| 28 Feb 2024
Ashwin Padmanabhan: Delhi has an affinity towards retro music

One of the leading players in the market today, Big FM has been one network that does not follow the trends ruling the radio industry. Having ventured into testing waters on their own understanding of the market, the station has faced some hits and misses in the past few years.

Aiming to now move up in its various markets through new strategies, Big FM North and South business head Ashwin Padmanabhan shares his focus for a renewed Big FM:

Big FM recently emerged as a leader in Delhi after a long time.

While we saw the big change recently, it was all originating from a change we did around 19 months back. In late 2011, we studied the Delhi market, and on the basis of that study took a retro positioning in there. We became a pure retro station in the city and had confidence that it will give us results. Over the past 13-14 months, we have seen our share more than double, we used to have a share of around six and now we average at 11-11.5. Consistently we have seen growth coming from this change of strategy, change of music and concepts.

What made you feel that retro would help you propel upwards in Delhi?

We did a research to understand what works in Delhi in terms of content and music. Very clearly retro emerged as the music choice in terms of likeability and stickiness across age groups. If we actually go deeper into our growth across our target audiences, it’s not as if the younger audiences do not listen to it at all. Delhi has an affinity towards retro and we have seen a large number of youth tuning into our station even after we changed our positioning. The fact that traditionally, All India Radio Gold has done very well in Delhi also cannot be ignored.

Highlight some of the key changes that you witnessed after the change?

Apart from the music, we obviously looked at the overall positioning as very local and mature. We relooked at our RJ line-ups and brought in a few more RJs who can connect to a mature audience. We brought in new shows into the line-up, so now we do a show called ‘Big Star’ in the afternoon which has consistently been rated as a number two-three show. We have an early morning show which has been consistently rated number one. Our morning show has grown to number two and three, which is a dual-jock show with a male and female RJ. Both of them belong to the city, speak the language and also connect with the kind of issues Delhi faces. So broadly we have looked at some factors which are:

a. Providing a platform for audiences to express themselves.

b. Looked at great retro music, for which again we have done a lot of research. We have looked at what kind of artistes work and are preferred by the people in Delhi. As the retro database is so huge, we also did some music testing to understand what kinds of songs are preferred by the Delhites.

What were the novelty factors that helped you achieve this success?

Our station in Delhi is an extremely local one. Our positioning is around the tagline ‘Hit The Hit Rahenge’ which relates to songs that were a rage in the yesteryears and will continue to remain so. We have taken this theme into everything that we are doing. So, we are looking at places or cultural aspects that were a rage earlier and still continue to be the same today.

We are also extending the same into a series of concerts. Infact when we changed our station, we started it with a concert by Kailash Kher where he paid tribute to all the golden era songs. We will be continuing that in this year as well where we will have a series of concerts celebrating old music the way young singers see it. Our first concert should be around April, and we are looking at doing one concert every quarter. We are still talking to the artistes but it will be an A-list line-up and we will finalize it soon.

We did a research across many markets and we did this change of going retro in Surat, Indore and Bhopal also. So four cities went retro and we have seen a change happening in all of these cities. Infact we already did a concert in Indore and Bhopal, where we also created a platform for people to come and express themselves and also showcase their talent. It was called ‘Big Hindustani’ and was a search on radio and on-ground for singers from the two cities who could render old patriotic songs. It culminated on Republic Day and we actually had two winners who performed in front of a huge audience. So this concept is happening across cities.

What kind of a market research did you do and how did you gauge audience reach after the change?

Initially we did a mix of an internal and external study. In internal, we have a process called consumer home visits so we did that extensively for a month across the target audience just to understand their consumption tastes. That gave us a lot of valuable insight. We also had a third party study which we commissioned sometime back. That gave us a lot of insights into the quantitative aspects of people’s lives along with qualitative aspects as well. Based on these studies, we had the ground work done on the change that we wanted and once we made the change, we started seeing a trend in improvement close to two months after the change happened. Radio takes some time to grow on people so from the eighth week onwards since the change happened, we have steadily seen an increase in our sampling and the time spent listening. That resulted in the doubling of the share as we stood at the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013.

Highlight the growth in terms of listenership, revenues?

As per the IRS data of Q3, overall we have seen a good 25-30 per cent growth in listenership from the time we made the change across Indore and Bhopal. While the two cities have traditionally performed well for us, Surat has picked up now as it used to be a challenge for us earlier. In terms of revenue, we have seen a growth of around 40 per cent in Surat and close to 25 per cent in Indore and Bhopal. In Delhi, revenues have been growing consistently and over the last year we have seen a growth of 20 per cent with a listenership growth of 40 per cent with an average 50 lakhs audience.

How do you aim to encash this to other markets as well? What is your key strategy in the metro markets?

We have been doing similar stuff, but not such a dramatic change that we did in Delhi. There we had a particular problem where we had not made much of a ground in terms of growth earlier. But if you look at our Bangalore station, we have got in new shows, heightened the kind of music we play and we have seen a good growth there. We were the undisputed leaders there for a long time and today again we are close to that position. Hopefully in the next couple of months we should get there. Chennai is another station where we have witnessed good growth as it has a melody positioning. The layer that we have added in its contemporary format is that we play a lot of melody. We have great content in terms of a great evening show, the most awarded RJ Balaji. So we have again invested there in people, content and understanding what kind of music works well for audiences there. So we have seen a significant improvement in these markets.

What kind of new sampling opportunities have been created for you now?

There are some ways in which we are engaging the audience. One is, by creating some good exclusive content on-air around music and stars. So we signed on Karishma Kapoor for our Big Memsaab show which airs in the afternoon. We also got in chef Rakesh Sethi again for the same show for another segment. We have another great show in Yaadon ka Idiot Box with Neelesh Misra. So we have been investing in creating some innovative and path breaking content on-air. We are also looking at creating a platform which allows us to engage with audiences at a mass level which goes on-ground and on-air. The third is that we are launching a platform of expression for our listeners like Big Hindustani. We are launching a show called ‘Big Star Voice’ which will be a singing talent hunt allowing winners to sing in a movie. This will be launching within a month or more and we are working on the details. This talent hunt will be tweaked according to the positioning of the different markets in our network.

In your other markets like Kolkata and Mumbai what is the reason Big hasn’t been able to lead recently?

In Kolkata we are a very strong number two and our breakfast show is the number one morning show there. We are actually doing very well in the city. We have just made some changes in Mumbai based on some research we have done and I am very confident that we will see Big FM rebounding back in the city as well. Mumbai is one market where we are really putting in a lot of effort and we should see a significant change in the region soon.

Radio is a process of evolution. It took us 12 months to reach the stage where we are in Delhi. While we are growing, obviously somebody is going down. It’s a constant process where we need to have our ear to the ground and it’s critical that we listen to what the consumers are demanding. It’s a dynamic environment where the consumers are changing. What may work today may not be relevant tomorrow. What is critical is that, we stay ahead of the curve and anticipating the changes that are happening. But if we cannot do it, we will see a decline which is what we saw. So we have identified the decline in some markets like Mumbai and will be moving up soon.

In Mumbai too, we will be going more local and strongly see that as a growth aspect. It is a cosmopolitan city and local will not mean that we become a Marathi station there. But we will try to get in the Marathi flavour into the station.

How will you approach the tier II and tier III markets?

We believe that local and regional is the base for our strategy. Infact we recently commissioned a research across our tier II markets and we hope to get to see results. It is not just an audience measurement research but it will help us more about the markets as well in terms of cultural and social changes. The tier II markets are growing and changing tremendously, people’s spending and lifestyle is growing in the last five to six years. This research will tell us how to grow our programming accordingly. So there is a very strong focus on our tier II markets and we believe in being relevant to each and every city where we are present.

What has been the role of advertising sector in radio’s growth this year? How was it for Big FM?

Radio is a traditional medium and we all believe that it has grown to about 12-15 per cent in 2012. A lot of this growth has come from advertising and advertisers coming from tier II cities who are becoming national players now. There are a lot of regional players now who are launching a lot of products across the country. Radio is the medium they have chosen to do these product launches. So our localization strategy should see us capitalizing on many of these aspects. Personally for Big FM, we have been in line with the industry in terms of overall growth and have mirrored the growth of the medium.

Which sector was the most consumed by audience? How do you aim to approach advertising in 2013?

We see FMCG’s spending more. They continue to look at TV as the main medium but they are spending significantly on radio now. This is allowing them to get into the depth of coverage where TV cannot reach and is enabling them to localize their communication to a great extent and drive engagement. We have seen some level of rebound happening on the BFSI sector, we have seen them coming back this year. We have also seen the automobile industry taking onto radio in a big way, and in some markets even luxury auto makers have used radio extensively. An example is that BMW uses radio a lot in Chandigarh. So there is certainly a big shift in the usage of radio by automobile companies now. Apart from that, the IT services, e-commerce businesses, retail which has traditionally always used radio and real estate is also using radio extensively now. In markets like Delhi, real estate is a big segment.

We have strategies for what we see as growth areas in terms of the macro-economic conditions. Based on the cities and markets, we have micro versions of our strategies. So we are looking at new ways to approach them and create specialized products for them. For example, we have a series of awards that we do and that helps bring on-board a lot of brands that have never spent on radio. These awards have been used for different purposes like launching a product, to connect with their channels and more. So we will see significant growth coming from there as well.

Elaborate a bit on your marketing focus and strategies.

We will continue to have a marketing focus which will be driven by local itself like a Green Ganesha in Mumbai or Big Hindustani in Bhopal. We will continue to invest in some of these properties and also focus on creating platforms which will help us to get people on radio and also drive a huge amount of participation on-ground. We will also try to bring in more celebrities and their different facets which others have not seen. We have such a show in Bangalore and that investment is paying off for us, so we will continue doing that. Apart from that we will also create good content on-air which is differentiated from pure RJ or music driven programming.

Will on-ground events continue to play a major role in Big FM’s growth?

Yes because I think sampling gets driven by the fact that the closer you are to your listener. The extension of your product on-ground allows consumers to actually experience the brand at a personal level.

Which are the future markets you want to tap into?

We will look at plugging in some of the gaps that we have in the mini-metros and will surely look at expanding our depth of coverage in the markets where we are strong. So broadly that would drive where we go. But we will do that as the roll-out happens in terms of policy and auctions.