening to, a trend epitomised by the hawkers selling cheap FM radio sets outside Churchgate station (in south Mumbai), crying out, "Mirchi 92 FM lelo," a play on Radio Mirchi, and Go 92.4 FM, two of the city's popular stations. And so, as Dutta says, "the game today is a missionary's game. Radio is a category that should be heavily sold." © 2002 agencyfaqs!

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