Aishwarya Ramesh

Can the future of radio go digital?

With an increased interest in audio streaming formats during lockdown, can radio go digital? Our panel discusses.

For some readers, radio might invoke a sense of nostalgia. A reminder of the time when people would eagerly wait for their favourite RJ to speak to them and when they’d break into a smile when their favourite song was played.

This was the story in the previous decade, but with the advent of audio streaming has changed that in 2020. 2020 was also the year the COVID pandemic hit us – resulting in lockdown in different parts of the country.

Lockdown also meant an increase in interest in audio streaming formats such as podcasts, audiobooks, and digital storytelling. Radio in the past has filled this gap of audio content. In today’s world. Transistors are obsolete and tuning into radio on smartphones, inconvenient. In a swipe and scroll 'on-demand' era, where does radio stand? Will radio find a permanent home at the digital station?

On Day 2 of Audionxt, the conversation was centered on the topic ‘Is the future of radio digital’?. The panel consisted of Abraham Thomas of RBNL, Aditya Summanwar of Triton Digital, Nandan Srinath of ENIL (Mirchi) and was moderated by Vanita Kohli Khandekar, the contributing editor of Business Standard.

The conference will be held daily from July 26-30, 2021, between 4 and 4.45 p.m. Audionxt Week is part of afaqs!'s flagship 'All Week' initiative, which also includes eConferences, like Television Week, Digipub Week, Languages Week, vdonxt Week, CMO Week and Gaming Week.

Aditya Summanwar began the conversation by pointing out that audio streaming, including social audio, podcasts have grown significantly in the last 18-20 months in India which is indicative of demand in the market. “Social audio is becoming more popular because people are missing human connections. They used to turn to talk radio for this in the past, and that’s what they look for with audio streaming platforms.”

The point of advertisers not being able to figure out consistent and accurate measurements was brought up, to which it was argued, that consistent and accurate advertising metrics were not available for digital and television advertising too.

Abraham Thomas explains that internationally brands kind of choose sports and music, (specially the younger brands) to build their brands along with. "In India, the same International brands choose sports like cricket and with music they choose Bollywood and because of the whole concept of playback, Bollywood was far sexier to be part of. Now that's changing, we work with a lot of brands who are using music to build their brands and they believe there is a psychographic fit between certain genres of music and their products. Brands like Jockey, Jeep, Skoda are giving us a brief saying we want to target a psychographic community that identifies with say hip hop or identifies with rap - can we create a product around that. The advertiser mindset also is changing because now it's possible to create communities out of this."

In Mirchi’s Nandan Srinath mentions that radio does have a somewhat digital presence - in Mirchi's case, the company operates 24 web radio stations hosted on the Gaana platform - the radio is different from other audio like podcasts, is that it’s a non interactive feed.

Srinath also emphasises that Mirchi also does its share to help Independent artists - by running a YouTube channel for it and contests for musicians to prove their talent.

How can the gap between radio and digital audio streaming platforms be closed? "When radio came in, everyone wanted to play in the biggest bucket possible - Bollywood music. When relative success came in that category, they ventured into other stations. Most of the stations worked with the premise of familiar music – can we hum along? If not, we’ll wait for it to become familiar so people can hum along," says Thomas.

He adds that thanks to the last one and half years of the pandemic, that whole space is now exploding. "There’s music fatigue and explorers are listening to new songs. All radio stations have moved into an aggressive independent music push."

Can playing a podcast on the radio help? Can the two platforms be merged in that way? Not quite. Srinath says "We don’t have time, we’re not a western market where you can listen to a podcast on a hour long run or commute. When podcasts succeed in india, it’s going to be a vodcast (video podcast) scene. However, I believe there’s a very strong market for storytelling in India. If the movie sholay was converted to an audio story, it will get interest. You don’t do experimental stuff wen you’re paying a large license fee and advertising money etc, so podcasts and storytelling wont work on radio."

Watch the full discussion below. To register for the Audionxt conference, visit this link.