RadioandMusic
| 26 Oct 2020
Vineet Singh Hukmani: "Radio One is a medium with a well defined message; the others are just reach vehicles"

While most other radio stations were planning strategies to innovate their content and stay ahead in the rat race, Radio One broke all barriers and changed its programming completely to international music content in Mumbai and Delhi. Initially, the move attained a lot of skepticism from industry insiders, but with the music consumption growing and the audiences looking for newer forms of music, the niche music segment emerged as a popular one in the radio space.

Now, after a year of turning international on 29 January, Radio One Ltd MD and CEO Vineet Singh Hukmani narrates the success story and the first milestone stated to be an interesting one for the radio industry.

Success achieved within a year:

There are currently nine million people who tune into international radio in these two cities. What sets these listeners apart is that they found ‘existing bollywood radio’ to be ‘repetitive and dumb’. Radio One changed that. We gave them a global, intelligent and involving format. Today we celebrate the success with those loyal listeners who inspired us to change. And by no means is the educated base of listeners a small number. It is easily 25-28 per cent of the total base of Bollywood stations but highly profiled.

Advertising sector:

We offered a ‘unique and well profiled’ audience to the advertiser as compared to a ‘hazy mass’ that other radio stations offer.  Further over 90% of our listeners are connected online through social media and this makes client communication very focussed. In comparison other radio stations have a huge spillover to non relevant lower SEC groups. Message creation for a diffused medium is very difficult and only adds to clutter.  Radio one is a medium with a well defined message, the others are just reach vehicles. Our total client base has the highest growth rate in the industry.

Profits:

We have grown exponentially in operating profit primarily due to excellent on-air value generation versus an industry that sells ‘discounted activation add ons’. Our EBIDTA margin is over 45 per cent of our revenue which is the highest in the industry. This transformation is due to our desire to be away from the herd in all aspects of our business. All our stations are differentiated in each of our seven cities and we have got an overwhelming listener and client acceptance. We are creating a market of our own and we have a leadership prime mover advantage in all our cities. We are profitable because we are clearly India’s most differentiated network and a differentiation that is easily recognized by our listener. We are profitable because our stations operate on the lowest cost highest margin formula.

Golden rules of programming:

We operate on three core values - International quality, intelligence and involvement. These are reflected by our mature hosts who are mirror images of our listeners and hence the connect is automatic and highly interactive. It is difficult to be a host when the audience is not well defined.

Secondly, we broke the four daily show mould and made it three larger shows that allow more time for the listener to connect with a particular host. Third, we invested to make weekend programming richer and entertaining as compared to other stations that wind down on the weekend. Fourth, our on-air sponsored initiatives entertain the listener and not just advertise which is a critical differentiator as compared to other radio stations.

Content in other markets:

Going international in other markets is not our template. Being different from the herd is our strategic focus. So we launched Bangalore’s first Bollywood station four years ago while everyone was regional. We are currently the market leader there. We launched Kolkata and Ahmedabad’s first 100 per cent Hindi retro station and this has helped both stations to grow tremendously. We launched Pune’s only 100 per cent premium Bollywood station three years ago and again we play in our own league there. We are Chennai’s only 100 per cent request station and of course the only international radio format in Mumbai and Delhi. We will differentiate as the local environment demands and not be in a hurry to create an ‘international template’. However the market is dynamic and we are happy to transform as per the needs of a particular city.

Advantages:

a. Only we can offer a well profiled educated audience across our seven cities.

b. Clients are making long term deals with us as they believe in the power of Radio One.

c. Listeners clearly identify us in all our markets and have become loyal as we’re not mixed up generic radio.

d. We are able to create sub communities for alliance partners doing large international grade concerts and events very easily.

e. We are able to improve our margins and do not rely on ‘buying topline’.

f. Ours is a medium where we entertain the listener and not advertise. Our brand conversations are stronger as the target audience is well defined. Our solutions for clients are clearly the best.

Way forward:

We promised our listeners ‘upgrade to international and differentiated radio’. We will keep upgrading our product and service levels based on our internal benchmarks and not wait for the market. We are eagerly waiting for FM phase III so we can get in a few more lucrative metros into our list of cities. We are keen to remain the lowest cost highest margin player by ensuring we serve our audience sub communities well. Our greatest challenge is an industry one. Phase III needs to open up quick and allow ‘investment buoyancy’ into the category now that the economic cycle is improving. The radio players need to focus on ‘clear consensus’ issues and not drive individual agendas as that kills industry spirit.

Centralization after five years of license period:

All our station heads, sales people, programming people function with total freedom in their local markets. They have created value in their SBUs by their own efforts. Only the vision to differentiate and grow value is a centralized one. But that does not mean anyone in management or national function leadership is afraid to roll up their sleeves and get down and dirty. The central function is also to jump in and solve any local issue that needs attention. But largely we remain highly decentralized.

Key initiatives embarked upon:

We have created a special position called the ‘chief skills officer’ and it has been created to ‘train and provide ammunition’ for people in ‘market creation’. We have also created ‘internal mentors’ where information sharing is yielding great results. We have been totally meritocratic not necessarily democratic on people performance issues. We celebrate station anniversaries with gusto and being a small family of 135 people nationally, we know each other’s needs well. Pride of performance is inherent when you feel you are different from everyone else.