Radio readies to milk Indo-Pak cricket series

MUMBAI: A ban on news and current affairs may stymie their efforts, but private FM players in the country have worked their way around the problem with imaginative cricket programming that hopes to rope in as many advertisers as possible.


Despite the optimism of 'premium rates' that can be charged under the pretext of the 'historic series', it is a small pie that the private players are fighting for, many of whom are still tying in the big brands who will sponsor the main show. While pre-event programing, including innovative contests, has managed to rope in the smaller clients, it is All India Radio, which scooped up the radio broadcast rights from Ten Sports for $ 40,000 that's laughing all the way to the bank. While Prasar Bharati's marketing director Vijayalaxmi Chhabra says she has mopped up Rs 65 million by selling radio sponsorships alone, private players grumble about the 'advantages of a monopoly' that give AIR the distinct edge.

Not surprising. AIR has pocketed BPCL, Airtel, HLL and Dabur as presenting sponsor - each has paid Rs 4 million each, and have been allotted 450 seconds per match day, while LG, Hero, Reckitt Benckiser, Pepsi, Ranbaxy and Ministry of Road Transport and Highways ? having paid Rs 1 million each, have been given 210 seconds of ad time per match day are the associate sponsors. "We are concentrating only on the big brands now," says Chhabra happily. "In fact, Airtel did not even have radio ads ready before signing up AIR," she says.

For the private players, despite the score updates offered nearly every 15 minutes, the advertising opportunity is coming only from the sponsorship packages. Most of the stations, though, have tied in big brands already. Win has picked up BPL Mobile and HP Turbojet, while Go says it has bagged Royal Stag, Orange and Yahoo. Radio Mirchi, too, claims it has tied in five to six big brands. Stations have been able to step up rates a bit, but the average rate has not been able to rise above the Rs 900 mark, say insiders. Most properties are being sold as packages, with sponsors being allowed to choose the daypart spots they want to air their ads on, while some are being sold as parts of a package (like the score updates).

Still, it is AIR which is charging a whopping Rs 10,000 per 10 seconds and ruing the fact that it is only the five ODIs which have to pull the advertising on their strength. "If there were more ODIs, we could have reaped more," says Chhabra. Yet, AIR's efforts in mopping up the Rs 65 million have been more concerted than the exercise which yielded the Rs 70 million from the World Cup last year, she opines. Also, many advertisers have preferred the much cheaper radio medium of AIR to Ten Sports, which many find too exhorbitant to give enough bang for the buck.

But while AIR too is toying with innovative talk shows during lunch hour, it is the private players who have to strive to come up with programming that's distinctive. Radio City has lined up fun chanting that involves listeners, and cricket in swing which offers trivia on the sport, while Mirchi has a tie-up with BBC for more cricket inputs. According to Radio Mirchi COO Prashant Panday, the station is sending a team to Pakistan for coverage of the series, and apart from the pitch reports and analyses, has come up with an on-air character called Cavas who will offer his own take on the series.

Win has been, since 27 February 2004, airing fact based interstitials in a countdown show, India Se Takkar, a daily contest which tests the listener?s knowledge of India?s records, achievements and winning moments versus the rest of the cricketing world, Googly Ya Bouncer, a weekday feature that gets one lucky listener to answer three questions, as also an innovation called Radio Cricket that gets two teams to play radio cricket with the host.

Go's programming head Vishnu Athreya says the station has, for the first time, capitalised on its association with parent Mid-Day whose correspondents are going to be positioned in Pakistan for the event. In its week long run-up programming, it had the likes of Sanjay Manjrekar, Krish Srikkanth, Kapil Dev, Mohinder Amarnath and Harsha Bhogle talking about the series, while the next two days will see the launch of two contests.

Red went into ground initiatives, with listeners sending their wishes to the team via the radio station, and a partnership with Hindustan Times in which 'Best of Luck' cards were put up at major hangouts in the capital. Junoon, a programming initiative that features daily SMS polls and history capsules are also part of the Red deal.

The frenzy that accompanies cricket in the country, particularly with Pakistan in the picture, has helped radio stations temporarily get over the depression that the withdrawal of advertising by political parties had imposed, although, of course, the really keen cricket fan has the option of switching to AIR for the commentary!

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