Uday Chawla, secretary general of the Association of Radio Operators of India (AROI), has been busy for the past month. His association, along with Media Research Users’ Council (MRUC), the body that brings out the Indian Readership Survey, has been involved in preparations for the launch of a measurement system for the radio industry in the country. “This is the first time that the industry has come together for its own common measurement system," says Chawla.

MRUC and AROI have, in the last couple of weeks, spent time reviewing proposals from research agencies keen to partner with the two bodies for radio measurement. “We will be moving to a currency acceptable to all the private FM radio firms, All India Radio, advertisers and the ad agencies," says Chawla.

The development on the radio audience measurement front is a much needed one. In fact, radio operators first sought a credible and transparent audience measurement system at an open house organized by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) in May 2016. This came after Trai issued a consultation paper inviting comments from all stakeholders on issues related to radio ratings.

The stakeholders complained that although the FM radio market had expanded after the phase III auctions, the audience measurement had not kept pace. Currently, TAM Media Research through an independent division, RAM or Radio Audio Measurement, a joint venture between research firms IMRB International and Nielsen Media Research, provides data for FM radio channels only in the top four radio markets: Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Kolkata.

In fact, in September 2016, Trai proposed a regulatory framework for radio audience measurement to ensure a transparent, credible and representative radio ratings system in India and submitted its suggestions to the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry for approval.

A comprehensive and credible radio audience measurement system is critical at a time when radio advertising revenue is growing and is expected to touch Rs3,950 crore by 2019, according to Trai.

Abraham Thomas, chief executive at Radio City, the FM brand of the Jagran group, says that a systematic radio measurement system is the need of the hour in the absence of a syndicated research mechanism that represents the radio industry. Since advertising space on radio is bought in terms of the network or the station’s reach, research becomes imperative to understand the listener base. “This will not only ensure better targeting but also result in effective budget utilization (for brands)," says Thomas.

Prashant Panday, chief executive at Radio Mirchi, the FM brand of the Times Group, argues that radio delivers large audiences in the largest and the smallest of cities. “Yet we continue to get unfairly low pricing. We believe research will help establish our strength vis-à-vis other media."

Accurate and comprehensive research will be the true representation of the reach and penetration of the medium. It will help in getting radio its rightful share of the media advertising pie at prices that it deserves, adds Harshad Jain, chief executive, radio and entertainment at HT Media Ltd which operates Fever and Radio Nasha brands of FM stations.

His contention is that a detailed analysis will help radio programmers do a deep dive on content to understand how audiences are responding to programming and make alterations according to the feedback. Comprehensive research will allow measurement of reach, time spent listening and market share percentages. It could even offer day-part and show-wise analysis as well as comparison with other media.

“Such in-depth data analysis is required to ensure that the content being delivered is relevant to the audiences concerned. It’s also the basis on which advertisers allocate their resources to respective radio channels in order to reach out to their respective target audiences," Jain adds.

Radio broadcasters find RAM’s four-metro data inadequate. They also complain that the estimation study on which this data is extrapolated is six years old and may not be the most accurate reflection of the country’s current radio listenership trends. The sample size is inadequate, too. “In heterogeneous cities like Mumbai and Bengaluru, a sample size of 480 is hardly enough. Nor is it sufficient in a multi-city cluster like the National Capital Region," says Mirchi’s Panday.

Besides, in any paper diary method, the respondent fills up the diary towards the end of the week, around the time the diary is going to be picked up by the research agency, so all the data is “week-back recall," which may not be the most efficient.

Jain says with the expansion of radio in smaller cities, it is imperative to measure these too, especially all the state capitals and towns with populations of 1 million-plus. The important thing in this process, however, is to ensure that the ratings regulations are put in place by the industry itself and not by the government.

Clearly, at this juncture, an industry measurement is essential to build credibility for the medium. No surprise then that AROI’s Chawla is looking forward to a pilot of the study.

HT Media, publisher of Mint, competes with several radio firms in different markets.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

Respond to this column at shuchi.b@livemint.com.

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