More Milestones Of Akashwani Revamps Itself With New Programming Ideas

On June 8 in 1936, the Indian State Broadcasting Service (ISBS) renamed the national public broadcasting radio station from ‘Akashwani’ to ‘All India Radio'(AIR). ‘Akashwani’, established in 1930, was Prasar Bharati’s Doordarshan television’s sister service which was started during the British Raj. However, the liquidation of the company in March 1930 led to the ISBS taking over. More than 80 years on, All India Radio has undergone several makeovers and remains the government’s chief radio service. Even as other technology thrives, AIR still reaches the far corners of the country. Prime Minister Narendra Modi broadcasts his monthly address to the nation – Mann ki Baat – via AIR.

Mann Ki Baat is a monthly radio address given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which is aired across all AIR stations. The programme has also been visually adapted for telecast on Doordarshan channels. So far, AIR has aired 31 episodes of Mann Ki Baat. Recently, the government also announced a feedback program called Jan Ki Baat, where PM Modi will invite views and opinions from the people on various government schemes. This will be a part of the 20-day celebration marking three years of PM Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das is likely to start a radio address on the lines of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann ki Baat’ — an idea which is expected to be emulated by other states as well. The idea of a ‘CM Ki Baat’ was discussed during a recent meeting of Information and Broadcasting Minister M Venkaiah Naidu with Das in Ranchi. It is learnt that an MoU will be signed between the Jharkhand government, the All India Radio and Doordarshan for the programme. “The Mann ki Baat concept has attracted some state governments who have started thinking of having their own programmes on the same lines,” an official said.

Special programmes

Meanwhile, AIR has also lined up a series of programmes, including musicals, documentaries and discussions highlighting the achievements of the government in a bid to celebrate its three-year anniversary. Similarly, Doordarshan has also introduced a two-month-long programming blitz ranging from debates (on government schemes) to short films and online discussions. Going forward, AIR plans to extend the coverage of its FM channels to about 65% of India’s population. Currently, AIR FM operations cover 24.94% of the area and 36.81% of the population. AIR, which started as the Indian State Broadcasting Service, will complete 81 years of operations in June.

Various special programmes based on songs, documentaries and interviews are part of the All India Radio’s (AIR) strategy to highlight achievements of the Modi government on completion of its three years in office. These programmes will be broadcast through the AIR network of over 400 centres in Hindi, English and all regional languages, an information and broadcasting ministry official said.

Special discussions would be held on demonetisation, the legislation to regulate the real estate sector and amendments in tax treaties with various countries to “explain” in depth the rationale behind these decisions, he added. Interviews of experts and leaders and documentaries would be broadcast to “disseminate factual information” on various initiatives, including the ‘one rank, one pension’ scheme for exservicemen and tax reform measure GST.

One of the highlights is “serialised programmes” covering various schemes such as ‘Make in India’, ‘Digital India’, ‘Jandhan Yojana’, ‘Skill India’ and ‘PM Fasal Bima Yojana’. Besides, experts would be invited for phone-in programmes to address queries from listeners. It will cover areas such as Swachh Bharat Mission, yoga, labour reforms and real estate regulations, the official said. AIR will also air special programmes targeted at farmers, children and women.

Revenue growth

State-owned broadcaster All India Radio (AIR) recorded a revenue of Rs455 crore in the year ended 31 March, surpassing its annual target of Rs450 crore. All India Radio, owned by public broadcaster Prasar Bharati, had reported a revenue of Rs447 crore in 2015-16. The broadcaster earned about Rs80 crore in advertising revenue from its FM channels in 2016-17, up from Rs43 crore last year. AIR currently operates a total of 420 radio stations across the country. AIR’s network includes FM channels (FM Gold and FM Rainbow), local radio stations, Vividh Bharati stations and five community radio stations. AIR also extends operations to over 108 countries.

“Both AIR and Doordarshan have achieved their targets this year. The focus this year is on expanding digital radio and transforming analog transmitters into digital. AIR has received a lot of popularity because of Mann Ki Baat as well,” said an AlR official, who did not wish to be identified. Prasar Bharati runs both Doordarshan and All India Radio. For the year 2016-17, Doordarshan had recorded a net revenue of Rs827 crore, Rs27 crore higher than its annual target of Rs800 crore.

Ad potentiality 

All India Radio (AIR), run by public broadcaster Prasar Bharati, earned close to Rs80 crore from its FM radio stations in 2016-17, down from Rs110 crore in 2015-16. AIR’s FM network includes 25 FM Gold and FM Rainbow channels as well as a number of local FM stations. AIR Gold and Rainbow have a presence in cities like Bengaluru, Delhi, Chandigarh, Jalandhar, Chennai, Lucknow, Kolkata, Cuttack and Hyderabad.  The amount which AIR’s FM channels made is, sadly, small when compared to what some of the private FM channels earned during the same period even though the number of stations they own may vary. Although private FM broadcasters do not share their specific city-wise revenue from stations, according to the latest financial results of Times Group’s Entertainment Network India Ltd, the company that runs Radio Mirchi, the total revenue of the network was close to Rs556 crore. Music Broadcast Ltd (MBL) owned by the Jagran Group, too, reported revenue of Rs271 crore in the year ended 31 March 2017, reflecting a 20% rise. HT Media Ltd’s revenue from the radio business grew by 35.7% to Rs158.7 crore in the full year to 31 March, driven by news radio stations.

To be sure, the estimated size of the radio advertising market is close to Rs2,000 crore and the sector is growing at between 13% and 15% a year. It has been the fastest growing traditional medium for the last few years. With AIR’s penetration and reach, the broadcaster should have been ideally placed to exploit its FM channels commercially. It has stations in smaller places too where private FM may not have penetrated. But unfortunately, although it gets all the government ads, it does not make much money from private sector advertisers. The reason for apathy from private advertisers is not hard to find. Executives in private FM radio channels say that in today’s demanding environment, advertisers are not looking for plain vanilla free commercial time but seeking solutions for which AIR seems ill-prepared.

Solutions here refer to a range of advertising-related services that FM channels now offer to their clients. This could include programme integrations, Radio Jockey mentions, activations and much else. Although commercial spots or regular advertising continues to be their primary source of income, most radio stations have started providing services that go beyond traditional jingles. The purpose is to drive higher consumer engagement. For instance, radio broadcasters provide off-air solutions that involve using Radio Jockeys to promote the brands on-ground, at events where even the consumers can participate.

Advertisers seek both programming and promotion innovations. Brands work in close association with radio channels which offer brand integration solutions where a brand’s message to consumers of radio is offered as content rather than a commercial. That is not all. Some stations also allow radio jockeys to mention the names of the brands in their conversations.

Interestingly, while the ad rates for commercial spots on radio have not really gone up in the last few years, radio operators are able to charge a premium for such unique solutions to advertisers, helping them shore up their revenues. Currently, depending on the city, the station and the time, radio firms charge anywhere between Rs100 and Rs1,600 for a 10-second commercial.

Gopinath Menon, a media buying expert who runs his own consultancy, says that AIR’s income from FM channels is low as no one is really marketing or selling its channels. “It should allow programming innovations and other marketing solutions for advertisers,” he says, recalling his own experience with AIR FM channels that did not agree to any innovations, pushing him to move his brand’s entire business to a private channel. “Someone has to see AIR as a profit centre as brands are looking for solutions,” he says, adding that radio is a flexible and creative medium. “It delivers better than news channels since it is a localized medium,” he says. Clearly, the medium delivers reach both in small and big towns. It also lends weight to TV and print campaigns. “In short, what makes FM stations attractive to advertisers is the fact that they provide huge reach in important markets (such as Delhi and Mumbai), creative solutions, a young and wealthy audience and attractive brand images for clients to associate with,” says Prashant Panday, chief executive Radio Mirchi.

In future, AIR has plans to extend the coverage of its FM channels to about 65% of India’s population. Currently, FM operations cover 24.94% of the area and 36.81% of the population. It will be great if it can exploit its commercial potential too. Unless, of course, it wants to get out of commercial broadcasting and focus only on public service broadcasting. But that is another debate.

 DRM Capabilities

India is getting the whole nine yards on just what DRM digital radio can do, as All India Radio is beginning to demonstrate the full set of services that make up the DRM standard. As AIR moves into phase two of its DRM introduction to the country, the full features/services of the 37 DRM transmitters that were installed during phase one are being rolled out. The finalization of phase two will see the full-featured DRM services available to listeners, with a public information campaign just launched to inform people of the DRM radio platform and its benefits. DRM transmission from New Delhi/Nangli is reportedly already upgraded, with audio provided that is based on the xHE-AAC audio codec adopted by DRM. It also includes DRM text messages and Journaline, an advanced text service. AIR reports that currently 21 DRM transmitters are now operating in pure DRM for one hour everyday. AIR is also planning to boost DRM services in Chennai, Pune and Bangalore.

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