| 22 Sep 2023
My FM COO Harrish Bhatia - The slowdown is more of a metro phenomenon

As part of the Dainik Bhanskar group, My FM has been able to build brand value in the 17 cities it operates. But COO Harrish Bhatia believes private FM in India is still to acquire the status of serious business in corporate India 

Bhatia, an old hand at the Bhaskar Group, tells Anushree Bhattacharya how My FM's business strategy helped in maintaining the position of market leader in these difficult times. Bhatia however dubs the ongoing slowdown a �metro phenomenon', maintaining that the smaller cities are doing as well as earlier.


Does the media fraternity recognise radio as a medium now or is there still a long way to go?

Private FM has recognition from the perspective of a listener, which is much larger as compared to the media fraternity. There are still many companies, national or multi national, who don't look upon FM as a medium to advertise. Thus, despite private FM having penetration in metros and beyond metros, the seriousness towards the medium has still not come  

How long do you think will it be till FM radio is taken seriously by the advertiser?

We as private players in radio are ready but the question here is, â€?Is the corporate sector also ready?' In fact, this is the biggest challenge private radio players face. Most of the FM stations have been branded as the 'station for youth'; therefore, most of the companies don't think of private radio as a medium to advertise. Also, the corporate sector does not consume private FM thinking it's not targeted towards them. The problem here is that people define their consumption level as the consumption pattern of the consumer 

The AROI has been trying to evangelise radio as a medium. As the northern region head of the AROI, how successful do you think this campaign has been?

Since AROI's campaign has been metro centric, the impact of the campaign must have been felt in the metros. However, when it comes to non-metro cities, it becomes the struggle of individual players and honestly, even AROI has not been able to make much dent 

Has an understanding of local markets really helped My FM to customise programming for local stations?

Definitely, without this understanding, I don't think we would have been a successful brand today. My FM is one of the newest brands while other radio players like City or Mirchi entered with their own experience of operating radio stations in metros. When we entered, we had no idea about the market and the customer preferences. Moreover, we did research to know the listener preference in a better way through our newspaper group. Today, we have been able to achieve the number one position in the markets where we operate in terms of listenership and market share. It's only because we understand the likes and dislikes of our listeners 

Did the fact that Dainik Bhaskar has a strong presence in the Hindi speaking market help you in building a strong radio brand?

While the newspaper group did give a sneak peak into the preferences of customers, we also did our own research to know the listener better, as there is a difference in the way a reader consumes a newspaper and a listener listens to radio. Also, with radio having limited resources, the newspaper helped in conveying the message about the station to listeners; it helped in promoting our offers to listeners.

Finally, the newspaper helped in creating a buzz about our station, building the brand stronger   

How do you decide the language of content to be played out in each of your 17 stations?

The content varies from place to place; for example, in Gujarat, we play three kinds of music - 40 per cent of the music played there is Gujarati, 30 per cent is Hindi and rest is English. While it is true that people like to speak in their local languages,  Hindi still remains the most preferred language for entertainment. So, while Hindi colours the overall pie, the regional language also has its own place  

How has the slowdown affected the radio industry?

It's unfortunate that most companies have a knee jerk reaction after reading business papers or watching the verdict of business channels. My question to corporate India is, â€?By what percentage has business declined in India?' If the economy was earlier growing at nine per cent and has come down to six to seven per cent. How can we say the Indian economy is going through a recession? Currently, the economy is growing at the same rate it did in 2007 -08. When a rate of six to seven per cent was growth for India in 2007-08, how can we say that the economy has stopped growing now? 

Secondly, it's more of a metro phenomenon. The slowdown has affected people in metros psychologically more, as everyone is talking about the Sensex going down and jobs getting cut. The interior of the country still remains the same, the buying power of people has not declined there. Moreover, the Indian economy is divided between metro, export and agriculture. Rural India will only be affected once agriculture declines and till the time this does not happen, I don't see business getting affected  

At My FM, we have not removed people because of the slowdown, in fact, we have been rationalising our resources for the past two years and thus, have not had to make any jobs cuts forced by the slowdown.

It's been heard that some of the smaller stations like Jodhpur have been badly hit by the advertising downturn? Are you considering restructuring operations anywhere?

Yes, it is true that a few local players in cities like Jodhpur and Ajmer have been forced to shut down. A lot of players entered the business without realising that the business is not based on a distribution model but a space model. As a result, when they entered the market they slashed their prices to such an extent that we decided to take a back seat. There was a time when we felt they were doing as good business as us in terms of seconds. But when we looked at the value, we saw that there was hardly any. Looking at these conditions, we can say today that we are much better placed 

Have the IPL and the elections helped in ramping up ad revenues in smaller towns particularly? Would it have been better if the tournament had been held in India?

I would take both the IPL and elections as seasonal clients who come and go. IPL was there last year also. Yes, both events did help in building our ad inventory but the shifting of IPL to South Africa has also led to some business loss. As for the elections, all major parties have advertised on radio, which has added a reasonable amount of revenue 

Is there any amicable resolution possible for the music royalty issue....can the Copyright Board help with its intervention?

The radio industry has made many recommendations to the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, to the HR Ministry. However, no solution has been found to the problem. While players with a large presence can still manage the operation, it becomes difficult for players with one or two stations. The business is suffering mostly due to the high cost of content and players have no clue how to control the cost of content. The government needs to realise that FM popularises music in India and ironically, it's FM players who end up paying high royalty for content    

Will a change in satellite radio policy allow more players in? Will it help FM players get into the satellite space too?

The concept of satellite radio has not at all evolved yet and the company which had ventured into this space has kind of already wound up. Satellite radio is yet to see a rise in consumers or rather it's yet to be approved by consumers as it has its own problem of mobility etc. The government should take a call on whether it will promote satellite radio or private FM. I don't see the need for both. The government should instead increase the distribution of private FM and let the players compete.

Where will we see you bidding in Phase III, rural or metro?

Phase III will see private radio expanding its reach from 90 towns to 300 towns, so it will be a bigger game this time. While we will bid for spectrum in metros, we also feel there are still certain gaps to be filled in the interiors, so we will bid for frequencies in smaller towns for further penetration as well.