Digital radio rides on snackable content, not just music, says Nisha Narayanan of Red FM

In an interview to, the COO of Red FM speaks about the business model of its recently launched digital radio platform, which will have everything, but music. She explains how radio is suffering in the absence of an independent listenership measurement system

Swagata Panjari
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Digital radio rides on snackable content, not just music, says Nisha Narayanan of Red FM

Nisha Narayanan

Red FM has set itself a difficult task of becoming the leading digital radio app platform, but without music, which has always been considered as the backbone of radio.

The reason why Red FM has ditched music for its digital platform is the expensive music royalty fee, copyright issues and massive popularity of music streaming apps.

“Music is not the only thing that defines radio. Snackable content such as popular shows of our RJs are getting a good response. We also have several engaging properties such as ‘Bauaa’ among others,” Nisha Narayanan, COO, Red FM, told in an interview.

Narayanan says the digital app will be an advertising-driven product and will produce web series, along with tying up with brands for branded content. “We have opened up a fresh revenue stream,” she said.

Talking about the growth of the radio industry, Narayanan said that FM platforms can’t realise their full potential unless the industry has a standardised listenership measurement mechanism.

“Since there is no research, there is no clear idea who is the top player. Also, the industry has been unable to increase ad rates because there’s no measurement of listenership. IRS can’t be used for radio,” she added.


What kind of programming will Red FM’s digital radio focus on? Will there be any similarities with terrestrial radio?

Red FM digital radio is a hardcore non-music app that is highly interactive and heavy on content. It will feature the making of the radio shows, behind the scenes, campaigns and content like ‘Bauaa’ and ‘Nand Kishore Bairagi’, among others. It will also feature some of the programmes that are also available on terrestrial radio. Basically, snackable content that is focused on humour and is highly interactive. The other things that will stand out for us will be that it is non-music and will have regional content across different languages.

Being a radio station, any particular reason to not include music in your digital offering?

The reason we don't have music on the digital offering is mainly because of copyright issues and expensive music royalty fee. Also, music streaming apps are hugely popular. Besides, I think that radio is evolving and music is not the only thing that defines radio. Now there is a lot of content and sub-brand built within the radio station and that is what we have taken forward on the digital app.

What will be the USP of Red FM’s digital radio? How are you planning to differentiate from other players?

One of the key factors is that we being the largest network, we do have a lot of focus on regional content be it Marathi, Bengali or Punjabi. There is a lot of regional focus, we think that regional is the way forward and that is what will help us stand apart. We have several sub-brands within the station be it our RJs like Malishka, Rana, Raunak or Ashish and there are a lot of shows. We are not focusing on long formats but on snackable content; all of these put together will help us to stand apart. Apart from being highly interactive, we will also offer regional shows. Being a radio station, we do have a strong sense and understanding of the local market and we do try to bring that in the app as well.

We have multiple audios and videos that are uploaded on the app so it is not a particular weekly or fortnightly format, every day multiple uploads take place. And most of uploads have received a high number of organic views, one million views easily. The slots for the shows are fixed, be it Bauaa, or Bairagi or Yeh Karke Dikhao, on different days.

What was the idea behind the launch of digital radio? Do you think this is the way forward for FM players to attract listeners and scale their business?

We can't ignore that there is a digital revolution, though radio is a very strong medium in itself. There are two things that we are aiming to achieve with the digital arm — one is that it is a very strong marketing tool for us, a lot of our programmes today have a digital extension and another aim is to have a strong business model with it. I do see a very strong revenue stream coming from digital. Based on the strength of the presence we have and the geographical spread that we have, I think collating all these together on an app will help us create engaging and entertaining content, and also stay true to what brands stand for.

What kind of business model are you looking into with digital radio? What kind of investment has been made?

The app is purely advertiser-led. Investment wise it is too early to talk but while we are focusing a lot more on the snackable content. We would want to get into web series and long format and drama as well. Currently, we are looking at it more as a marketing tool and social engagement platform. It is garnering good revenues for us and has got a phenomenal response. The average downloads rate is phenomenal and it is without any music on the app.

If it’s AVOD, what kind of response have you received from the advertisers? How many advertisers are on board?

We have been doing a lot of good content. We have got on board advertisers like Vodafone, HUL, Tinder, Havmor and Honor. They all are being very aggressive. They are doing interesting content on the app as well, so the advertisers and agencies are responding well to the app and in fact, we are winning multiple awards and several clients are coming on board. And we have been able to stay true to the brand philosophy of Bajate Raho.

So, does this also mean you are dabbling into branded content?

Yes, definitely we will be looking into branded content as well. We are in talks with a few people. It is too early to talk about it.

Now with the digital arm, will you be offering bundled business deals? Is bundling a profitable business proposition for radio?

Any client who is looking at us or radio as an industry will always want good ROI. And when I say ROI, it doesn’t just mean on-air proposition. It also means something that is on ground and online. I think by strengthening both on ground and online propositions, we are able to give a 360-degree package and therefore high ROI to clients and agencies, and a more effective and impactful campaign.

Coming to terrestrial radio, how are the newly launched stations doing? How are the advertisers’ responses?

The growth is coming from the smaller markets because somewhere I feel the growth in bigger markets is slow at some point. The new markets are growing aggressively and have been doing phenomenal growth.

It is said that radio ad spots are highly undervalued/ devalued, how do you plan to overcome this challenge? What is the way out?

I don't think the spots are undervalued, if you see bigger players they are a lot more competitive, in fact, they are competitive with television. What I think that doesn't help radio to grow or increase the effective rates within the radio industry is the lack of radio measurement. IRS is not the tool to measure radio, after all, it is a readership survey. I think it is time for the radio industry to wake up as one unit and come up with an industry measurement tool. If we are able to do something like that then we will be able to grow the business much higher than what it is today. We will be able to increase the rates because one can show the client and agencies the kind of response we are getting and the kind of target audience we have. Since there is no research, there is no clear idea of the top radio station. Everyone claims to be number one. So, I am saying if we genuinely want to increase rates, we need a proper measurement system.

What kind of ad-rate hike will we see this year?

As the network grows and we continue with our geographical spread, we are looking into an effective way of increasing ad rates. It has to happen because we can’t increase the number of ads that can be played in an hour. We all have to restrict and do some self-regulation by sticking to a set number of minutes the ads are being played on the station. The only sensible way to increase business is by increasing ad rates.

At Red FM, we have won several awards and have some strong sub-brands like RJ Malishka and RJ Raunak among others. Based on this, we have been able to raise our ad rates and the ROI which we are being able to give to our clients. It is a very primitive way of increasing and now it is high time to bring in a proper measurement system in radio.

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