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Radio One engages upscale educated audiences: Vineet Singh Hukmani

Radio One is one of the most liked stations on Facebook in the radio markets of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Vineet Singh Hukmani, MD and CEO of Next Radio, talks about the strategy to become the social engagement leader and also attract investment

BestMediaInfo Bureau | Mumbai | July 15, 2016

[caption id="attachment_73041" align="alignnone" width="480"]Vineet Singh Hukmani Vineet Singh Hukmani[/caption]

A digital industry expert once said that every form of media is moving towards digital. When questioned about the future, he calmly said no medium will die; it will only enhance the power of the other. All forms of media are moving towards digital; newspapers are giving their content on websites and apps, radio players are going digital, television sets too are getting smarter with digital connectivity, and social media and mobile will remain drivers of the entire buzz.

It is indeed well said and is also the harsh truth. But it is interesting to take social media as a currency of measurement. Radio broadcaster 94.3 Radio One has leveraged well on this platform. It has been using social media to measure listenership engagement to make it one of the most liked stations on Facebook in the markets of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.

Vineet Singh Hukmani, MD and CEO Next Radio (94.3 Radio One), in an email interview, talks about what it takes to become the ‘audience engagement leader’ in the upscale radio space. Edited excerpts:

How do you see radio as a medium and what is your target and reach?

Radio is actually the first social media as it is ‘live’ and allows two-way interactions all day long. It allows for local community building. At Radio One, the target is upscale educated audience only and this has allowed us to create super engagement with the specific listener tribes we target. The size of our tribe is about 13 million upscale listeners in seven cities.

What is your content strategy?

We focus on content that matters to our audience. For instance, content on money/finances, sports and fitness, food, travel, entertainment, real estate, automobiles, books and theatre, new global trends and so on in a way that it mirrors the lives of our well profiled audience.

How has having an upscale audience helped you grow?

It is the best proof that our upscale audience engages superlatively to our on-air content which is mirrored online. The audience on social media is real and live and not ‘hidden’ or measured inaccurately by so-called listenership studies. Lastly, we can integrate content and advertiser messaging seamlessly on air and online and provide measurement data on the same with ease as our system is based on this methodology. While the mass audience does ‘listen’ to other radio stations, the upscale audience truly ‘connects’ with Radio One and therefore presses the like button.

What is your engagement score on social media?

We have over 70 per cent carefully engineered ‘interactivity score’ across our day, meaning we have more two way live conversations with listeners than any other radio station. As ‘well targeted’ two way conversations make interesting content for other upscale audience, the engagement multiplies in the right audience set.

What are the flaws of the current listenership studies?

The current listenership studies are archaic and out-dated. In this age of digitally connected, engaged, live audience, they use clumsy ‘diary recall’ methods which were invented in the late 1960s that attempt to provide ‘historic reach data’. The sample sizes are as small as under 1,000 listeners to measure an audience universe which is over 130 million people tuned at any time to FM radio in India. Even the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has pulled up these ‘rogue’ listenership studies due to lack of ‘efficiency,’ investment and of course laughable ‘statistical significance.’ Only digital methodology can truly serve an all-day live medium like radio. New, digital age clients and agencies want better return on investment (ROI) and social media is a fabulous and reliable currency as it reflects a real and live audience at any given point.

What has been the advertiser response?

While radio occupies just around four per cent of the advertising pie, almost all categories of advertisers are on radio. Also, the rate of growth of new advertisers coming on to radio and 'radio only advertisers' is growing at a very fast pace. With inventories being full on radio, rate increase is inevitable and it is already happening. The more radio forms a conjunct with digital, the more the value in radio will grow. We have realised that for us growing live engagement through radio and social media connect is what will lead to exponential growth. We are and aim to excel in being the ‘tribal engagement leader for upscale educated metro India’ and we are very ambitious and focused on that front.

How does Radio One use social media as a listener engagement currency?

The reason we succeed in this is because 95 per cent of our upscale listeners are also always online on social media. The penetration of ‘online listeners’ in the mass radio networks will be under 30 per cent due to huge spillover into massy audiences. Firstly, we mirror our ‘on air local city’ content live on social media by adding things that make it enjoyable on social media separately in each of our local city pages. This has made each of our local city pages say in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore cross over 300,000 likes each on Facebook which is far above the nearest competitor in each of these cities. We are therefore able to measure ‘engagement’ at any point of time, learn what is working and provide this to our clients. Our product teams now create products where on air and online connect is seamless so social media makes for the perfect listenership measurement currency.

Secondly, we also have national audience interest pages. For eg., the Radio One Cricket page has over 100,000 fans. Our Travel page has over 120,000 fans. We have national pages like Superwoman for women audiences, football, youth achievers and other national audience passion points. We are able to therefore connect advertisers with audiences both at local city level and national audience interest level with ease. So, if a client asks us ‘how is my promotion doing in Mumbai?’ or how is Radio One doing all-India on cricket, we are able to provide engagement data very quickly and accurately. Our sales, innovation, marketing and post evaluation teams are integrated into this kind of modern day ‘listenership currency system’ and that's how we ‘sell’ differently to our advertisers. In comparison, other radio networks only use outdated reach data that is ‘historic’, meaning it cannot be delivered live and cannot answer specific questions on engagement created by a particular program, promotion or interest area of the audience.

What are the challenges for Radio One going forward?

Our challenge at a business level is and always has been to maximize our operating profit. So topline has to grow but in a way that it is not at increased costs. So while we have spent on upgrading team size this year, also invested into knowledge upgrading and content engagement; we do not spend wildly on promotion or any areas where we are not sure of the margin of return. Even though annual licence fee costs have been increased by the government, which are being challenged in court by all players, we have not gone for new exorbitant licence costs, so our business does not have any new risks. With new radio players having bid very high licence fees, they are all firming up ad rates by over 20 per cent which is good for us.

Our biggest challenge is to stay differentiated and yet relevant in a growing commodity space. We have upgraded our innovation skills both on air and online through investing in more people and training to stay ahead on that front. Our greatest strength and opportunity will always be our people and we are proud to have the lowest attrition rate of under 4 per cent over the last 10 years.

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