Reliance Broadcast Network’s Big FM plans to leverage its reach to strengthen content offerings and foray into digital. Abraham Thomas talks to Ankita Rai about the opportunity in branded content, integrating FM with digital and the revenue outlook in 2019. Edited excerpts:
How do you see the growth in ad revenues this year, given the upcoming elections and the cricket line-up (ICC World Cup and IPL)?
The second half of this year looks very promising for radio advertising with the upcoming general elections, the pick-up in both the urban and rural economy, and the restarting of the consumption cycle. Categories like retail, SME, FMCG and even the government are expected to increase spends, which will enable us to drive double digit growth in the current calendar year. Government ads are a big category — almost 15% of radio revenues come from there. Both the ICC World Cup and IPL see a lot of interest from advertisers who want to amplify their association using radio’s local reach. However, compared to on-ground and TV sponsorship, radio ad spends are smaller. But sponsorship revenues in radio increase during IPL.
How is Big FM tackling competition from online music streaming services?
The reach of FM radio as well as the time spent listening to it is close to that of TV, and much higher than online streaming sites. FM radio is a seamless integration of music and talk. In fact, FM radio and online radio complement each other beautifully. Audio content can now be distributed across platforms and devices, thereby becoming a multi-platform distribution play. So, at Big FM, our focus is on creating content that flows across platforms — FM radio, online audio and video. Each medium has its own advantages. We are looking at a platform-agnostic play in content. Our presence in all the key markets gives us access to local insights and local talent, which we use to tell stories. We are also planning to launch our digital platforms.
You launched a content studio, Thwink Big, last year. Is the focus shifting to branded content for monetisation?
Advertisers are willing to pay for the incremental reach offered by a 360-degree omnipresent idea that can be replicated on other platforms. We are using local insights to conceptualise stories for brands not just on radio, but also audio and online video. For example, for Johnson & Johnson, we conceptualised a series of short stories on the changing mother-daughter relationship. Our focus is on making sure our content is sampled across multiple touchpoints. Our strength comes from storytelling capabilities developed at radio. Every client is now looking beyond a pure inventory play. Therefore, branded content is a growing vertical for us. Advertising is a key revenue stream for Big FM, which includes branded content and sponsorships.
Has the impact of GST, demonetisation and RERA worn off? What is the revenue outlook for 2019?
Post the headwinds, we are seeing tailwinds coming from the government, retail and SME, among other categories. With the effects of GST, RERA and demonetisation behind us, the consumption-demand cycle has led to the increase of the capex cycle, which will not only create jobs but also consumption. We are seeing a lot of tailwinds, especially from advertisers who have experimented with other media and have realised the unique relevance that radio brings. The seamless integration of FM with digital is another opportunity that we are exploiting for monetisation.
The radio industry is growing at 10-12%. Depending on the category, radio can give 15% incremental reach when combined with a print or TV plan. Local advertising on radio is growing in categories like wellness, real estate, education and jewellery. It is not just the reach of radio, but the time spent on radio has increased, too. In fact, 71% of FM listening is happening on mobile phones. When coupled with online, radio becomes more of a content play. While digital has the challenges of brand safety, radio benefits from credibility and trust. That is driving growth.