| 07 Jul 2020
10 to watch out for in '10

MUMBAI: 2010 has gotten off to a promising start for the radio industry, with the I &B ministry hinting at an imminent announcement on phase III. While the royalty issue still hangs fire and bad news (Worldspace India shutting shop) did mar the rosy outlook, there's much to look forward to.

The music industry isn't complaining either, apart from the usual whinings about dipping physical sales and rising piracy. From both sectors, those that have been able to shine are the ones that have looked at obstacles as challenges and proceeded to overcome them, and how. 2010, we believe, will belong to these visionaries - be they institutions or individuals. handpicks a few names (in no particular order) that are likely to make that difference this year. Of course, there may be more (and one does hope so!) and we may have missed out on  a few names. Be there at the end of the year with us when we tally up the score!

Bhushan Kumar - The T-Series scion turned around his company's dismal reputation in a way that can only make jaws drop. By hook or by crook, he's today poised at the threshold of being crowned emperor of the Indian film music industry. No more does his company sell cassettes embossed with 'jai mata di'. In 2009, T-Series snapped up music rights for practically every big Hindi film made, before it gobbled up Big Music just as the year ran out. Competition appears to be receding in the face of this juggernaut, and Bhushan, who maintains a low profile, appears to have some more aces up his sleeve this year too. If he experimented with music on pen drives in '09, he could well try something more innovative this year.

Ambika Soni - Just six months into her tenure as information and broadcasting minister, Soni has imbued faith in the flagging FM radio industry in India. She appears to be paving the way for news to be allowed on the private FM airwaves, and has promised to launch the phase III of FM soon (which means her ministry is actively seeking to resolve the music royalty imbroglio). The clearance of community radio station licenses has got another boost, and All India Radio's digitisation plans too have got a shot in the arm. If all this has been done in a span of six months, may we dare to hope for greater things in the year to come?

Neeraj Roy / Hungama - The twain are synonymous with each other. Roy's brainchild Hungama has grown from strength to strength and the enabling of music on the mobile and internet platforms have given it the surge that has made the company the biggest mobile content company in the country. With his unerring eye, Roy has taken into Hungama's fold several music companies including numerous regional ones, knowing fully well that the future of music in the country lies in the regional languages. Hungama Digital Media recently launched a new, a digital platform for the independent artists from the music industry, an initiative that's likely to reap rich, long lasting dividends to the company. Hungama's sure to make more hungama in 2010!

Radio Meow - The one radio station in the country that started out aiming to make a difference, faltered and fell by the wayside in 2009. Meow's premise - of being the only talk radio network in the country targeted at women - was a good one, but apparently not enough to lure the advertiser. Anil Srivatsa, brought in to head the station floated by the India Today group, quit by mid 2009, and Meow made hardly a mewl post that. But by the end of 09, the station had brought in a new sales head, fetched in Vehrnon Ibrahim from Radio One, and rumours were thick that Abraham Thomas (Abe to the industry) who had quit Red FM as COO, would soon be helming it. Abe has stayed non committal through January, but Meow is poised to launch in a refurbished avatar in a few weeks. If the new team can think out of the box and come up with some really innovative programming basis the original premise, Meow can really roar in 2010!

A R Rahman
- Now, what more can the man do? The answer is - you just don't know. The prodigiously talented Mozart of Madras has just started reaping the dividends of hard work over the last two decades, and is collecting laurels by the bushel at practically every music related awards event. In 2009, after the roaring success of Slumdog Millionaire and Jai Ho, Rahman went Hollywood with a vengeance - Couple's Retreat followed and a few more are in the pipeline. But he did not ignore the domestic market - Dilli 6 shone, even if Blue wasn't all that it was cracked up to be. His score for Tamil film Vinnayathandi Varuvaya stole hearts too.

But then 2010 came and Rahman was there, with his two Grammys. The IFMCA awards are up next, and no prizes for guessing that Rahman will win honours there too! As for projects, Mani Ratnam's Raavan will have a Rahman score. Rahmania will continue in 2010!

Radio Mirchi - It might be a tad harsh to single out a radio station for adulation when the entire industry has been struggling, to put it mildly, to stay afloat in recessionary waters this past year. But Radio Mirchi, one of the oldest players in the FM fray, has consolidated its position and stands tall and profitable over its rivals. Not that the sailing has been smooth all the time. Mirchi at first opposed the Radio Audience Measurement system devised by TAM India, before joining in mid 09, and then proceeding to lead in three of the four metros that RAM tracks. The company swears by the IRS data released on radio, although many of the other players find fault in the way the IRS is done. Still, its programming, on air and on ground activities have been focused and helped it to establish itself as a leader. The Kaan awards for radio advertising have been around for some time, and the Mirchi Music Awards this year promise to include the non film genres along with Bollywood music, and that's a promising note. SFM, the other big radio network that could have given serious competition to Mirchi, merged with Red last year and is yet to mark its presence in a big way  If Mirchi keeps its premise together, it could well end 2010 the same way it did 2009 - a cut above the rest.

Copyright Board
- Why does this body need to be on this list? Because in its hands lie the twin fates of the radio and music industries. The Board has been given the onerous task of listening to both sides of the music royalty issue - the radio industry says it pays too much per needle hour of music played to the licensing bodies making them unviable operations, and the music industry insists that since music is the backbone of FM radio in the country - it might as well pay - and pay some more! The board has had several hearings from both sides till date and has now put off the next round till March. There is no guarantee that an answer will be found by then, but then the fate of phase III of FM radio too depends on the outcome, or so say the radio operators. It's a tricky situation, with the music industry now lobbying with the human resource ministry too and seeking its intervention. The decision of the Copyright Board in 2010 will be the decisive factor. Wait and watch.

Airtel - Last year, they were the self confessed 'largest music company in India'. This is so because Music Bharti, part of the company's Mobile Entertainment division, had surpassed Saregama in terms of revenue. Much like other telecom operators, Airtel does not produce music, but earns revenues from music distribution via caller ringback tones, mobile radio and music on demand. Along with SMS, Mobile Music is the largest contributor to Airtel's Value Added Services Revenue. Even if music accounted for as little as 40 per cent of Airtel's non-SMS VAS revenues, it stands to reason that Airtel had revenues of at least Rs 708 crore from music distribution in 2008-09 (FY09), up from Rs. 458.4 crores in FY08. By the end of December 2009, over 200 million music downloads were completed by Airtel users in 2009, says the company. Any guesses why we think this particular venture will do even better in 2010?

In the same breath, one would like to say that handset company Nokia that quietly launched its Music Store in India in 2009 and could soon be bringing in more music via its Ovi service this year, could be another entity worth seriously watching out for! Nokia has also been championing the cause of the music industry in India, partnering as it did in 2009 with to organise Nokia Music Connects - the conference that discussed issues facing the industry. 2010's conference promises to be bigger and better!

The indie artiste - This fellow's just making his / her presence felt in a decisive manner. The catalysts have been many - a sudden spurt in venues like Blue Frog and Opus where independent artistes have been able to get opportunity and  recognition, the launch of several small labels and internet spaces where their talent can be noted and the recognition that Indian talent is getting in music fests and award ceremonies overseas.

Bands are being formed, musicians are floating their own labels and even Bollywood is taking a keen interest in talent that's coming from these pools, which are often located in remote corners of the country. 2010 could well be the year of the independent artiste.

Worldspace India - Now, why would a defunct arm of a bankrupt global company be expected to make waves in 2010? Becasuse we believe that the vibrant team of Worldspace India which practically ran all the operations, including some overseas, for the last one year before being rudely shunted out, still has the spunk in it to bounce back. Whether Liberty Media takes up the India operations as an afterthought, we know not yet. This could also probably be just wishful thinking  - but having Worldspace back on Indian airwaves again would just about complete 2010. Amen!