With Phase III auctions for radio frequency finally happening—the government has already approved the first batch for e-auctions, for 69 cities and 135 FM channels—the sector is sure to see some growth in the coming years after crawling for past few. In fact a Ficci-KPMG report on the media & entertainment sector predicts the segment, in the next four years, could grow to twice its size in 2014, from being worth R17.2 billion to being worth R39.5 billion. By the end of phase III, as per the information & broadcasting (I&B) ministry, nearly 1,000 more FM channels would have been added.
While FM radio’s future does seem rosy, one of the major irritants is that the government is still wary of letting FM channels gather and broadcast news. In fact, in July last year, the I&B minister had announced that FM channels will be allowed to broadcast All India Radio news content without altering it—which always seemed odd given how most of the FM channels are run by media houses that are already in the news business—but even that is yet to happen with the government not having committed a date. FM radio’s reach is set to swell—at the last count, as per the Indian Readership Survey, there were 158 million listeners (2012). In the next few years, as the other Phase III auctions are rolled out fully, many more millions will be added, as will be the 1,000 channels I&B ministry envisages. However, with nearly the entire programming comprising just entertainment (interspersed with ads), it is likely that there will be unsustainable competition at that scale of penetration. This is why FM channels will need to diversify content with news. If the radio boom is not to get reduced to a whimper for most players, FM channels need to have the freedom to generate news content.