Radio listenership surges but broadcasters await govt signal

A surge in radio listenership has come as music to the ears of the radio broadcasting industry, which is reeling under high operating costs, falling ad revenue and stiff competition from other mediums. But the industry players feel that the spike is only temporary and only policy-level support from the government can keep the music playing.

A recent study by AZ Research PPL said the average time spent on radio has increased by 23 percent (or 30 minutes) to 2.36 hours everyday during the lockdown. This is second only to television which witnessed a 25 percent (or 40 minutes) growth to 3.30 hours per day.

The survey, commissioned by the Association of Radio Operators for India (AORI), was conducted with a sample size of 3,300 interviews across Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad and Bengaluru during March 30 to April 4.

It also highlighted that radio listenership touched a peak of 51 million, which is close to the reach of television (56 million) and social media (57 million).

“From our experience and the number of calls and messages that we are getting, we can definitely say that it (listenership) has almost tripled,” said Nisha Narayanan, COO and Director, RED FM and Magic FM.

“Although the industry is operating out of home, it continues to engage with listeners and a lot of information flow is happening, which is heartening to see.” she added.

RED FM network, part of Sun Group, broadcasts from 69 stations in various languages such as Hindi, Punjabi, Bengali, Telugu and Tamil across 64 cities in the country.

The study also revealed that 82 percent people have been tuning in to radio during the lockdown, with FM channels emerging as the second most credible source of information for the masses, after television.

“We have always maintained that radio is a responsible medium. We are doing a lot to address the issue of fake news and unverified stuff and to calm down people,” Abraham Thomas, CEO of Reliance Broadcast Network (RBN), which operates Big FM, said.

“So now there is calming, engagement as well as entertainment quotient in our radio,” he added.

Home’s where the action is

FM broadcasters have put the spike in listenership and listener engagement to more meaningful use.

For instance, RJs at Big FM are doing live broadcasts without censoring the background noise of their homes. This not only gave the real feel of work at home for the RJs as well as the listeners but also underscored the need to stay at home.

“Also, we are allowing only authorities to come and give out information regarding health utilities and ratified news updates across our network,” Thomas said.

But the spike is only a temporary phenomena. The industry is facing larger survival issues.

Jarring note

For instance, the government, which is one of the biggest advertisers on radio, has cut back its ad spends by as much as 80 percent leaving the industry in the lurch.

The industry also has huge outstanding dues from the Directorate of Advertising and Visual Publicity (DAVP); many of them due for more than two years.

Above all, the broadcasters have to shell out a huge amount as licence fee to the government and Prasar Bharti.

“The last couple of years have been a bit slow for the industry. Most players in the industry were looking at negative 20 percent de-growth in the last fiscal. Besides, a huge cut in government spending has put additional pressure on the industry,” Big FM’s Thomas said.

Last month, AROI, the FM broadcasters’ association, wrote to the government seeking a bailout package. The three-pronged package asked for a one-year moratorium on licence fee, restoration of government advertising on radio and clearing the long-pending payments from DAVP.

“We are requesting the government to utilise radio. It is in times like this that radio should be delivering news and current affairs and right information because it reaches out to 82 percent of the population including the poorest of the poor,” Narayanan added.

―The Hindu Business Line

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