By Abraham Thomas
When MTV launched onto television sets, the first song they aired was ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’, by The Buggles. The rise of cable TV and the internet did seem to ring alarm bells for radio, but this humble medium once again staved off threats by adapting to evolving tastes. Media pundits have been chanting death knells for radio in India, but one needs to remember that radio survived the tape, CD, iPod and will be as popular in the age of music-streaming apps. Despite being often described as a struggling media, radio is still very much alive and kicking, managing to attract and engage huge audiences in our country.
There is more to radio than meets the eye. Radio might very well be looking at its best days yet. Broadcast radio (AM) today reaches a staggering 99% of the Indian population, while FM radio reaches 65%. According to the EY-FICCI report ‘A billion screens of opportunity’, 47 new radio stations were operationalised in 2018 across 35 cities, taking the total number to 386 radio stations in the country.
Radio has been able to successfully fight off threats, which bring us to the question: What makes this traditional medium so successful even today?
Reaching all corners
Radio is an effective broadcast platform with the power to unite millions. Unlike TV and print, radio is highly interactive, hyper-local in nature, and is free of cost for audiences. The expansion to both tier-2 and tier-3 cities with the Phase-III auction policy, coupled with the diversification of content for varied listener interests, offers latent growth opportunities in India’s FM radio industry. The findings of the EY-FICCI report corroborate that tier-2 and tier-3 cities are driven more by local advertising to generate higher revenues from SME and retail advertisers. With issues of national interest being broadcast on radio, and a chance to listen to the leader of the nation addressing citizens everywhere, audiences tune-in frequently and further engage with the medium, even in areas where other platforms can’t reach.
Trust and credibility
In digital medium, it is difficult to curb ‘fake news’. It is often observed that in the TRP race to grab eyeballs, even TV channels tend to exaggerate and repeat themselves. Whereas, on radio, information is crisp, straightforward and informative. People listen attentively as they know it won’t be repeated. In the content clutter these days, radio helps audiences focus and retains their attention for a longer duration as compared to TV, where pictures and headlines distract the viewer. Also, there are very few reported events of fake news on radio, making it, by far, the most credible and authentic medium out there.
What keeps radio relevant in the age of the internet is the localised flavour of conversations, chat shows, quizzes and audience interaction. Different RJs and celebs on this medium have now built their own brand and fan-following, and have given millions of listeners something to look forward to every day.
While online streaming services like Spotify, Gaana, Saavn are fine-tuning their business models and content offerings, radio has already adapted to changing user behaviour. In fact, major players of the FM radio industry have already gone digital. By allowing listeners to tune-in to their favourite radio shows online, they are expanding their audience and, in the process, offering 360-degree solutions to advertisers. Also, instead of cutting into each other’s operations, we will witness an increased number of partnerships between radio players and streaming apps, where specific and personalised content can be pitched to advertisers.
As the radio industry becomes more competitive and with communication becoming more content-centric, podcasts have emerged as the new battleground. Radio podcasts offer a wide variety of content with the least amount of clutter. Equipped with engaging content and subtle, seamless incorporation of advertisements, these podcasts offer the nostalgia of radio enhanced with an enriched listening experience.
Working its way up
From an advertising viewpoint, too, the transformation of radio as a medium from a traditional to an omnichannel model has opened new avenues for brands to reach out to target audiences in more relevant ways. Beyond ads, radio is enabling growth through advertiser-funded programmes, programmatic content, concerts, digital content and delivery, events and activation, podcasts, etc.
Radio also offers an extensive advertising bouquet, covering terrestrial as well as digital. As per the EY-FICCI report, the sector grew 7.5% in 2018 and reached a size of Rs 31.3 billion, taking its share in total advertising to 4.2%. It isn’t just about the reach, but also the advertising options that radio makes available. For instance, brands can opt for RJ mentions, thereby tapping into a loyal fan base. This sort of activation isn’t possible with online streaming.
In the digital world where it’s as easy as shooting a video and making content out of it, radio has risen to the challenge and has been flawlessly delivering content not only through audio formats, but also engaging videos for digital consumption. With the consumer at the very core of their strategies, major players of the private FM industry are focusing on building communities to get a better understanding of their listeners.
The medium is here to stay
While radio has withstood time and the waves of change, it has also learned to adapt to the ever-changing media landscape. We not only see radio platforms amplify their reach and visibility via digital platforms, but the reverse effect also taking place with digital using radio stations to tap into their audiences. With a data-centric approach, radio will continue to be a profitable medium for audiences, marketers and investors alike.
(The author is CEO, Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd)