Interview with Managing Director & Chief Executive Officer, Entertainment Network (India) Limited A P Parigi
 

"Radio's share in the ad pie will grow to six or seven per cent in four to five years"

Posted on 15 January 2004
 

A P Parigi joined the Times group in May 2000, after a stint as CEO of BPL Mobile, at a time when Indian media was poised at a crossroads. His shift to media was an unplanned one and one that Parigi admits was a major shift from a technology driven field to a personality dominated arena.

Nearly four years down the line, Parigi has, in his capacity as MD of Entertainment Network and CEO of Times Infotainment Media, developed the Radio Mirchi brand as a pioneer in the sector with not many models to follow and emulate, and has built 360 Degrees, the Times event management business, into a power brand.

He has taken the often frustrating and challenging task of building a network of radio stations in spite of steep license structures and government restrictions in his stride. In conversation with indiantelevision.com's Aparna Joshi, Parigi reminiscises about his years thus far in media and looks ahead with optimism at the future of the sector.

 

Has radio lived up to the expectations around it?
We started Radio Mirchi on 4 October 2001. By June of the same year, market research was saying, 'Who listens to radio nowadays?' But by January 2002, the average time spent listening to Mirchi was 123 minutes per day, as compared to 129 minutes of television viewing. This is India for you, this is media for you, and this also is brand building for you.

There is a huge need out there which we can meet. Radio is a one on one companion for you. My first learning was that there is a market, and we were not wrong about the market. From day one, we knew the revenue would be a problem. We started with 25 team members, today we have over 250. As of 31 March 2003, we have a share of nearly 50 per cent of the revenues that accrue to private FM.

I was initially opposed to the word Mirchi, maybe because I was coming from a managerial, non media background. I thought it would be a turn off. But this is a unique contribution of Vineet Jain. He said, "Try it out," so we put it back into market research, and there again it came only third or fourth in preferred names. But Vineet persisted. I thought at the time that I would try the name in Indore, and if it didn't work out, I would try something else. Jain, however, turned out to be absolutely right. That's the difference in the two fields - media works on gut feel, telecom doesn't.

But then we found that the rate of growth was not adequate, one reason was that people had developed cold feet and had started pulling out. Also, nobody wanted to invest in category development. As a leader, we also had a certain responsibility - so we started a series of workshops, in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore for media planners - Radio Workz.

In a subtle way, we are committing serious resources to these initiatives. For the Kaan awards, we will have international auditors like PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young, a professional jury, and in two to three years, we are looking at a very large property.

The awards are merely the physical manifestation. What goes unnoticed is the underlying theme, which is to get the media and the product owner fraternity to encourage creativity. As in other parts of the world, radio is a cost effective medium, as the category of private FM develops, the more Radio Mirchi develops, not the other way round.

 

But that's all going to be possible when the government loosens up some of the tight regulations….
You know, nowadays it's fashionable for CEOs to take potshots at the government, because nobody doubts you. But mind you, we have an enlightened government. My only experience with the present government was in telecom reforms, but I can say that, when it comes to reform in radio, they have been very attentive. Yes, they have been a bit slow, but in any privatisation process, in any country that's run by a state, don't expect supersonic speed.

Yes, industry was as much a party to the bidding process as the government. Yes, it's a partnership and things do go wrong in a partnership. Industry overestimated the market, and the difference between those who continue to be in radio and those who dropped out is that of the speculative and non speculative. I am not saying I am smarter than the guy who dropped out.

But our intentions, now the government realises it, have never been suspect. Particularly RS Prasad, whom we met in February and June had by July, commissioned the task force, that too, headed by a private sector man. He could as well have appointed a retired judge or an IAS officer for the job. Not only that, they got the report out by November, further they have even put it up on the Net.

I am confident with the speed and transparency with which things have moved, that the next big bang reform after telecom, which has touched everybody's life, is radio.

 

Which of the taskforce recommendations will provide the biggest impetus for the growth of the sector?
The first thing is that viability, per se, is now being introduced. The quarrel around it if at all is how much, how soon and where. The report is very well worded, comprehensive…yes, some things in it don't suit us, but then the report is not meant to suit each individual. As a platform, I think it's solid.

But if you ask me to pinpoint any one thing that I would like the government to re-look into, it's the tenure of the license, because it has to enrich the viability of the project, so 10 plus five years is what it should be. What would be advisable for the government is to have an automatic 15 years -- that would make it an attractive investment destination.

 

What about the recommendation for a broadcast regulatory authority?
I am all for a regulator. Having raised private equity abroad for telecom and being associated indirectly with the financial community, a regulator signals the possibility of a level playing field. But I would still say the best form of regulation is self regulation.

 
"I was initially opposed to the word Mirchi, maybe because I was coming from a managerial, non media background. I thought it would be a turn off"
 

Will the permission to allow news and current affairs be the cutting edge factor for Mirchi?
The pedigree of the Times of India will definitely rub off positively. But I think Mirchi has demonstrated that as a stand alone corporation, it has been able to face competition.

 

What is Radio Mirchi's USP in a field where almost all players sound alike?
There are several factors which give Mirchi its distinctive look, but the first that comes to mind is the brand. I think it's a powerful brand, terrific brand recall and the product offerings that go with the brand, endorse what the brand stands for. Otherwise sometimes you can have a great marketing campaign, and the product doesn't do too well, you can't sustain it.

It's a tough medium because it's a dynamic medium. This is not television where you can shoot 14 episodes of a serial and then release it. The only thing dynamic about television is the news room. Radio is not like that. Radio is a genuine medium.

If I use the word 'superficial', people get scared. But when I say superficial, I mean, it does not have contextual depth. Like, you can have a psycho thriller at 1' o clock on television. But the same won't work on radio. Radio goes by the bio clock. A morning show, sunrise, and a sunset show. You can't have a psycho show or a saas type soap, radio can't do that.

I am just restating what I have learnt, am learning from radio's 50-year-old history. Morning shows are morning shows, afternoon shows are the same. You cannot try these things (experimenting, with genres), I mean, of course, you can try any stupid thing you want. But radio is essentially about companionship with the listener.

 

But the listeners who really seem to have built a rapport with the medium seem to be the SEC C and lower down. So where are the advertiser friendly listeners?
No. We have a huge youth component. Otherwise, we would have packed up long back. We are looking at something between the 15 and 34 age group, across all SECs though we are inclined to the A, B and Cs. See, India is the only country where there's an upper middle class, a middle middle class and a lower middle class. Nobody has actually done enough research on this, but each class is aspiring to be in the bracket above his own.

So, all this hype about SEC A, B and C is the great idea of media planners. India is a unique country, where you have single television households with all age groups watching the same show simultaneously. You have to understand media. Even I find it difficult after 30 years in the industry, it's not easy to fathom the Indian viewer, the Indian listener.

In Chennai, too, we are a close second. We are jostling. Take Kolkata, we are 55 per cent ahead of the competition.

For advertising, you couldn't get a better medium that's recession proof. We are the biggest entertainment medium. It's the only medium, again, that's free to air. I went to Ujjain, near Indore, the other day, and I was amazed to see even clusters of over 50 unemployed people listening to a radio set.

 
"India is the only country where there's an upper middle class, a middle middle class and a lower middle class. All this hype about SEC A, B and C is the great idea of media planners"
 
But what about radio's share in the ad pie, which has barely grown from one per cent to two per cent?
I am confident it will grow to six to seven per cent, in four to five years.
 

But will the players survive till then?
Yes, because the reforms will come in this year. I always assume positive.

 

How do you innovate in radio, in terms of programming?
If you are ready to pay me in dollars, I will give you the answer to that.

 

On a personal level, what brought you into media from telecom?
My shift to media was one of those unplanned moves. When I decided to leave telecom, somewhere deep down I knew I was going away from the big bucks. I was looking at doing something totally different. I had the same feeling when I joined Vineet Jain, as I did when I had joined Rajeev Chandrashekhar, both of whom were much younger to me, brighter than I am, but have a lot of respect for professional managers.

For me, the word 'start up' in Indian English, means 'managing uncertainty'. Particularly if you take up a job like I have, switching from a high platform to a media platform The kind of license fees that we had, getting into this industry, you needed a belief in oneself and in the company that you could change things some day. It's a huge risk, particularly if you make the change when you are 49 or 50.

Having said that, the scale of operations is much smaller in media. Two, media involves creativity, and somewhere, it's also very personality dependent. Telecom is people dependent, but not necessarily personality dependent, where you are dealing with consumers, clients technology, proven revenue models. As far as media is concerned, personalities matter - on air as well as off air. I think I crossed the hump the very first year and I nearly ran away from radio. But thanks to Vineet Jain who told me to wait; because it takes time to understand the medium. Today, for love or for money, I will never leave this medium.

 

Also read -
What the fight's all about........

 

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