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2007: Radio powers ahead-Radio Mirchi CEO Prashant Panday

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Its an amazing feeling when you sit back at the end of the year and think of what ACTUALLY happened during the year and in most cases, the stories are of incrementalism. In the case of radio fortunately, there's a much more substantial story to write home about!

For starters, radio spread out across the country. From just about 15 cities covered by private FM on 1 January, 2007, we have more than 50 towns boasting of private FM across the country today. This is on account of the roll-outs of the new stations that were auctioned under phase II of the radio reforms in Jan 2006. Its been a long wait, but finally, the radio networks have arrived! And there is a medium today that challenges the national coverage that satellite TV hitherto offered exclusively.

Then there is the fairly robust growth of radio advertising revenues to write about. I would only call it "fairly robust" and not "terrific" (an adjective I am prone to use every now and then!) simply because while the growth has been in excess of 50 per cent for the second year running, the fact is that on the small base that radio had/has, a century would have been nicer! Nevertheless, two years of good growth, and its clear no advertiser/agency planner worth his basic MBA degree is asking questions like "Radio? What's that?" or "But you charge more than even MTV"!!

Yes, radio rates have indeed gone past MTV's. In fact very substantially. Today the larger radio players (City, Mirchi) charge more for Mumbai or Delhi individually than MTV charges nationally. But are the prices commensurate with what they deliver? No way and that's what makes the story for 2008 (You will realise I am already preparing the piece for next year's story!). In terms of the importance of the medium, radio is inching closer and closer to TV. For eg., Mirchi alone gives more reach (and now the diary (RAM - though only 17per cent accurate) shows that it delivers more GRPs too!) than most TV channels. And the advertiser realises that and has started to pay us accordingly. Today, the average price for the Mirchi network is of the order of Rs 12,000 per 10 seconds with premium schedules going upwards of Rs 15,000. Same question again: Commensurate with what we deliver? No way!

Its interesting how radio truly has reflected the growth in the Indian economy itself. The largest segments of advertisers on radio are media and entertainment, telecom, retail, auto and of course the all-time-favorite FMCG (but with declining importance).

Here-in also lies the prognosis for 2008. Radio is bound to grow - When businesses are spreading their wings into the mini-metros and smaller towns, the primary medium for communications is indeed radio! As brands seek more touch-points for their brands at local levels, the ONLY medium really is radio (adding strength to an activation exercise). When advertisers need consumers to respond to their products, they will have no where to go but radio. When IPOs market themselves, and target certain key but dispersed markets (Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Surat, Calcutta, Mumbai), the only real medium to hammer home the reminders is radio. 2008 surely looks like a good year for radio!

In summary, the year 2007 reflects the coming of age of radio. The romance has started. The first date has happened. Now the real action should be unfolding. Hopefully, this will a happy story and not a Balaji tearjerker!!

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