| 23 Jul 2019
Rana Barua: 'Radio remains highly regulated media industry in the country' in its ÔÇ?Glorious years of Private FM Radio' series features Red FM 93.5 Network chief operating officer Rana Barua, the man who runs India's most awarded radio network with exceptionally successful programming and creative campaigns. Barua, shouldering hefty responsibility shares his experiences of running the station with all the obstacles as well as opportunities in the decade.

On evolution of radio from its inception to Phase-III

The evolution of the radio industry in India has been closely interlinked with government policies and deregulation. We remain the most tightly regulated media industry in the country, and in reality the industry only took off post 2005 when Phase-II was launched and frequencies in Tier I and Tier II cities were put up for auction. The industry pulled together in the initial phase and evangelized the medium, advocated its strengths over other media to buyers and advertisers and now we have instances where media agencies design exclusive campaigns for radio.

With Phase-III the industry is set to experience exponential growth in the number of radio stations and correspondingly in the number of listeners. Radio is slated to reach out to 90% of Indians post Phase-III, giving listeners and advertisers more options for quality entertainment and advertising solutions.

Radio being at a nascent stage has progressed and revenues have grown gradually

Certainly we have made strides in the past decade, the revenues may not have caught up with international averages but we have to remember that while radio has been in the metros for about a decade, in the smaller cities we have been around for less than seven years. In the past 3-4 years, we have seen smart selling by radio networks and more evolved use of the medium by national and local advertisers. When the global slowdown hit us in 2008, the radio industry in India was hit as well, though not as adversely as other media, and the ERs fell. It took our network about a year to get the ER back to the pre-2008 level but since then we have seen growth every quarter.

Radio has gone through a lot of upside-down in the decade

The challenge before the industry when we started off was to obviously attract a critical mass of listeners to rationalize the operational costs and provide benefits to advertisers. In the initial phase, we saw some stations fold, some were sold off and others changed formats to survive.

After the completion of Phase-II, the radio industry was faced with a Human Resource crunch wherein we didn't have an adequate number of trained professionals especially in the smaller centres.

For a long time, the industry did not have a reliable currency to buy or sell radio. Radio Audience Measurement was introduced in 2008 and after some initial reluctance became the accepted standard for buying/ selling radio though for the longest time it remained restricted to only four cities. Hopefully before the end of this year RAM should expand its service to nine more markets.

In the last 10 years the success for radio

I think content, programming, marketing and RJS all these elements feed into one another to produce a winning product. Those of us who got it right and succeeded in establishing a brand didn't get there by focusing on one component. I can speak for Red FM when I say that programming and marketing don't work in isolation and we have been extremely lucky to have talented teams who pull together towards the same goal.

Cabinet's approval on Phase-III, an opportunity for private FM players to bloom and prosperÔǪá

The industry has been waiting for Phase-III for a very, very long time. We are optimistic and expect to see accelerated growth for the industry in terms of revenue and reach. Also with multi licensing hopefully we'll get to see more innovation in programming, and experimentation in music formats.

Mixed set of reactions from FM players with the upcoming Phase-III 

Some of the expectations that the industry had have not been met to the full extent. News broadcast has been allowed but we can only broadcast news sourced from AIR. A huge part of the cost of running a radio station is made up of the music royalty. The recent royalty judgment provided relief for FM broadcasters but we do hope that the music industry and FM broadcasters can reach an amicable agreement before Phase-III.

Similarly, the FDI limit has been raised but only by 6%á But most of the demands that we had have been addressed. The industry is wisely approaching Phase-III with cautious optimism- the opportunities are aplenty- new markets, new set of listeners, targeted programming and more holistic solutions for advertisers. Of course market potential will play a deciding role in the auction stage.

Radio Networks which already have a presence in the adjoining cities/ areas will have a head start since they can leverage existing resources and market intelligence. Once the right music format, programming has been decided, the marketing teams will kick start its strategic planning for the new stations.

Portable FM devices has created its own space and impacted the industry considerably

Recent studies show that more than 85% of listening is happening on the go through mobile phones or portable FM devices and this has had a positive impact on the listener base. I don't think CPT should be the best gauge for planning a radio campaign, but certainly planners/ buyers do take it into consideration and hence the increased listenership base has improved revenues for stations as well.

Red FM has successfully established itself among leading FM Radio stations across the country

According to Indian Readership Survey, Red FM Network continues to be the country's fastest growing network. We started off with three cities and now are a part of 49 stations strong networká We led one of the biggest rebranding exercise in the Indian media when 38 SFM stations were rebranded as Red FM in August 2009.

We consolidated our position in all the 40 markets we are present in and have grown by leaps and bound as a network in these past two years. Last year we extended our popular campaign 'Red Mike' to 11 more cities and highlighted many issues that affect the lives of the ordinary citizens. We have established ourselves as the 'station for expression' nationwide and our RJs are now household names in their respective cities.

On maintaining healthy competition

We are the country's most awarded radio network and have continually bagged the most prestigious awards such as Best FM Station, RJ of the year, Best Creative Campaigns at industry awards. Red FM brand is based on four principle brand pillars- Bollywood, Cricket, Superhit Music and Local City Issues, and we refer to them constantly to plan and execute our on-air and off-air campaigns. I think Red FM was the first and perhaps the only radio station that pushed the boundaries of radio- through its radical touch point marketing strategy and its focus on interactive programming.

FM Radio in the next five years

The industry has some exciting times ahead of it. Phase-III might well be the boast that we have been waiting for the industry to take off. I do foresee consolidation happening in the industry with perhaps 4-5 radio networks having a strong nationwide presence.