'Challenge is to convert local advertisers' contribution to 50 per cent from 25 per cent' : Abraham Thomas - Red FM COO

 Red FM has gone through a sea change after the Living Media Group sold it to a consortium including Hyderabad-based Value Labs, NDTV and Malaysia-based Astro. Then Sun TV Ltd. acquired a 48.9 per cent stake to build a national footprint, synergising with its South India operations.

Red FM has grown over the period, claiming to hold top spot in the lucrative market of Mumbai. It has also grown its base in Delhi and Kolkata.

In an interview with's Nasrin Sultana, Red FM COO Abraham Thomas throws light on some of the pertinent issues that plague the FM radio sector in a Bajate Raho style.


What do advertisers identify with the Red FM 'Baajate Raho' brand?

Advertisers associate Red FM as a young, energetic and pro-active brand. Any product or brand that targets between the 15-35-year-olds likes to get associated with Red FM. Even the local advertisers in each city where we operate - Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata - are putting money on us as our content is wholly local.

What about the listenership growth at Red FM in the recent past?

The Red FM brand has been created with our innovative content and our 'Bajate Raho' attitude. We have moved from just being a radio brand to a FM station. Listeners identify Red FM as a station of expression. We have also ventured into TV. Our annual on-ground Bajaate Raho awards is going to air on Sony Entertainment Television.

In terms of listenership, we have been consistently in the number one spot in Mumbai for the last seven to eight months. In Delhi we were a bit behind. Now we have climbed to the number two spot there. In Kolkata, we are the only station which play only Bollywood superhits unlike other FM stations which have Bengali music too.

With Sun TV Ltd. picking up a stake in Red FM, what has this meant at the operational level?

In the operational level, there has not been much change. In the ad sales front, the network is able to sell a national package to any advertiser.

FM broadcasters are seen complaining about advertisers' preference of TV and print over FM radio. Has it improved over the years?

Advertisers have gradually started to realise the potential of the medium. The industry has seen a two-way expansion - growth from existing markets and new geographies with FM phase II expansion. In the last fiscal, the FM industry has expanded to deep pockets of the country. Definitely this attracts advertisers as FM radio is seen as an innovative mode of advertising in the smaller towns.

In Red FM national advertisers pull 75 per cent revenue while the local advertisers constitute the rest. The big challenge is to convert the 25 per cent into 50 per cent. Only then can the FM radio sector expand its share in the overall ad pie which currently stands at 3.4 per cent.

Has the launch of Ram (radio audience measurement) made any impact since advertisers can now have data to back up their spend?

Unlike the TV industry, advertisers and FM broadcasters are not using Ram figures on a week-on-week basis. But a 4-6 week data provides a clear trend which we use to pitch to advertisers. Besides we use the trends which come out of time spend, cumulative and Tarp (target audience rating point) data to design and conceptualise our shows. They indicate content stickiness and the profile of the audience.

The Ram figures have demystified a myth that we most often had. Pre-Ram, we neglected the weekend slot thinking that listenership is slender. Now we are concentrating on the weekend slot as well. The Ram figures clearly indicate that there is a strong listenership population even on weekends. Earlier when there was no data to refer to, most of the FM stations played back-to-back music with no jock talk.

What are the other trends that the Ram figures indicate?

Listeners start stepping in from 7:30-8:30 in the morning. This increases gradually, so much so that it beats TV viewing audience. But after 1:30-2 pm, listenership slides down. The 2-5 pm band faces a tough competition from the TV audience as during this time most of the general entertainment channels (GEC) have original content in the afternoon band. Radio listenership reaches its peak after 5:30 pm.

There was another believe among us that highest listeners come in from the car listeners. However, Ram data proves this wrong as there are few listeners on the drive. Most of the listeners come in from mobile and personal set listening.

Are you content with the Ram week-on-week data or you wish for some improvisation?

Yes, it has been useful. At least something is better than nothing. We were not able to use the data of Indian Listenership Track (ILT) as it was out only on a quarterly basis. It was difficult to use the dated trends. The Ram figure is a good indicator. The best method in this connection is the electronic meter of mapping listeners. Only a few countries use that methodology as it is very expensive.

The ideal thing to do in India is to have three different methodologies in three different types of market. The small markets can have Day-After-Recall (DAR) methodology, the big markets can use Daily Diary methodology while the metros can depend on Electronic methodology. But the Electronic methodology is not feasible in India as it is very expensive.

The Indian Premier League (IPL) had its devastating effect on GECs and multiplexes. Has the FM industry felt the heat?

IPL has been beneficial for us. Red FM is the official radio partner of Mumbai Indians IPL team. To cheer up the team, Red FM turned into Blue FM for one day. Red FM has woven both content and contest around cricket to promote the team. Vinod Kambli is our special cricket expert. He does a cricket review of the last day's match in a humorous way.

We also had a contest where the winners were taken to one of the matches when Mumbai Indians was involved. The winners were taken in an open bus to cheer the team with Red FM's RJs.

With innovation in content and different contests, there has been a spike in the listeners. But I can't say for sure if this has been primarily because of IPL because school and colleges are closed for vacation. During this time of the year, we have spikes in listenerships. But we do not have corresponding figures as Ram was not available last year during this time.

Is the Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI) pressurizing the government to take any decision on the issue of music content pricing?

AROI is a new body. We have many an issue out of which pricing of music is one of them. I believe through AROI the matter will be sorted out.

As one of the senior VPs of AROI, what do you think could be the possible solution?

The FM industry needs a single leadership to sort out things. Large stations can pay more for music. The charge should vary according to category of the stations like A, B, C, D, E.

The other could be if there is a revenue sharing model between the FM station and the music company.

What are the other areas that AROI is concentrating on?

Apart from the music rights issue, AROI is working upon methodology of listenership and finding new talent in the industry. With the expansion of the market, there is talent crunch which every station is finding difficult to address.

How do you see Trai's recommendation of allowing 49 per cent foreign equity in FM radio sector?

It is a welcome move. The FM industry will see a growth with foreign players taking interest in the local medium.

Do you think that the FM industry will see a change once news is allowed in the FM broadcasting as recommended by Trai?

Yes, it will bring change to the industry but not to Red FM. Red FM is a total entertainment station for the masses. But there may be some operators who could position themselves as news FM stations to beat the cluttered market.
How do you see Trai's recommendation of multiple licensing in the same district?

It would be a wonderful thing for the FM industry. Differentiation will come in after multiple license is allowed. It will pave way for niche stations. In the present situation very few stations dare to go the niche way as it fears losing a chunk of listeners. But with multiple licensing, stations can experiment a lot adding to the growth of the industry.
Which are the different platforms you are experimenting with to build brand awareness?

We have done good work in the brand activation front with our Red Activ team. We have expanded our footprint in the mobile vertical too by our exclusive tie-with Mobile2win. We syndicate our properties like Kamla Ka Hamla and Angry Ganeshan. Mobile2Win has a tie-up with the telcos by which subscribers can download our properties as ring tone, caller tone etc. But good revenue is yet to come from this activity.

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