| 21 Jul 2019
Niche English music stations face uphill trudge

MUMBAI: Their numbers are small, but non-mass radio stations catering to a niche segment of English music lovers in metros have marked their presence in the market. However, it is no smooth sailing for these players with differential content as they face challenges in content creation, commercialisation and listenership.

Big River radio MD Sunil Kumar, who was the radio consultant for Muthoot Group's Chennai Live launch admits it isn't easy to launch a niche station. Pointing out the challenges while setting up the station, he says, We faced hurdles while scouting appropriate talent, marketing the radio station to the listeners and advertisers, designing the content. With differential positioning, the content is experimental and not tested...á

Geoffrey Thomas, who was instrumental in the launch of Bangalore based Radio Indigo says, Radio as a medium can be innovated upon and we wanted to make our station sound different. The players playing CHR music have made us sound different, since they had bombarded the radio market with contemporary Hindi music.... Thomas is currently the chief programming officer of Muthoot Group's radio venture Chennai Live.

Recollecting the pre-launch phase, Thomas says, In 2006, before the launch of Radio Indigo, we did a dip stick survey which revealed that there were around one to 1.2 million ears for international music in Bangalore. The number is comparatively lower in Chennai with around 8,00,000 listeners for international music....

Although the listenership number is minuscule, Delhi based Hit FM believes understanding the market is of key importance. A spokesperson elaborates, In a market like Delhi with eight other FM commercial stations playing Hindi music, it is not numbers but impact on listeners that matters. We have a listener base that comes to our station for the differentiation factor rather than tuning to any other station for the same music....

Targetting audience in the age group 18 to 34, Hit FM does not follow the block programming format of allotting genre specific music in time bands but plays a mixed genre of music throughout the day comprising Hip Hip, rock, pop, fusion and classic rock. Gauging listenership is an impediment for these players and they have to depend on their in-house research. In markets like Delhi, Bangalore, non-mass stations occupy the lower positions in RAM weekly data as RAM doesn't capture content differentiation. Radio Indigo national sales director Nabhojit Kuila affirms, RAM doesn't gauge differential content and the sampling process is skewed towards the mainstream radio stations. In the Bangalore market, the respondents are mainly regional Kannada music lovers and hence the listenership for our station playing English music is always towards the bottom....

Royalty remains the main concern for these stations as despite their limited revenues, they need to pay a major share towards music royalty. Kuila asserts, Although our revenues are much lesser than the broadcasters with huge networks, we are supposed to pay the same royalty structure of Rs 660 per needle hour. Keeping in mind our profitability, there should be lesser royalty for non-mass stations....

Getting advertisers on board

As differential stations cater to a segment of audiences with a liking for English music, they tend to cut off a major part of listenership served by the mainstream radio broadcasters in the marketá

Kuila avers, It becomes difficult for unique stations to get advertisers on board because of the way media planning across mediums is structured. Although we have different positioning and are more locally relevant, the stations with huge networks eat away our pie. Also, for advertisers looking for a multi city campaign, our single station becomes costly compared to the national players.... Kuila mentions that their client profile consists primarily of local retailers and only 20 per cent of national onesá

Another disadvantage according to Kuila is that non-mass radio broadcasters cannot align or have sales alliances with national players because of different positioning. The whole idea of our station is different from the mainstream stations, so we cannot sell our station in an alliance. The way out for revenue generation in future should be sales alliance between the non-mass stations as it can lure advertisers with more listeners and multi-city presence...ááá

Analyzing the advertising pie of these stations, RK Swamy/BBDO group senior media advisor PRP Nair says, The market for English music is too small in India compared to the ears that prefer Bollywood music. These stations cater to a small segment of masses and have lesser reach compared to the mainstream stations. This poses as a hurdle as advertisers use them as an add-on station and not as a primary vehicle for their campaigns....

Thomas states that regular local retailers form a small portion of their inventory. Although we have a small segment of local retailers, our inventory is packed with advertisers from telecom, VAS, jewellery, airlines, education etc....

Hit FM states that although they do not have advertisers across all segments, imagery driven premium clients across profiles of lifestyle, airlines etc form an important part of their clienteleá

Niche stations mention that it was difficult to get advertisers on board initially but the concept of ÔÇ?differential station' has seeped in the advertisers and revenues are flowing in.

Kuila points out that advertisers choose differential stations not because of reach but because of their different positioning. There are some premium brands who prefer our station to the mainstream stations; like Apple has repeatedly advertised on our station exclusively in Bangalore.... Apart from them, there are repeat advertising across profiles of airlines, pubs, dining restaurant and lifestyle brandsá

Is a non-mass station a metro phenomenon?

In the current scenario, radio stations with different positioning are based in metros of Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and have no competitors as they are sole non-mass stations in these marketá

Thomas sees this monopoly with absence of competition as an advantage. With many radio stations playing contemporary Hindi music, the listenership gets divided between these stations. Playing differential content enables us to stand out from the clutter and guarantees no division in listenership with none of the players concentrating on English music....

It is essentially a metro centric phenomena as in smaller towns it wouldn't make economic sense as the numbers are negligible,... says Kuilaá

Players believe if multiple frequencies get a nod from the I&B ministry in Phase 3, it will encourage more players to step in with differential content. As Thomas adds, The issue of multiple frequencies in a single market will push the radio broadcasters to experiment with international music. Also, multiple frequencies will facilitate genre specific stations. Some of the potential markets for different formats would be Cochin, Pune and Coimbature....

Hit FM foresees potential in differential content and expansion of market with more stations opting for unique content. With varied opinion, Kuila says, It would be difficult if multiple frequencies are allotted in Phase 3 as bigger players would enter the market with differential content and individual stations would face tough competition...á

The potential markets for non-mass stations according to radio players are Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Shillong and north east regions.

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