Change the Mindset

Filed under: Featured,Interviews |

Name: Amritendu Roy
Publish Date: 05 July 2008
Designation & Organisation: Friends 91.9 FM
Location: India

Friends 91.9 FM was launched in February 2007, how has the journey been so far?

In a cluttered market like Kolkata, Friends FM has established itself as an important player. The reason for this is very clear – we are the only pure ‘adult contemporary music’ station, and the ‘evergreen hits’ angle that we have taken is unique to this market. Thus, the clear product differentiation has enabled us to become a major player in the Kolkata market.

Have you been able to reach your target group and connect with them at all levels?

Our objective is to become the most preferred station among Bengali’s Sec ABC, 25 + years, living in Kolkata.  The listener’s feedback from this
segment is very positive and we are sure this will translate into favourable figures for us when Kolkata comes under the audience measurement radar.

What is the brand positioning of Friends FM?

Friends 91.9 FM is positioned as “the friend you always had”. This emanates from our music content, which plays the kind of songs our listeners “grew up with”. Adding to the music content are the “mature” RJ’s on our station and the high interactivity with the segment of the target audience we have chosen. Our station is positioned to connect the Bengali young adult to his cultural roots, in this case the strong music heritage, and give him the confidence to take on the world.

What is the kind of content and music line-up offered by your station?

We’re the only pure ‘adult contemporary music station’ in the market and our TG is 25+ listeners. We believe that the music one loves is the music one grew up with. So, we play music from what we believe are the best days of one’s life – generally the time when our target listeners were in their teens and early 20s. Therefore, the music that we focus on is from the 80s to early 2000s – and we don’t play any latest numbers during our regular day parts. We are not a retro station, but yes, we are all about nostalgia.

How is Friends FM different from the other players in the market?

I have already mentioned the music mix we play – that is the biggest differentiating factor we have, other than our jocks being comparatively mature. At a time when all other stations in the market are concentrating on regular Bollywood hits, we have differentiated by being the only station that takes the people of Kolkata not only back to their roots but brings out a sense of nostalgia in them.

Have you managed to “befriend” the advertisers successfully? Who are the prime advertisers on your station? 

We have had good responses from advertisers in Kolkata in our first year, and national advertisers are increasing their spends in our station, especially in the last 6 months. We have a very good brand profile on our station which includes the telecom operators, financial institutions, consumer durable brands and major retail chain.

Most advertisers still see radio as a reminder medium. What is Friends FM doing to change this mindset through its offerings to clients?

At Friends 91.9 FM, we are convinced that this is a major issue facing the whole industry. We strongly believe that radio can become a lead medium in certain brand requirements. We have invested in a team of communication experts who work out radio based solutions for clients in both creative and media investment areas. However, this “mindset” change will not come overnight and a sustained effort over a major period of time is required.

Advertisers are not really giving radio a chance, are they?

Some change is happening now, but the mindset problem is the basic issue, which I am trying to highlight. The truth is the radio has grown very fast, it has become huge over a very small period of time, but we are still looked upon as small media. We are treated as poor cousins because we don’t have the kind of figures that television does and it will take a long time for the figures to come, because to collect the necessary data from more than 90 cities is a huge task.

The issue is that all big advertisers want figures, but I want to tell them to go by their gut feel. I want them to see what is happening on the ground and try radio to see how well it works. Anyways, the money invested in radio is not as high as it is in TV, so keeping all the factors in mind I am just asking advertisers to give radio a chance, a chance it deserves.

What can radio do to help advertisers understand the true value of the medium and how profitable it can be?

I think the only way advertisers can understand the medium and its value is by trying it out themselves. I can make a thousand presentations about the benefits, but unless they invest a little money and be innovative they cannot know the amount of profit they can make. We always talk about innovation in radio, so why can’t media planners be innovative and try radio. They can do some investment in radio and see how it works as radio results come pretty fast. Unless they try it out for themselves, how will they really know?

What is your view on the present state of radio in the country?

A fundamental issue for all players in this industry is a “mindset” issue. We have suddenly leaped from a very small media to a huge media which reaches about 80 cities and over 40 crores of listeners. Thus, radio has become a serious player, which delivers huge reach nationally and also has local connect to cities and towns. I feel that radio operators, clients and media agencies have to adjust their mindset to this sudden growth. They have to take this industry seriously and once this is done, a lot of obstacles, which are actually trivial issues, will be solved and help the industry to become solid and profitable.

What ails commercial FM in the country?

In addition to the mindset problem, other major concerns at the present are the absence of a robust listenership measure and the manpower issue. The radio industry requires to work out an established listenership measure as soon as possible, this will give clients the confidence to invest in the medium and make our businesses profitable. The other major issue is the lack of trained programming and technical manpower which is affecting the quality of programming and thus limiting the popularity of radio.

Other factors are the present government policies which limit us to entertainment and the music royalty rate which is sure killing off many smaller radio operators. A lot has to be done in basic radio programming and radio operation. Churning out innovation and creativity on a daily basis is a huge challenge that the industry is facing right now. I feel that as an industry we have forgotten that our basic job is to provide good radio content everyday. We are a new industry and we should on focus the job at hand and not get swayed away by the other stuff that are  not so important. We have a huge responsibility on our shoulders, to deliver good radio content everyday and that is what we should focus on!

How seriously is music royalty issue affecting the industry?

Frankly speaking, paying the high amounts of music royalty is killing the industry. Music companies should realise that if a station closes down, they will also lose out in the long run. They should look into the royalty factor and invest in our struggle by reducing the royalties on music.

AROI is also taking up the issue very seriously, and I feel unless the royalty is reduced or some understanding is reached, radio stations, specially in the smaller towns and single station broadcasters will be badly hit.

There is some discussion about allowing private FM stations to broadcast news taken from certain agencies. Would you like to comment on this?

I think, if news is allowed on radio, it should be allowed like any other media. If the government allows radio stations to air news, then they should be treated at par with the other media and the principle of freedom of the press should be applicable to radio. Permitting news will definitely help the industry to add more variety to the programming content that it offers to listeners, so it will be a good move.

What is your view on the need for differentiation in terms of content?

We all talk about differentiation, but the problem is the government policy that limits us. At present we can only do entertainment, and within that, there are only two genres available, one is music, which is what 80-85 percent of radio stations are doing. The other is talk, which some stations are trying out. Differentiation can really happen if news and current affairs is allowed by the government.

Truly speaking, I feel even if news and current affairs is allowed on radio, for the next ten years, music will be the main conent, because I feel the genre has not been exploited properly. A whole lot of differentiation is possible in music, which has not been done till now but it will appear gradually. Like, we are an adult contemporary music station, someone will start a youth station, another will move away from Bollywood and go into other forms of music. So, definitely, there will be other stations and experimentation will happen within music.

I feel content differentiation is very crucial and when some stations try marketing differentiation and positioning differentiation, with the same content, it really does not work. I think music will be the main stay of FM radio in the times to come, the same way it has been the main stay for radio around the world.

What are the kind of stations you see growing in the times to come?

The opening up of news and current affairs will definitely bring in some diversity and differentiation in the programming content. However, I feel that FM radio will remain primarily an entertainment medium where music will be the predominant content for the next 10 years. Of all the frequencies available in India, I think 80-90 percent will be music stations in the years to come.

What are your views on the future of radio audience measurement in the country?

Even in Australia, its only the middle cities that have a weekly RAM, the smaller cities have RAM once in six months, or once in a year. I think at least the top 10 metros in India will have the weekly RAM and the other cities will have it once a year or maybe twice a year.

I don’ think it is physically possible to have RAM in all the cities in the next one to two years, because the cost and effort involved in getting RAM done is huge. After Kolkata, which is is set to have RAM soon, I think RAM will come in another three or four major cities in the country.

Are you satisfied with the diary method being used for RAM at present?

The diary method is an established method used all over the world. This is the only method available for radio measurement as of now. There is an electronic method which has recently been tested in Australia, and they are not very sure about it right now. So, worldwide there are no new methods available, and I think the cost of other methods would be higher than the diary method.

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