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This is truly radio’s finest hour, and it is a perfect companion for brands in the new world, says Abraham Thomas of Big FM

In a conversation with, the CEO of RBNL (Big FM) says the government must restore its advertising on radio, clear overdue outstanding payment, waive licence fees and other charges. He says radio platforms need to be digital-first organisations as the lockdown has forced people to explore new possibilities

Abraham Thomas

A crisis can change consumer behaviour and it is important to understand the changing business challenges, says Abraham Thomas, CEO, RBNL (Big FM). “The next priority is to understand the changing business challenges, to be agile and flexible, as survival depends on the ability to innovate and mould ourselves with the changing times,” he said.

Talking about the impact of the lockdown, he said the Covid crisis has hit the radio industry hard, which was already dealing with the pressure of reduced ad spends from advertisers and the Government.

According to him, this is truly radio’s finest hour, and it is the perfect companions for brands and partners in the new world.


The unprecedented situation because of the Covid crisis is set to create new normal in almost every field. What would be the new normal for radio, its audience and its advertisers in a post-Covid world?

I agree that the current situation is unprecedented but it is also teaching us a new way of life. It is forcing us to open our minds to explore new possibilities and to look at opportunities in a whole new light. Right now, the priority for us is the safety of our people and our communities while staying open for business so that the economy isn’t hampered and societies can continue to function. We believe people are the most valuable assets of every brand, which will ultimately resurrect the business after this situation. A crisis like this can change consumer behaviour and it’s important to observe this change.

The next priority is to understand the changing business challenges, to be agile and flexible, as survival depends on the ability to innovate and mould ourselves with the changing times. Another important aspect is scenario planning to gear up for the new normal. In the new normal, we cannot be digitally lazy but need to be a digital-first organisation.

Already the learnings from our remotely managed work-from-home model and the online connections with our partners are paving the way for the new normal. Our pioneering self-service platform,, which facilitates online booking of ads and payments, is an example of becoming a digital-first organisation. This pandemic has also re-established the strength of radio as high in-home listenership and high consumption on mobile devices has driven higher time-spent and reach for the radio. All radio networks have done some exemplary work. This is truly radio’s finest hour.

How long will it take for the experiential division of FM stations to revive?

Radio + digital + social is the new normal. It has already started with on-air concerts, Instagram gigs, RJs from different stations collaborating on content and so on. Webinars are becoming the new normal for the congregation of audiences. Surround content around Ramayana and Mahabharat on DD have begun. So there is already a lot of experiential content happening and it will only get better with advanced technology. Our own morning show ‘Onward and Upward’ with thought leaders from within and from the industry giving context, sharing trends, insights and ideas for the new normal, has about 200 people in attendance every day.

People say the listenership of radio has been hit because of no travel and people relying more on other means of entertainment. How would you outdo this perception in the absence of a credible scientific measurement currency?

Radio has always had high in-home listening compared to out-of-home listening. The recently concluded study commissioned by the AROI, done across six cities, clearly shows that at-home listenership increased by 22% from 64% to 86%, time spent listening has gone up by 28% and 82% of the population tuned into FM Radio for credible information during the lockdown. Radio has a very high credibility score of 6.27, and the mode of listening to radio is mostly mobile.

As per IRS Q3, 2019 data, out of total radio listenership in the last one month, 65% listeners tuned to their favourite shows from home while 26% listen to radio while travelling. 52% listen to the radio on their mobile phone, 31% listen on their radio sets while 16% listen on their car radio.

With shrinking advertising in a struggling period, how do you expect the government to help the industry?

The radio business was reeling under the effects of the cut in ad spends by advertisers, including government, with most players expected to degrow by -20% this fiscal. The Covid-19 impact has further hit the industry hard. This industry directly/indirectly impacts over 20,000 people. The Association of Radio Operators for India has been seeking relief from the government through the restoration of Government spending, payment of overdue outstanding, waiver of licence fees and other charges by the government and Prasar Bharti.

What can radio do for brands to more than survive in the new world?

Being a free-to-air medium that’s immensely credible and instantly available to the masses 24X7, we believe we are the perfect companions for brands and partners in the new world. Even during the lockdown, we continue to offer value through our specifically devised programming content.

Our aim is to tap into local sentiments and take optimum advantage of being a local medium. Our RJs across our 58 stations in the country are local influencers who play a telling role in engaging, entertaining and educating listeners. In such times, it’s important to cater to our listeners, partners, stakeholders and tailor our solutions taking into account the sensitivity of the changing environment.

What will be paramount in planning post-Covid strategy with your clients?

We and our partners are trying to gauge the situation in detail and how it is affecting the clients. Post-Covid, trust and credibility of brands will become even more critical. To cope in such a market, we need to be innovative, agile, flexible and be willing to work out win-win solutions that go beyond radio, ideas that are platform-agnostic exploring digital and other mediums to work in tandem. These were mere buzz words earlier but now it is time to make them work.

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