| 28 May 2022
Manav Dhanda: "One player cannot remain the leader for over a decade"

Big FM network programming head Manav Dhanda:

Growth of Big FM in 2012:

Big FM has evolved a lot in the music and non-music content. We were the first ones who actually took a local strategy ahead. When we launched in Bangalore back in 2006, the players who were doing well there had content in Hindi and English. Considering the fact that Bangalore is a very cosmo (cosmopolitan) market with the target being the affluent consumer, we recognize the fact that radio is a local medium and we wanted to go purely local. We were the first ones there to go fully Kannada and in no time we became the market leaders. Soon after us, the strategy changed and many players followed us. Likewise happened in Kolkata and many other markets. We always had a local up strategy versus a national top down strategy. In view of that, over the last 6-12 months, we have made some more unique changes in radio.

In Delhi, we went all retro which we carried forward to Bhopal and Indore. Since then, we have grown terrifically well. It was a brave step to decide that we will not play any contemporary, current hit music. It’s worked very well for us. In the first week of December 2012 we were leading in our listener base. So we are fine carving our music policies for our consumers everywhere, understanding what a specific local market needs. Music content can be duplicated to some extent. So many stations have retro music by the hour. Our next effort has been to create a promise beyond music and that’s where spoken content comes into play. Usually in radio until now, it’s been the RJ doing his bit and some informative capsules. Consumers look for more in content beyond humour, so we have a unique show ‘Yaadon ka Idiot Box’ which narrates stories on-air.

Since I’ve been in radio (eight years), people have always said that radio is a theatre of the mind and what better way to present it than narrate stories. It’s worked wonderfully well for us in the Hindi belt, and we have even dared to take the format in other markets as well. So we have tried to create a unique non-duplicable promise as well. Then came Big Memsaab, which is again a radio-up property that first went on-air in the UP stations. It’s done well on television for six years on Big Magic which broadcasts in the Hindi heartland and now it’s gone national. We felt the next step would be to cater to women who focused on their appearance and grooming. Presenting that in a grand manner yet keeping it useful, we roped in actor Karisma Kapoor who could identify with many individuals in different regions as the core target group was 25-44 years. She has a very good understanding on style and what the average Indian housewife wants in terms of style. It’s a perfect association for us.

Changes in content consumption:

Not at all. The core target group for radio remains almost all markets with females aged 25-44 years, so its serving back to them in relevant day parts. It shifts according to day parts. The morning band is focused more towards males, so you cannot create a shift of target group because radio is a local medium which adapts to your lifestyle. And thanks to Radio Audience Measurement (RAM) data, we have understood our key markets and what is being consumed by what kind of an audience and where and then how can we up the scale of that.

Increasing competition:

Well, Radio One went English in some markets, it was a shift in their strategy to understand that a certain playing field was not meant for them. When Red FM did likewise in Bangalore and went all Hindi, it meant taking a call to give up a certain target audience altogether. We don’t plan any such drastic shifts in giving up the mass base anywhere. Because once you do that, you have to target the niche audiences and we don’t feel the need to be a niche player anywhere. We are doing substantially well in all markets. The recent Indian Readership Survey (IRS) rates Big FM as the largest network in the country in 80 per cent of the markets. In Delhi, we have grown week-on-week for the last 12 months and the growth curve is yet to slow down. We are amongst the leaders in Kolkata and Bangalore. We have innovated our programming and are sure of making a comeback in numbers in Mumbai as well. A churn happens all the time, it’s never a one-time gain. We will innovate and raise the bar but we will not change our strategy and give up a certain target audience.

More focus towards on-ground activations:

I can’t deny that on-ground activations make a much bigger buzz. Having said that, it’s more of Reliance Broadcast Network Limited (RBNL) initiative than a Big FM initiative. We have promoted them a lot on Big FM as well. Our Big Star awards saw the biggest turnout ever. The Big FM team is involved in the entire property. It is promoted aggressively on-air but at no time does it mean that it is undermining the importance of on-air activities because RBNL’s core still remains radio. Having said that, we have close to 50 on-ground properties across the country which have taken shape in less than two years time. It’s great because these properties cater to the local platform eg: Marathi music awards and more. So we are owning the consumers mindspace not just on-air but on multiple platforms off-air as well. Big Memsaab itself is extremely active on-ground. On-ground has always been a part of our core focus from the very beginning and will continue to be so.

Major milestones of 2012:

A very big milestone for us was turning retro in Delhi. After the launch, we were trying to find our space and retro made it easier for us. Right now it’s being consumed far more than what is being rated. But its good and the numbers will show up soon, the competition knows that. It’s a strategy which no one can switch to overnight and it was still mass based so it’s a brilliant move by the network and we will take it to a few more markets where it is working for us. In 80 per cent of the IRS markets, we are number one and the changes are as big as going retro, launching Karisma Kapoor or subtle changes which we are making but cannot be tracked by the competition or consumer. And that's what radio as a medium is where we have to keep thinking to constantly innovate all the time.

RJs - the voice of a radio station:

My experience is that for an RJ to become a celebrity, he/she needs to be on-air for 4-5years before they get famous. It’s not a worry point for us because even on TV an actor might change, but the character and the personality of the show matters and in radio too its more about the brand promise and personality that matters. RJs do serve a big role but it’s not all about them. Having said that, we do have RJ Anirudh whose been with us from a long time and his show is the highest rated in the day band. We have RJ Kaushik in Kolkata whose been with us from day one and hosts the city's number one breakfast show.

Bringing in celebrity RJs helps at multiple levels and yes one of them is image building. The second is there is a definite promise to know what to get and expect versus a new RJ who takes a while to build up. So the promises are big and it delivers and is appreciated. Another big aspect is that by roping in a celeb, you are also garnering the attention of the non-listener which makes the category grow. When Amitabh Bachchan started KBC it roped in a lot of non-consumers on TV which helped the category grow and TV hasn't stopped since then. These moves do work on radio as well. A lot of our moves come from the philosophies of our CEO Tarun Katial and he's not wrong.

Brand building:

I can't talk about revenues or advertisers but in terms of listenership at a national level it is not growing much. In some markets it’s doing well, in some its low, it’s also sometimes seasonal. The fact is that in India the problem is very unique where the evolution of radio was blocked. In western countries radio came very early and was the largest medium after print, and it was only in the 80s that satellite TV emerged. Whereas in India, radio emerged only in 2000 after print, TV and internet. And in its first phase it was really in the nascent stage - seven markets and some 28-30 players. It actually took a big step in 2005-2006 when we launched. So actually radio in our country is in a very nascent stage. We have a long way to go. More advertisers are now starting to sit up and take notice of radio, I am seeing more properties and brands build on the back of radio. Our ground events are some being built on the same philosophy. Recently we did an on-ground activity with the oil company Total and organised a run for them in 28-30 markets which was again a radio promoted property. We saw thousands of people turn out purely on the basis of radio. So radio as a category has done well.

Music policy:

If you look at it, all stations are carving out a fine space within the popular music that's being played on-air which is nice. The consumer consciously cannot differentiate but sub-consciously I believe he does. We see consumer trends in our RAM markets and we have always spent a lot of time and effort in understanding what a consumer wants. Delhi was a unique case study. It’s easier saying let's change our language than the genre. We are promising a finer carved music space in many more markets. What you hear in Mumbai is more melody and cinema music, because in India music is bollywood. The consumption trends are changing in music heavily too, but these trends take a while to show a definite indication. There is a need for music to become a foreground platform like in the west, rather than a background platform. But you can't counter bollywood so easily because the money game is so large. Having said that, India did go through a phase of pop music from mid 90s to mid 2000s. We don't ignore that, so in our morning and evening drive bands, the last song played is a branded song called 'Big College Classics' which is a pop song. We play around 10 songs an hour of which one is a college classic song, that's 10 per cent of music share in the non-film market. So we are not only bollywood based.

But you can't deny that the early tune-in factor is music while the long-term stay back factor is the jock. But long term could sometimes be 4-5years.

Efforts to move up the leaderboard:

I think it’s a natural evolution. There is no one player who can remain leader for over a decade. Also in radio when you make changes, it’s a subtle background medium and takes time to judge if it’s working or not. So while you identify the change and make it, for it to start showing results you need to be patient for a few months. Likewise if something is not working, you will only know it over a period of time. So there is a lag to understand what to do and what finally shows up unlike TV where you get immediate results. It’s a passive medium still memory based not yet digital, I'm not against RAM. It’s a great platform, because of it we can do things which otherwise we would not be able to.

Digital movement:

Music is a challenge to put on digital platform because rights are expensive and there is no commercial viability. So our effort is to create unique content which is non-musical in nature, and take it digitally on mobile and online.

Way Forward:

We launched Yaadon Ka Idiot Box about four months back. For New Year we had comedian Bharti on-air and in the northern market we had Mukesh Khanna in an interesting line-up. We have several initiatives coming up for 26 January, Valentines Day and the Budget. We had a brilliant property in the north market for Lohri. We also have some expansion plans but they will roll out after the FM Phase-III auctions.