September 2, 2008

India: Radio Operators Bullish As Next Phase of Licensing Looms

Text of report by Indian exchange4media website on 2 September; subheadings as published

The Phase II of FM licensing has been both exciting and challenging for the radio industry. With the Phase III to be announced soon, exchange4media finds out from FM players what they expect from the government in the Phase III rollout.

The Phase II expansion saw the government issue 245 licences, and if the buzz in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) is to be believed, then over 600 licences are to be rolled out in Phase III. News and current affairs, increase in FDI [foreign direct investment] and multiple frequencies in radio top the radio industry wish list. What also remains to be seen is whether the government accepts TRAI's recommendations, particularly allowing FM stations to air news and current affairs.

According to Apurva Purohit, CEO, Radio City, and president, Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI): "While Phase II has been fairly progressive for private FM, radio still remains one of the most regulated mediums in India today. In comparison to other media, diversification of content, ability for the businesses to expand or consolidate, change their investment patterns and benefit from economies of scale, are extremely restricted."

The ideal time

So when is the ideal time for the Phase III rollout? The sooner the better, is what most industry players want. This would be the ideal time for the Phase III rollout.

Harrish Bhatia, COO, My FM, felt that the rollout should be done as soon as possible. "News will help radio's acceptance and growth in our country and will further help the expansion of radio in India," he added.

Echoing the same, Naval Toshniwal, CEO, Tomato FM, said: "As soon as possible. It is long due now. Fortunately, the government has won the vote of confidence and they should take the advantage to push the Phase III expansion as soon as possible."

Radio wish list for Phase III

While currently the growth in radio advertising has come on the back of its geographical expansion and ability to reach out to national audiences, the next increase will only come when reach within each of the cities starts moving up. This can only happen when multiple frequencies are allowed. Thus, ownership of multiple frequencies is the key need of the hour.

According to Purohit: "Multiple licences to broadcasters in the same city will give rise genre-based FM stations. Apart from this, FDI in radio continues to be at 20 per cent, the lowest compared to print and television media. We are hoping for this number to go up. Broadcasting news and current affairs on radio would also add to the diversity of content and we are hoping that we receive a go-ahead on this one."

Bhatia said, "We would like the government to grant permission for broadcasting news and current affairs programmes on private FM radio stations. Apart from this, the advertisements by political parties should also be allowed on radio. When print and TV carry political advertisings in India, it should be open to radio as well."

Having a different take and giving a regional flavour, Toshniwal observed, "Phase III expansion should ensure more numbers of local players coming into the industry and script a policy that will deter a monopolistic situation or a consolidation phase in the industry, which is happening at present."

Sunil Kumar, MD, Big River Radio, noted: "As an industry player I would want the government to follow the TRAI guidelines in total."

Monica Patnaik, director, Eastern Media Ltd (Radio Choklate), too wanted the government to follow the TRAI recommendations.

With the success of Phase II, the industry is definitely bullish on Phase III.

Originally published by exchange4media website, Mumbai, in English 2 Sep 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Media. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.