| 01 Jun 2023
Big FM COO Tarun Katial - RAM has been inconsistent in the last few months

Big FM has been creating a lot of buzz in the FM space by roping in Sonu Niigaam as brand ambassador and changing its music positioning to �Chillax hits'. The 45 network station network consolidated its network and despite the slowdown succeeded in snapping up local advertising. Being one of the patrons of listenership measuring system RAM since its inception in late 2007, the radio station along with the Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI) is beginning to get vocal about the variance in listenership measurement data.

As the station completes three years of its existence, Big FM chief operating officer Tarun Katial, in conversation with's Anita Iyer, talks about the challenges of completing three years, changing advertising trends and potential of FM commercial radio in India and importantly, the role of RAM in the radio sector.

Big FM would be completing three years this month. How has the journey been?

There have been quick lifecycle changes in the business and it has been exciting journey to build value for the brand, shareholders, listeners, advertisers in many different environments.

In the past three years, we got access in 200 cities with 45 stations and many advertisers on board. Last year witnessed the slowdown where the true value of radio was discovered and we as radio players, identified the significance of listenership in semi urban and rural India as captive consumers are located there. The advertisers are also looking seriously at semi urban, rural pockets and a platform like radio is coming into play more effectively now than it did a year ago.

Do you mean the slowdown actually opened up more avenues for radio stations?

Definitely. The slowdown got us opportunities in disguise and we started to look at our network in a different way. We concentrated on categories we hadn't thought of earlier like pesticides, tractors, seed clients etc. The advertising moved from organised large retail chains, FMCG, corporate ones to diverse client list, SMEs (Small and medium enterprises) across different client categories.

We, as a radio company, shifted our mindset from being just a radio platform to providing integrated solutions to clients. There was a strategic shift in our sales prospects where we invested in people, trained professionals, built databases just to build more and more integrated solutions for clients. Our synergy of different business verticals- Big Reach, Big Live, Big Street, has also come in handy to provide integrated solutions. Also we went on to embark on our new music positioning of 'Chillax Hits' to lesser the slowdown stress for listeners 

Political advertising was one of the best opportunities for radio in the last two quarters and it provided ample prospects for a radio operator like us with a great reach. Both from the consumer side and the business side, it has been a completely different approach since the past six months.

Was the RAM (Radio Audience Measurement) instrumental in getting unconventional advertisers on board?

It wasn't RAM data which got unconventional advertisers, as it is restricted to four metros and these are advertisers looking for deep down reach in the interiors. These advertisers came into play essentially as we delivered 360 degree solutions like rural activations, customer contact, interactivity, customized solutions etc. Eventually, if advertisers don't achieve value for money they won't invest in your station and listenership becomes irrelevant. This value service proposition that we built for our customers is far bigger than consolidated data. It isn't about rates, ratings, it's about value proposition 

Is RAM perceived as a standard tool for gauging listenership for the radio industry?

There have been some concerns within the radio industry regarding RAM statistics. In the last few months, RAM data has been very inconsistent and the radio industry, across the board, isn't very happy about the way the data is being measured. We are seeing sudden movements of lakhs of listeners between weeks which quantitatively cannot happen on radio, to my knowledge of media  The radio industry is questioning the basis of lakhs of listeners shifting to other stations every week. Fundamentally, these kinds of discrepancies are creating a question mark in the mind of radio operators and we are going to approach RAM about this, who will need to put an audit in place to check these shifts.

It is essentially the method of managing diaries, field work activities which needs to be looked into. We have supported the data for the two years since its inception but the data need to be more relevant and consistent in its approach.

Have you as a radio player stopped relying on RAM data for making progressive decisions for your station?

We are relying on it at the moment to make strategic sales decisions and content decisions, but if this continues, we would stop relying on data which is subject to sudden shifts and inconsistencies.

With these discrepancies in RAM data, how has the advertisers' response been?

Advertisers rely on the data and the radio industry has helped RAM become a currency by supporting it for two years. But the inconsistent data confuses advertisers' strategies and investments who look up to RAM for planning their advertising campaigns. Senior members at AROI are in talks with the RAM team and the issue would soon be sorted.

How do you see radio audience measurement systems shaping up in future?

There is a need to move to electronic mechanisms and investments needs to be made by the radio industry. A measurement system, more stable and reliable, needs to be shaped up in the long run for strengthening the potential of the medium and some investments need to be made.

Is the radio industry ready for making investments for further radio measurement mechanisms?

I think as some of the recession blues go away in the next fiscal, radio operators will be willing to put their hands in their pockets and the industry would think of investing in solid measurement tools.

Talking about revenues, as you have a huge network spread across different categories, which pockets get you more revenues?

Lot of SME, independent retailer advertisers are investing in radio than the normal corporate advertisers, and that has been our focus in the last year. The regional local retailers are contributing more than ever before and are substantially giving a percentage run to the large corporate advertisers in the metros. It is an interesting trend that radio is getting more local with regional advertisers experiencing the true value of the medium. We had said two years ago that 50 per cent of your revenues will come from the bottom run and we see that happening now.

Is radio seeing more customized regional advertising in the interiors?

Lot of advertising creatives for radio ads are conceived by us and we are happy to do so to build efficacy for the medium. When you start off with a medium, you need to make the market understand its potential and as all industries mature in a year or two, advertisers will make investments for making radio creatives themselves rather than radio industry indulging in it.

Having tasted both mediums- television and radio, what are the differences you feel between the radio listeners and television viewers?

The television viewer is more loyal to programmes than to a television channel; whereas a radio listener is more loyal to a radio station than an individual day part or a RJ. Radio stations are built holistically on music formats that break across day parts and jocks, but television programmes have an individual brand identity and attract people for different reasons.

You have been the only radio station to have ambassadors as face of your brand. How does it help in brand building process?

Having ambassadors helps brand to cut through all the clutter of advertising happening around it and the ambassador builds instant recognition for a brand. Big FM built reach very quickly as a new brand in the market place although most of our competitors either were print enabled or being in the media space for five to seven years before us. Big FM is the only player that built a brand in the market space within no time and the brand ambassadors helped us to cut the clutter and create recall among the consumers. Also our concept of celebrity RJs got initial sampling to the station 

Can commercial FM radio stations break free from Bollywood?

Big FM plays a lot of regional music like Dongri music in Jammu and Srinagar, Chota Nagpuri music in Ranchi and Jamshedpur, Assamese music in Guwahati, Bengali band music in Kolkata, Kannada band music in Bangalore, Bundeli music in Jhansi etc. The ratio of regional music differs from station to station. We play 100 per cent Kannada, Tamil and Telugu music, in Kolkata about 30 per cent is Bengali music. We have been looking out for some regional Gujarati music and non-film Hindi music as well  After Chillax Hits in Mumbai and Delhi, we would soon be launching in Bangalore and Kolkata as well.

What is the potential of commercial FM radio in India?

The segment is just starting to see its true strength; the list of advertisers now is far more than what it was before. The slowdown has hit us, but will get corrected in the next six months. Some more consolidation in the industry will bring some amount of sanity in advertising rates and a much stronger business sense. Also, using radio for 360 degree business solutions will bring a lot of value to radio stations 

If the issue of music royalties is resolved, radio has a big chance to become a national advertising medium in the country having reached far more people than any other medium. Allowing multiple frequencies would be the true liberation of radio in this country. With news and talk allowed for FM radio, more formats can be exploited.

What would Big FM focus on in the coming year?

We would be looking at changing customer trends, market trends, market expansion in smaller markets, targeting smaller advertisers with potential to perform more and building talent to deliver all of these.

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