| 19 May 2022
LV Krishnan: RAM expansion depends on what Industry wants, and what it can afford

L V Krishnan, CEO – TAM Media Research, tells Pavan R Chawla, CSO & Director Content -- Indiantelevision Group, and Editor -- that his team is looking at Hyderabad and Chennai from the perspective of setting up RAM's approach for tier-two and tier-three cities, and that plans for the same are likely to be ready by December-January. He defends the planner-friendliness of the RAM software, and believes the influx of News will boost Radio. Excerpts.

Before we speak of why RAM has not happened in Chennai and Hyderabad so far, give us a brief overview on the launch time required for setting up RAM operations  in a new city with your sample size of 480 individuals each, which is what it is currently in all the four metros.

It takes around 17 weeks to put up a panel; that's roughly four months. It is a three-step process. Step one is the establishment study which identifies what profile of people listen to FM in that city, what area they come from, what kind of profile or background they belong to in terms of demographics, ownership of FM device, FM on mobile, listenership etc. In Step Two, we run the entire set of variables to select the kinds of profiles we want to bring into the sampling. And Step Three is the recruitment of the sample.

Once the members are selected based on the establishment study, they are interviewed and counseled on how to fill the diary. We take them through an eight-week period of learning and test runs and trials. So, only in the 25th week do we start reporting the data into the market. In total it is half a year's continuous work which goes in to set up just a panel, besides the infrastructure for  collating and processing the data and other operations that we put into play to run the system.

Why did you put off the launch of RAM in Chennai?

RAM is a service financed by the subscriber, and the subscribers include the broadcasters, some of the agencies, and a few advertisers. They asked us to hold back late last year and this came not only from the national broadcasters who are also in Chennai, but also the local players, who are very few, but who indicated they wanted to wait and see how things went for a few months due to recession before they could commit  So we decided that it would be the right thing to do at that time.

The way we do it, an exercise like radio audience measurement, which is a panel-based measurement and a 52-weeks-a-year continuous study, there can be no start and stop. Once you start it, it's on forever. Therefore, there is a continuous cost involved in the process, and if a commitment to that full-year cost does not happen, then you need to stop and hold back that particular investment.

Therefore, Chennai was the first market that we were going to enter in 2009. We put a stop to it somewhere in July when the first sign of the slowdown happened. And the slowdown did affect many of the players.

We understand it will take you around Rs 45 to 50 lakhs per city for RAM to start in Chennai and Hyderabad…

I cannot comment on the figure you mention, but I can say that there is a very thin margin in this exercise. Hence, the support of all the stations is a must to move forward.

Now that things are getting better, when do you plan to launch RAM in Chennai and Hyderabad?

Today when we look at it, the scenario is slowly emerging out of that �recession'. But, yet I'm not sure whether the level of investment that is required for doing the panel-based measurement in these cities is in place, or if the requisite amount of resources available to push it is certain. So, we are talking to the industry players and we think that once they are ready for it we will get back into Chennai and Hyderabad. From our perspective we are ready with the plans but obviously, it has to be in consensus with the industry that we make the plans for.

The Radio industry understood you needed the backing of four networks to start in the two cities, and a radio company head  has told us that four national operators -- Radio Mirchi, BIG FM, Radio City and Radio One -- had agreed to back RAM in Chennai and Hyderabad…

We actually need six players at least, not four, considering our costs.

See, if it had been television with four or five big players in it, there would have been nothing to worry about. But the radio market is so small in size with only a limited number of players, it becomes a problem. Unless we get a confirmation from these players regarding their support, there is no way we can make the investment. Also, there is not much margin coming from the other markets where RAM is under way at present, re-investment is tough. Hence, we need to get support from the players in the market; otherwise it's not possible to do that.

The important element to learn from the four metros where RAM exist today, is that Radio FM advertising has grown and has become an integral part of media plans. By extending and supporting new markets into measurement, Radio as an industry can only grow in the eyes of advertisers.

So when do you think you will find two more players in Chennai and Hyderabad for RAM to roll out from there? What's a hopeful or tentative date for RAM in these cities?

Hyderabad and Chennai would be looked at from the perspective of setting up our approach for tier-two and tier-three cities. It will not entail a smaller sample but maybe a shorter duration. The approach that we take for tier 2-3 cities will stem from Chennai and Hyderabad as markets. We are in discussion with the industry and by December-Jan we should have the plans ready.

AIR doesn't subscribe to RAM data. Why is that?

Let me just say that we are in talks with them and have shown them how access to RAM data will help their business. They too are pleasantly surprised to see their own performance; they are doing really well in Delhi. In Mumbai in certain profiles they do really well. Because they have multiple stations with at least two stations in a market, when you combine them, AIR is a force to reckon with from the advertiser's perspective. It is a fact that from their perspective they don't have anybody to analyze the data and also they haven't seen the potential of using the data in a big way. But I am sure one day, sooner rather than later,  AIR will be making much use of the RAM data.

A Radio Network head has said RAM has delivered on the four initials markets, but where he believes you've not lived up is in making a user-friendly media planning software. Please comment.

It's completely a wrong perception because I think whoever's said that probably hasn't been exposed to the software at all. It's probably our shortfall in education exercise.

Inputs into media planning begin at a Program Schedule level across stations or on day-part level. Unlike television, all stations necessarily don't have a fixed program schedule. So what has happened is that a lot of planners are still uncomfortable on planning on day parts. They want some kind of cues specifically identifying the day part by RJ, name of the program, etc. Since we do not monitor live stations, it's very difficult for us to know which RJ comes on to which show and which program name is going to change to what at any time. So if every week broadcasters can give us in advance the name of the programs on different day parts along with the RJ's, we will incorporate  it back into the software and obviously, that will help the planners significantly.

Secondly, what planners want is to see pre-implementation and post-implementation – what has been the plan delivery? That has been incorporated completely into the software. Today the planner can pull out the AdEx data of Radio, bring it into a software called Radio Advisor, and can evaluate the activities, the Reach, Average Frequency of the media plan… in fact, every output just like the outputs available on the Television software.

A planner can do pre-planning where he can look into certain amounts of spots that he has brought on a particular station or a mix of stations, and find out what is the GRP of his brand on the Radio stations. So, the software is extremely useful. He/she can evaluate competitive brand media performance on radio stations.

It has gone to the next stage already, where a station can evaluate their promotions to find out how many people who listened to the promotions came and listened to that particular program. So you could import the entire promotional activity of the station and look at the effectiveness very easily.

Your have been working on building an Optimizer in your RAM software. Where has that reached?

Yes, we are now moving on to the final stage of the software builder with the Optimizer. It is already developed, and will take another three to four months.

The Optimizer would help planners look at spots and see what day parts and what kind of channels give an optimal buyout on radio stations. The Optimizer is more useful when the number of stations in each city increases. And if the number of stations increases to 20-or-30-plus, then planning -- and the choice of day parts -- becomes tougher. Then the Optimizer would be used on Radio like it is on Television.

The changes we have made, the upgrades on the software, haven't been charged to subscribers at all. It's part of the value addition that we have done to make it more user-friendly and useful for users.

Our focus has been on three areas: One, in terms of looking at how Radio and TV can co-exist. In the last IRF in 2009, we presented a paper where we looked at the comparison between the TV and the Radio audience in the four cities and highlighted where Radio scores over television in an emphatic manner, to the extent where we also concluded how Radio plus TV can reach higher frequency numbers on specific day parts for the advertisers. So there was a clear value addition that we showed by including radio as apart of television plan.

Second, we are supporting Radio through Industry awards at the Emvies. The last two years we have created a special award from RAM for the best innovation and the best media strategy in Radio. We provide special prizes and certificates. That's to look more at Radio as a medium.

And third we are ready to work with any bodies like AROI in trying to see how we could spread the usefulness of Radio as a medium to a larger audience. We've done  workshops for advertisers like Telecom operators and FMCG manufacturers whose entire perception of Radio was completely different --  like, that Radio was specifically a youth medium, a  non-housewife-led medium, or a car, driving-day part medium – and we changed their perceptions through workshops, which has finally got them into Radio in a big way.

So that's the role that we could play in the longer run, a role of knowledge disseminator, so that Radio as a medium becomes effective and gets enlarged.

When you compare music TV channels and Radio, then, genre-to-genre and in terms of the cost benefit due to lower rates, plus the fact that Radio does provide better reach than Television till afternoon, and is strong as a tactical medium when it comes to purely local advertising too, do you think Radio has the potential to – and must – target music TV channels far more aggressively for share of market?

Today, Radio complements the things that are happening on television in a large way. The reason is that the consumer is seeking information and entertainment on a continuous basis  from TV, radio or newspapers -- he is medium-agnostic. And whatever provides him the information at the cheapest cost and the easiest way to access it at an immediate level will get the value out of it. It is more of an accessibility and cost element.

In that Radio scores strongly,  because accessibility is easier since it's a portable medium and it's the cheapest, as there is no pay radio as of now. But because at present you can't give news on Radio,  information levels are low, but access to entertainment on radio is very high. So when access becomes very easy and there is  neutrality to the platform, the audience is very much open to listening to radio to get better entertainment value out of it, which is a big plus from an advertiser's perspective. If my communication is an entertaining one that will entertain the consumer plus give the message from an advertising perspective, it can be a big plus from the advertisers point of view. It ensures that advertisers who find television expensive, can use radio. Like in the early morning and till around noon,  time spent on radio is higher than on television, so could radio be used as the medium; that's what I mean by Radio is complementing TV.

One thing that would expand Radio would be the introduction of News content on Radio  People tuning to television for content other than entertainment will tune into radio once it is started.

With Phase 3 coming up and RAM present only in four cities, how motivated are you to try and get RAM up and moving in as many cities as possible, provided  the industry can sustain  or support it?

Expansion phase of RAM depends clearly on two things. The first is what the industry wants, the second is what it is able to afford at the end of the day. Given the fact that the four cities with RAM right now contribute a very large proportion of the revenue of the big players, it is obviously tough to fund similar kind of studies across many more markets. RAM understands that perspective and we are looking at ways to continue to expand in many more markets. But we may not use the same route we used in the four cities. That would ensure that their wants are satisfied and at the same time they are able to afford the research that comes out of those markets. So we are working on that direction to know which are the markets RAM needs to move into. By the end of the year we will have a few pointers on that.

Which markets will they most likely be?

Too early to tell. Give us a little more time. This will take shape after discussions with the fraternity.