Juggling between the television and radio industries, he has tasted and understood the intricacies of both media. Having been involved in setting up Jagran group's radio venture- Radio Mantra, he went on to become senior VP with NDTV Media only to return to Mantra recently as its COO. Handling operations across eight stations spread across Jharkhand, Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh is what makes him tick these days. Narendra Tripathi shares his views on strengthening the potential of the radio industry, the trials and triumphs of running a radio station in small town and strategies for Radio Mantra in an interview with Radioandmusic.com's Anita Iyer. Excerpts -
Radio Mantra recently repositioned its music, adding different genres of music to its belt. What was the purpose?
We are in the process of revisiting and reinventing all our stations and with the completion of three years, these markets have matured. So, we wanted to go beyond the Contemporary Hit Radio (CHR) format and inculcate different genres of music.
How has the journey for your radio venture been?
From the commercial angle, the turnaround time for radio players who have invested in smaller towns is fast compared to metro players. More and more corporates across profiles of telecom, mobile operators, FMCG etc are eyeing the category B and C stations.
From the listeners' point of view in the past three years, we had adopted the CHR format. Radio industry is growing like the television industry which after four years of GECs, ventured into niche channels. With exhaustion in the CHR formats, radio stations are trying to carve a niche for themselves. This would further be enabled if multiple frequencies are allotted for the radio industry
Do you mean it is easier for smaller stations to attain breakeven?
Certainly. It is easy to garner revenues in smaller towns as the cost of operation is less compared to metros Other operational expenses like nurturing the local talent, employee cost, and brand building exercise are less costly too.
As far as royalty is concerned, we have to pay the same amount of royalty irrespective of the location of operation. This issue needs government interference so that radio stations are segregated according to categories. Royalty is the only front where the smaller player or stand alone player are affected
You spoke about corporates eyeing smaller stations. What is facilitating this change?
Many brands are recognising the potential of radio and are looking for expansion outside metros. The reach in metros has saturated and corporates are looking to penetrate in smaller towns as these are the future lucrative markets for them. Radio is providing the platform for this penetration and hence the pie is increasing
The radio fraternity should come together on one platform and present themselves as a cost effective medium. Gradually, all the advertisers have realised that radio has the potential to run a high frequency commercial
There is a need to educate the advertisers that instead of spending on outdoor hoardings, newspapers, they should spend on radio as they would be heard so many times more and gain substantial returns. Most of the radio players in smaller towns approach the retailers to convince and encourage spends in radio.
Isn't there a conflict here, as you have a print parent company- Dainik Jagran?
Certainly not. Radio Mantra doesn't eat into Dainik Jagran's pie. When television was booming, it was perceived that print would be dead but rather it expanded the market.
What is the share of radio sector in the North Indian markets?
It falls in the same category as the rest of the country - between four to five per cent. But it can grow substantially if radio fraternity comes together to display the true strength of the medium. Radio players tend to drop their rates to get business from competitive players. Hence, the pie seems to be stagnant and not growing because players are fighting among themselves
Are differential advertising rates for Category B and C towns also hindering the growth of the industry?
Radio fraternity as a unit should realise that by having differential rates, they are drilling a hole in their own pockets. There is disparity in advertising rates in metro and smaller towns but it is important to realise that having a full inventory doesn't mean a radio station is earning maximum revenues
How important is it for smaller stations to have sales alliance with national radio players?
Our advertising constitutes of 60 per cent local and 40 per cent national ones. So, we need a backing to get more clients. Radio Mantra has a sales alliance with Radio Mirchi for three years and they have been a good support. Both the players have their stations in Varanasi and Jalandhar, so we have to be careful that our ideas don't conflict
You have been in television as well as radio. How does television industry perceive radio?
The television industry has recognised the power of radio because during my stint at NDTV, we had launched a metro channel for Delhi. The programming and approach from the content, marketing and sales points of view were similar to what a radio station would offer. It was a city centric local channel.
How do listenership patterns in small towns differ from the metros?
There is limited choice in the smaller cities as compared to metros where there are more than five FM stations. Here the choice is limited to three or four radio stations so, chances of listeners tuning in to your station increase. The power cuts play a very significant role and entertainment options are limited, so radio listenership grows during these slots. In Gorakhpur, our listenership goes up to eight hours as radio is the only source of entertainment during power cuts
How can radio stations be more innovative to attract advertisers?
Radio fraternity has to do a lot of innovations like print and television and what the medium can offer to the advertisers apart form the ad time. Radio is not being exploited and instead of dropping rates, they should showcase the value add that the medium can offer
Many times, clients take it for granted that RJ mentions are a part of the deal. But radio must demand a premium for RJ mentions or refuse if the client declines to pay extra. But it has to be a collective decision by the radio fraternity. Otherwise, some players might cash in on the RJ mentions
How do you see the radio industry growing in the coming year?
As far as the base of listenership is concerned, there has been tremendous growth. There is a huge need for targeting 25 + audiences as every station is targeting the 18-25 age group. In most of the metros, listenership has reached a stage of maturity and listeners are dying to listen to their kind of music. When granted more frequencies per city, radio will see exponential growth
When do you foresee Radio Mantra attaining breakeven?
I think in a year's time we can achieve breakeven as a radio venture. In places like Karnal and Hissar, there is limited retail support and these markets will take time to grow. In the coming year, we would be planning new aggressions at regional and national level. There would be new programming initiatives in the form of 360 degree market activations in all our stations.