As originally published in Synergyzer Issue 2 – Annual 2017 – ‘Abracadabra’

Synergyzer takes opinions from leading people in the radio industry about the challenges facing the industry and the importance of setting up a yardstick mechanism to gauge real-time listenership.

 

MEHDI RAZA

CEO
Apna Karachi FM 107

What are your views on the challenges radio operators are facing in Pakistan?

Radio is seen as a secondary medium and the industry has to come together to promote it as a proper medium. Also, PEMRA’s open license auction is an unfair practice because when larger parties become involved, they push the license prices so high that it becomes unaffordable. Karachi’s license fees once went up to PKR 380 million. It’s just not feasible when a minute of advertising time sells for PKR 2000. At the same time there are stations that don’t fall under PEMRA and so don’t have to pay any fees. The playing field isn’t level. Internationally, government bodies that run on public money are not allowed to take commercial money, e.g. the BBC cannot take advertising share because it runs on taxpayers’ money.

Besides this, Indian content should be allowed because hardly any music is being produced locally. Secondly, if Indian music is popular, you cannot stop it. Putting restrictions on it doesn’t mean people will stop listening to it. They will simply switch mediums and listen through apps where one can get unlimited Indian music for free.

We need to attract listeners because radio is not global, it is regional. People in a particular city will be interested in their own city; they need radio for local news. Internet radio is also a challenge, yet local stations are managing to survive because radio’s strength lies in its regionality.

What measures are being taken by radio operators to facilitate the industry especially in terms of initiating educational programs?

Within the radio industry, on the PBA platform, there is talk about promoting radio, but no talk about creating educational programs because PEMRA has already given licenses to educational institutions whose work is basically to educate the students through this medium.

Does the radio industry have a mechanism for measuring listenership (such as Medialogic does for television) that can act as a yardstick across the board?

There is now. One agency has a diary-based rating system and the other uses a new cell phone-based system. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. It’s how you use the study to improve your programming. We’ve subscribed to both and we’re analyzing both sets of data to improve our programming. Of course, there are flaws to every study, and we initially objected to certain methodologies, but they made changes and what matters now is that we have a yardstick. This includes having sample sizes according to scientific international norms. Usually these studies are so expensive that sample sizes cannot be in the thousands. The right number varies; in India it will be different from us because of discrepancies in population and reach, and so on.

What is the revenue model for FM radio apps? Where do most downloads originate?

In my opinion, the app doing the best in Pakistan is Tune In Radio, which is not a Pakistani app. As yet we are not earning from it, but I do believe that radio should be supported with apps. If somebody wants to listen to you even when they are not in your designated area, they should be able to do so. Terrestrial coverage is still crucial, but internet radio can give added support and more listeners mean more revenue. We should be working to develop apps as support media.

SYED ZULFIQAR ALI SHAH

CEO
Hot FM 105

What are your views on the challenges radio operators are facing in Pakistan?

FM radio stations holding commercial licenses face a number of challenges.

Firstly, it seems to be the last choice of advertisers for commercial campaign placements. Only 3.8% is allocated to FM Radio, after budgets are left over from other mediums, even then most of that share is directed towards bigger networks ignoring FM stations operating in smaller cities or villages.

A second challenge is high operational expenses due to increasing power shortages; backup power arrangements with maintenance costs are a high-cost affair.

Thirdly, there are two kinds of radio stations in Pakistan: State-owned and their sister concerns, and FM stations with a PEMRA license. The challenge with this is that the state is a competitor. The state-owned radio and its sister concerns own various FM Channels, which operate in various metro cities. It also has the liberty of setting up a station in whichever city it wants because it is state-owned yet operating commercially. This makes the playing field uneven: Private stations pay hundreds of millions of rupees to acquire a license through bidding, but the government and its sister concerns can set up a commercial station wherever they want to. Private operators have limits on transmitter capacity as well; they are allowed 2 kilowatt for Karachi and 1 KW for other cities, which covers an area of hardly 40 km.

State-owned FM radio has the means to not only takeaway a bigger advertising share from an already small commercial pie, but also poach trained human resources in technical, marketing, and content departments. That’s the fourth and the biggest challenge and the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA), which includes both television and FM Radio, has filed a lawsuit against unlicensed operators that are hurting commercial interests of licensee FM radio operators with their strategies.

A fifth challenge is that  private licenses for FM Radio expire after ten years and reissuance is believed to be exorbitant, going into hundreds of millions of rupees. Private FM radio operators have filed  law suits against this decision and those who pleaded have been relieved with a court stay order for now and are advised to continue operating by the Lahore High Court till the case is decided. Even then, it continues to be a struggle for survival.

What measures are being taken by radio operators to facilitate the industry especially in terms of initiating educational programs?

FM radio operators have not taken any such significant measures to facilitate the industry so far, but as media evolves, educational institutions have introduced departments for media sciences. However, radio is still not one of the major subjects to be taught at universities. Radio is the mother medium of all communication and it has survived since its inception; new technology will adopt it not erase it — name any expensive car, Mercedes, Ferrari, Lamborghini etc. and it will have a radio tuner on the dashboard. Every latest mobile phone has an FM radio feature. The rest of the world is exploring digital radio; meanwhile we are preoccupied with making things difficult.

So far, radio as an industry has not influenced any educational institution to teach it as part of the curriculum. I believe senior people of the radio industry who are still managing FM radio networks successfully and those experts who know how to manage radio stations even if they are now retired, should be asked to share their knowledge as visiting faculty or guest speakers in universities. Constituting a Media Academy in universities is an idea, which can help in bringing young trained talent to fill the gap.

Does the radio industry have a mechanism for measuring listenership (such as Medialogic does for television) that can act as a yardstick across the board?

Group M, with the help of different prominent private research companies, conducts listenership surveys yearly, which clearly depict the real-time scenario. We always compare radio to television, but we only have 12 radio stations in Karachi as compared to scores of TV channels.

Also, Radio Score, which is a private entity, recently started measuring listenership. For data collection, it distributed mobile phones with special software amongst individuals in order to get digital data, and also installed software gadgets in private cars, but currently, their sample size is too small.

All in all, numbers are there, surveys have been published, and the industry is supportive of new methods. I hope leading FM radio operators will subscribe and commercial business will accept it as a valid currency.

What is the revenue model for FM radio apps? Where do most downloads originate?

Hot FM 105 was the first one to develop an app and we’ve been getting statistics every week. They’re very encouraging. An app means no boundaries. Apart from getting a large number of listeners from Pakistan, the station can be heard worldwide and that strengthens listenership. Hot FM 105 is heard in Saudi Arabia, UAE, UK, USA and even places where we wouldn’t even imagine listenership, such as Italy, Korea, and Japan. We have segments in regional languages, and recently received a call from Australia during a Balochi-language segment.

But while I feel the app can play a large role in listenership, hardly any revenue models have been developed so far. Since apps can be digitally measured, they can be used to share listenership data with advertisers and will support in planning campaigns. Pakistani advertisers see radio as a means of addressing territorial audiences; the idea is that if the station is heard in Australia, or any other part of the world, what does it matter to my brand? It’s none of my business. So we have to work to convince advertisers of the potential of their brand becoming known globally.

QAZI AHMED MATEEN

General Manager
FM 100 Pakistan

What are your views on the challenges radio operators are facing in Pakistan?

The radio industry in Pakistan is suffering heavily because of the rigid policies of the government and PEMRA. Also, most advertising has shifted to digital and television; less than 4% of the total ad budget is spent on radio, of which 109 FM stations are looking to get a share. The young generation is not interested in old Pakistani film and folk music, and new local content is nothing compared to new Indian and English music; hardly 15-20 movies are produced each year and they have very few songs that meet the standards and choices of listeners.

We also need to understand the digital battle. Digital and social media have become integral to the bottom line. People are spending more time online, and growing more dependent on smartphones and tablets for information and entertainment. Providing enjoyable programming is not enough. You have to make it easy for the audience to connect with the content. Are you a click away? Can you be a go-to resource for shopping, activities and social interaction? How connected are your advertisers and partners and can they keep your users engaged? Hence, a comprehensive digital strategy is becoming key to survival.

Does the radio industry have a mechanism for measuring listenership (such as Medialogic does for television) that can act as a yardstick across the board?

There are no real-time measurement tools to monitor listenership in Pakistan. It requires a lot of investment to provide the gadgets to listeners and set up a data gathering system because of the dense population and the coverage area. Pakistani FM stations are analog and there is no reserve path. It is possible with DAB or satellite radio, but for Pakistan, that is still a long way ahead. There is a cost on the consumer side of buying digital receivers, and the regulator currently has no plan to introduce digital radio in Pakistan.

The only possible means for radio is the diary system, or interview-based survey reports that are conducted by some organizations.  

What is the revenue model for FM radio apps? Where do most downloads originate?

Radio apps are still new to the market and some people have developed multichannel apps, but the streaming quality is very poor. Revenue is very nominal because smartphones are still uncommon in the rural areas. Data connections are slow and expensive. It will take time to generate worthwhile revenue from radio station apps.

Most downloads are from Pakistan, followed by the Middle East region and Europe, especially the United Kingdom. Canada, the United States and Australia also appear on the list for most downloads of Pakistani radio apps.

IMRAN BAJWA

Chairman
Mast FM 103 Radio Network

What are your views on the challenges radio operators are facing number in Pakistan?

Radio licenses are sold for over PKR 50 million per city for the big cities. A good radio “bouquet” of four to ten cities (to make it commercially viable) would cost PKR 200-400 million in PEMRA’s license fees alone. On the other hand, private television channels don’t pay more than PKR 5 million for a national and international footprint, which is biased and unjust. Also, the ban on Indian music has had a tremendous negative effect and it must be lifted to save the industry. Our music library and playlist options have been reduced to less than 10%as a result, and since Pakistani music is not as much of a listener choice as Indian music is. Music is not propaganda and banning it makes no sense at all. Besides this, there is a slew of unfair competition being created by at least three national FM networks that are running commercial operations under the guise of public sector radio. That is shrinking the pie for FM radio pioneers and stakeholders.

What measures are being taken by radio operators to facilitate the industry especially in terms of initiating educational programs?

Almost all universities of Pakistan have been allotted radio licenses directly by PEMRA. Currently 30 universities have licenses and are broadcasting their programs, but FM radio’s strength lies in the brains of its presenters, who must be selected very carefully, because they inform, educate, and entertain our society.

Does the radio industry have a mechanism for measuring listenership (such as Medialogic does for television) that can act as a yardstick across the board?

Currently there are two listenership surveys that are conducted on a regular basis. There is the Radio Audience Measurement (RAM) survey done by MRB/KANTAR Group, a subsidiary of Group M. It is based on a sample listenership base of 356 and is replicated weekly. Radio Score measures with a sample size of 300 respondents. Additionally, Group M periodically conducts 3D surveys of the media industry in which radio penetration and listenership are gauged.

What is the revenue model for FM radio apps? Where do most downloads originate?

Most FM stations don’t have functional apps or live-streaming on the internet. FM 103 streams all its channels via apps available on Apple App Store and Google Play. We live-stream through Stream Guys in California, USA, and about half of our streaming clientele comes from outside Pakistan. The revenue model for apps and live-streaming is just beginning to take shape and for 2017 we project a revenue of PKR 10-20 million through social media.

ZUNAIR SHAH

General Manager
Samaa FM 107.4

What are your views on the challenges radio operators are facing in Pakistan?

Generally, in my opinion, radio is doing well. If you look at records from the past three years, the graph is rising and there is still space in the market. Stakeholders should concentrate and invest holistically, in a 360 degree manner, in sales, programming, outdoor activities, digital, website, fan pages, advertising etc. to attract more ears.

Yet, the license fee structure needs to be debated, and PEMRA’s restriction on Indian content is causing difficulties because we don’t have a lot of local content. The policy should be more lenient. However, the real reason radio operators are facing issues is because they are not investing back in the industry. Only a few stations — us, and three others — are doing so. There is a lot of talent in the market and talent hunt programs can bring it out. We did such programs in the past and got a tremendous response; two female voices that we found in a talent hunt are considered among the top RJ’s now. 

What measures are being taken by radio operators to facilitate the industry especially in terms of initiating educational programs?

Some universities have their own FM station, which is a very positive step, while stations also broadcast educational programs sponsored by local universities. These are receiving a lot of good feedback.

Does the radio industry have a mechanism for measuring listenership (such as Medialogic does for television) that can act as a yardstick across the board?

Radio Score has introduced a method of calculating audience and they’re doing a good job. A number of agencies and stations have come on board, because according to them, they now have a proper tool to evaluate listenership behavior in major cities. Other agencies also conduct surveys which help us see the stations’ position and standing.

What is the revenue model for FM radio apps? Where do most downloads originate?

It is an emerging venue for revenue, but it is noticed that very few FM radio stations have associated apps. Of course, if things go well then downloading from inside as well as outside Pakistan will increase.