Having spent over Rs 117 crore as licence fees in the third and latest round of auctions, Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd (RBNL) has stepped up its efforts to build the Big FM brand across markets, pitching itself to advertisers and listeners as more than just a frequency to be tuned into. It standardised its logos and communication formats a few months back and is now building a library of content while drawing advertisers into what it calls media-dark regions such as the North East. The challenge, as it sets out to do so, will be not only to bring in new listeners and advertisers but also to establish an identity that works across its media properties. The idea is to drive the brand across TV and radio. Tarun Katial, CEO of RBNL says, "In case of Big FM, the recall of the brand is very strong. We want to focus on this." Big has two TV channels - Big Magic and Big Ganga - and one radio station, Big FM. RBNL has stuck to the Hindi heartland for its new licences where, it believes its programming resonates the most, and it has acquired licences for two towns in the North East. Katial explains that since most of his advertisers are national players, the task is now to upsell inventory in the new markets. "We have some unique formats (on-air) and plan to expand them nationally. Since they are established properties, they have a recall among advertisers. We see a lot of scope to upsell the North East frequencies to certain categories like personal care brands," says Katial. To do that the Big has to build a strong brand. The huge expense incurred by private radio operators during the third phase of auctions also makes brand building an unavoidable imperative. At the recent auctions, the industry spent over Rs 3,000 crore for new licences and migration fees while advertising revenues were just Rs 1,720 crore in 2014; without a sharp spike in this number, many stations could soon fall of the frequency charts. Hence the need to build a brand that companies and consumers can both identify with easily. To make things more difficult, the third phase has allowed operators to hold multiple frequencies in one city. While this is expected to expand reach and improve profitability, without a strong branding strategy, it could confuse listeners and advertisers. Also, Tarun Katial says that until now, the companies held one common frequency across territories.
However, that has changed. So while Big had the license to use 92.7 FM across territories until Phase Two, now it has other frequencies too. At an operational level this is not a major concern, but it is a marketing challenge because radio stations have always been identified by their frequencies. Katial says that clarity is more important than maintaining uniformity in frequencies. Since the number of frequencies and territories up for auction in Phase Three was significantly more than the previous auctions, there were many instances where frequencies would have over-lapped, leading to distorted signals. "It is a challenge no doubt. But in the choice between marketing ease and clear signals, companies will prefer clear signals. We look at it as an opportunity to reiterate the positioning based on the content. Big has a strong presence in the (Hindi) heartland thanks to the TV channels as well as in the 45 cities we were already present," says Katial. The third largest spender in the auction behind HT Media (Fever FM) and Entertainment Network India Limited (Radio Mirchi), Big's strategy was to fill the gaps in territories where it is already present and/or has synergies with its television arm and enter virgin territories where it gets the first-mover advantage. "Even with the 15 per cent cap (radio operators cannot hold more than 15 per cent of the stations across the country), we were able to take the total count to 59. We picked up frequencies like Lucknow, Varanasi, Nagpur and Pune. The North East is a comparatively media dark region and so offers a lot of scope as an advertising medium," says Katial. The company stayed away from the South where many regional channels compete for a small slice of the pie. Since advertising is the primary revenue driver for the medium, a radio operator has to weigh the pros and cons of in this manner. This is also why HT Media and ENIL paid whopping amounts for markets like Delhi and Mumbai where ad-rates are as high as Rs 1,900 for a 10 second spot as compared to markets like Kanpur or Lucknow where the rates peak at around Rs 660 for 10 seconds. Building a strong brand, Big hopes will help it bag bigger deals.