'We used the brand ambassador route to break through the cluttered FM market' : Tarun Katial - Big FM COO

Reliance ADAG has aggressive plans laid out for its radio venture Big FM. With 29 stations already in place, Big FM has 16 more waiting in the wings. And it has an investment outlay of Rs 4 billion.

Banking on Abhishek Bachchan as the face of Big FM and supported by the brand philosophy of 'Suno Sunao Life Banao,' Reliance's radio venture is looking to firm up its position in existing markets by rolling out four unique properties this year-end.

In an interview with's Nasrin Sultana, Big FM chief operating officer Tarun Katial speaks about the penetration of the FM stations into the urban and smaller markets, the potential that the sector has, and the advertising opportunities it throws open for local advertisers.


Being a new entrant in established markets, has it been a tough journey for Big FM?

We have been extremely successful in selling the brand across the country. Our success comes from launching in cluttered markets like Kolkata, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. We were the first station in Bangalore to come out with local language content.

How has it been in the smaller markets which opened up for private operators in the second phase?

Big FM is working extremely well in small towns. We have, in fact, revolutionised media and media consumption habits in the tier II and tier III cities. Eventually people are realising that radio is a local medium which needs to have localised content and marketing to make it successful.

We have even entered troubled places like Srinagar and Guwahati where no one thought of venturing.

Are the big advertisers willing to put money in the small town stations?

For Big FM, local advertising contributes 30-40 per cent of our entire revenue kitty. Apart from this, there are corporates who advertise across all the 29 stations including big FMCG and telecom players.

Is Delhi turning out to be a sticky wicket for the new players?

Delhi is one of our best stations. It has been getting us good revenue. Nokia, Samsung and the big FMCGs, apart from the local retailers, are our major advertisers in Delhi. As far as listnership goes in Delhi, our internal research says that we have a good amount of base in the capital city.

What has been the focus area for Big FM?

It is really bad to say that we are focused on some markets and not on others. In the tier II, tier III cities it has been our effort to gather a base for listenership. In the next roll out phase, our focus will be about building a uniqueness and getting the dynamics of the company to all the stations.

Why was there a requirement to change content in your Delhi station?

The consumer behaviour and attitude of Delhi changes very frequently and it is very different from the other cities. Our internal research showed that Delhi is happening and on the move. That is where we zeroed in the '100 chartbuster' format whereby every week the songs that the station plays is renewed. 100 songs are selected on the basis of a survey that covers mobile phones, internet downloads, music sales and song requests. This way, we satisfy the need of Delhi listeners to get something new every week. We are the first station in the country to have introduced such content in music.

How is Big FM faring in regional markets like Jhansi, Bareilly, Jalandhar, Asansol and Guwahati among others?

We have created a local brand out of the local product. FM has created an atmosphere where local entrepreneurs have understood these cost effective measures. There are lots of un-organised and semi-organised workers in the Indian economy for whom we have provided a platform.

In the regional space, we have been beneficial to the common people by generating job avenues. People now need not go to cities in search of jobs in media.

Physical hardware sales are also up. Nokia, Reliance and Samsung have got sales high. Even FM radio is being launched on the mobile platform.

Is having Abhishek Bachchan, Upendra and Asin as brand ambassadors helped you in grabbing listenership in the Hindi and southern regions?

Today we are in a cluttered FM market in India. The easiest way to break through the clutter is through the brand ambassador route.

'FM should be allowed to have news and sports in the content mix'

How has the brand philosophy 'Suno Sunao Life Banao' worked for Big FM?

The whole premise was to provide a new space. If you listen to our station, it's about raising ones voice. Our content and marketing campaigns affect the lives of the people. Later this year we will introduce four new properties that will make (banao) someone's life. As far as music goes, we are currently playing contemporary hot music of Tempo 3. Tempo 3 are specific songs that are up beat because as a rule the station does not play extremely slow music.

What do you regard as prime time for Big FM?

Our prime time is dependent on who our target audience is at a particular time band. If it's the youth, then the prime time band is evening. If it's the office goers, then it's definitely in the morning. If it's women, the target then is the afternoon time band.

Which are the different platforms you are experimenting with to build brand awareness?

Across mediums, internet is the best medium as it has an extended reach. But the best thing that works for us is on-ground activities. Big FM has been doing a good amount of on-ground activities across the country, which has received a good response in terms of participation.

What do you think about TV campaigns used by FM stations to advertise?

TVC is definitely a good way of promoting a brand. We are also looking to launch a TVC soon.

What is your argument for or against the Content Code?

Instead of getting ways to regulate us, the government should grant us some freedom. As FM affects so much of the consumption of people's life, we should be allowed to have news and sports in our content mix.

The ministry is talking about regulating FM broadcasters, when we are already functioning with restrictions to our content.

When they are comparing Indian FM stations with the international radio industry, they have conveniently forgotten that we are the only set of broadcasters who have been working on the restricted content set up by the government.

What is the investment outlay for Big FM?

We are pumping in Rs 4 billion.

What is the de-merger status of Big FM?

I can't comment on that.

How is Big FM planning to synergise Reliance ADAG's Big Music and Entertainment for music and home video?

Big FM gets the exclusive music and content rights from Big Music and Entertainment, giving us the first right of refusal. We have the option to build music properties across the medium. We have the option to promote the division by pushing the content through internet downloads and mobile ring tones. Big FM does 360 degree advertising for Big Music and Entertainment.

How are your advertising spots being priced?

Recently we have introduced the uniform rate card system 'Aqua' for all our advertisers across the country. This is easily available in our website. Unlike other stations, we are transparent in our advertising rates. The advertisers know what is the rate for the same space on the other stations. The advertisers are aware of how we are priced in different markets.

Besides, all our stations have installed the wide orbit software.

With the increasing content clutter on radio especially with Bollywood music, how is Big FM placed?

I agree that Bollywood is all over FM stations, but it also depends on what kind of songs you are playing at what time of the day. How you treat the music is what differentiates the content. We play old songs across era in different time bands.

You have recently got Raju Srivastav (stand up comedian of The Great Indian Laughter Challenge) as an RJ. In an attempt to break away from the clutter, every FM station is now adopting the fun element. How is this differentiated?

Fun is an important aspect of entertainment. We are here to entertain, so what's wrong in doing it? Some are doing it by some other means and people; we are doing it with Raju. He is the best and the biggest clutter breaker in the industry. Nobody wants to start the day on a sad note. We will get you to start the day with laughter and good thoughts. Our effort is rewarded if we can put smile in our listener's faces.

Do you think the future will be in niche or mass stations?

The FM business is in a nascent stage for me to predict the future. It depends on what is the target, though I would recommend that segmentation is required.

How are you looking to close 2007?

We have recently announced the four properties that Big FM has planned for the various festival seasons for the later part of the year. Starting from September, Big FM will start rolling out these properties.

We will soon launch a show completely based on and coinciding with the ICC World Cup Twenty20. The show will provide scrore updates, interactive contests and interview of cricket celebrities.

During the time of Diwali and Dusshera, Big FM will launch a shopping contest Sabse Sasti Diwali. With the various tie-ups that we are still working on, the contest will offer shopping discounts from 9.27 per cent to 92.7 per cent.

Then we have a contest titled Chipak Ke Dekho by which we will give away a car to whoever remains near the car for the longest duration of time.

Finally, we have the biggest contest of its kind, Ek Saal Free Maal to bear the entire expenses of the winner for the whole year of 2008.

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