Meow! Time to connect with Mumbai, Kolkata

Meow! Time to connect with Mumbai, Kolkata

New Delhi: Two months after launching a just-for-women radio station in New Delhi, Meow 104.8 FM plans to hit Mumbai and Kolkata airwaves later this month. But advertisers are hardly purring—yet.

The station, owned by Radio Today Broadcasting Ltd, faces an uphill task in getting listeners to appreciate an all-talk format for a narrow audience. With Hindi content during the day and English at night, Meow features shows on motherhood, balancing work and family, and relationships. Chief operating officer Anil Srivatsa, who moved here from the US and stints in Asian American cable television and radio, hosts the twice-weekly Meow Between the Sheets that asks callers to weigh in on issues from child abuse to religious rituals to what they think about while they have sex.

Of the eight private FM stations in New Delhi, Meow—at just 1.3%—comes in the last place in terms of its share of the advertising pie, according to Air Check India National Network, a company that tracks radio commercials. Srivatsa says the station has more advertising than it originally expected.

Radio Mirchi receives the lion’s share of advertising at 25.9%, followed by Red FM at 19.1% and Radio City at 13.7%. Those figures are based on airplay over the last two weeks.

The overall revenue Meow receives from each commercial is also low by comparison. Radio Mirchi, Red FM, Radio City and Fever make an average Rs600-1,500 for every 10 seconds of advertising, while Meow earns Rs150-400 for the same, according to Air Check.

Meow expects more advertisers after its Mumbai and Kolkata expansion. Srivatsa said Meow had met its advertising goals for its first month and is at 85% of its long-term target. “If you compare us to any radio station that has ever launched, we’re doing well and we have a good number of new clients," he said, adding that Meow’s fan base is strong, with 18,000-20,000 listeners.

“You actually feel like you’re part of the conversation," said listener Pooja Parekh, 21, studying information-technology at Jawaharlal Nehru University. “I relate to it."

Radio Mirchi chief executive Prashant Panday said it would take time for Meow to get more fans. “A large part of it is because they are so new. In three to six months, their advertising will probably increase, but they really need to figure out what kind of pricing is most appropriate for them in order to make the most money."

Competition for advertisers is growing. No longer dominated by state broadcaster All India Radio, the radio sector in India is booming following a late 1990s liberalization policy that opened companies up to private and foreign investment. In January, there were 25 private FM stations; today there are about 70. Hundreds more licences are expected to be awarded by the end of 2008.

An aggressive marketing campaign accounts for 20% of Meow’s budget, which was not disclosed in detail. Banners, boards, and other Meow memorabilia can be spotted in New Delhi metro stations, cinemas, shopping centres and residential areas. The station expects to do the same in Mumbai and Kolkata. Its Hinglish slogan reads, “Thodi meethi, thodi catty," or a little sweet, a little catty. Meow’s advertisers are companies that pertain to women. For example, in the last two weeks, the station played 722 seconds of advertising of the Air Hostess Academy, a training institute for the aviation industry, and 2,254 seconds selling Tenderils Herbal products, including body wash, shampoo and baby massage oil.

Meow promises to address issues that Indian women face by first emphasizing dialogue, with music as a secondary facet. Srivatsa said that on a good day the programming is 80% talk and 20% music.

“Meow has created awareness but I don’t think it has created a large base of listeners," said Neeraj Chaturvedi, head of Delhi’s Fever, which is owned by HT Media Ltd, as is Mint. “Talk radio is a very difficult format to do essentially because the content always needs to be interesting to a broad audience." Talk-based shows are associated with places such as the US, where there is more driving time, said Radio Mirchi’s Panday. “In India, we don’t drive as long so the market is rather limited." He said talk-based radio will be more popular in the future and is optimistic that Meow is heading in that direction.

Meow’s senior vice-president and marketing director Gilroy Tills said radio stations, on average, take six months to establish themselves. He said the station performed extensive market research, and buoyed by New Delhi’s 48% female representation, decided talk radio for women was an untapped market. Content ranges from the light—are men worse drivers than women?—to the serious. A recent guest was Ellora Sen, the country’s first woman sports editor, who discussed women’s sports and the glass ceiling.

Srivatsa said the market for talk radio is growing now, especially with women. He noted that stations in India have added more talk time to their programming since the advent of Meow. Other radio stations have programmes designated for women, but do not dedicate their entire network to them. Radio City hosts mid-morning and afternoon programmes like Hum Tum and City Spice aimed at Indian housewives. “Women seek companionship and want to speak and not be judged," Srivatsa said. “We talk to women. We don’t sing to them."