A long-standing demand of private FM radio players is set to be fulfilled by the year-end. After Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recommended news in private FM radio, albeit with some restrictions, the I&B Ministry has now reportedly given its nod to 261 private FM channels to air news and current affairs programmes produced by All India Radio (AIR).
Of course, the Ministry's proposal would require the signature of Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi, who is currently admitted at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi following a cardiac arrest. After the Minister signs it, the proposal would require Cabinet clearance.
When exchange4media spoke to a cross-section of FM players and media players about the latest development, they were obviously positive about it, though most were not aware of such a proposal being made by the I&B Ministry.
Uday Chawla, Secretary General, Association for Radio Operators for India (AROI), remarked, "Having news or sports as an intricate part of content will immensely benefit the radio industry and listeners. The point of concern for the Government is deciding the extent to which the news broadcast should be allowed in this phase. In case Phase III gets delayed, we have requested the Government to allow the broadcast of news, current affairs and specifically sports in the interim."
'Value-addition to local content'
Reacting to the news, Tarun Katial, COO, Big FM, remarked, "We welcome this development as it adds richness to the local content on the local channel and would give a boost to the FM station. It would also create some kind of differentiation in the market. We have also prepared ourselves to fulfill these responsibilities and are planning to create infrastructural changes."
Vehrnon Ibrahim, National Programming Head, Radio One, said "After waiting for seven years, I think it is a step forward, though not a step we would like, but certainly a step in the right direction. I see this as an opener and not as a final position. I am looking forward for this and I welcome it and we are certainly prepared for news and current events. I suppose at some point of time we will have a self regulatory body."
Nandan Srinath, COO, Radio Mirchi, commented, "From the listener point of view, the product is certainly getting better. We at Mirchi are certainly ready and prepared to carry news and current affairs and look forward to this soon. If this allows greater stickiness of listenership and more audiences who are not using radio at this point of time to come into the radio fold, then there is an indirect bearing on the revenue stream."
Calling the move a step in the right direction, Harrish M Bhatia, COO, My FM, Synergy Media Entertainment Ltd, opined, "Broadcast of news will increase the listener base and lend more credibility, authenticity and trust to FM radio. Listeners will start taking FM radio even more seriously once news and current affairs are allowed on it."
Nisha Narayanan, Project Head, S FM, observed, "Diversification of content will be the direct implication of the permission to broadcast news in private FM stations. This will not only boost listnership, but also provide headway to advertisers."
Though Kunal Jamuar, GM, Madison Media, didn't see any huge value or even commercial implications coming to the industry, he added that "it will certainly give consumers a differentiated content. I don't see any major changes in terms of revenue".
Uday Chawla pointed out, "If you look at the TV industry, almost 15 per cent of revenue accrues to news channels. Improvement in content translates to more listenership, which translates to more revenue."
Tarun Nigam, Executive Director, India - North & Pakistan, Starcom Worldwide, noted, "The green signal to private FM channels for broadcasting news is reminiscent of the good old Akashvani days in the radio mode. Like TV has a bouquet of channels, radio, too, can witness an upsurge of players, depending on the license fees."
In contrast, Anita Nayyar, CEO, MPG, India, remarked, "Since the USP of private FM is music, the broadcast of news would result in dilution of programming and content. This is like the personification of AIR."
Is a regulatory body needed to monitor news?
Speaking on the need for a regulatory body, Chawla said, "AROI will welcome permission for carrying news and sports content and has offered all cooperation to the Government in this regard, including formation of a self-regulatory content control mechanism."
Radio Mirchi's Srinath added, "Since news and current affairs content would come from AIR, I don't see the need for a self-regulatory body. But over a period of time, we might see a self-regulatory mechanism."
Nisha Narayanan pointed out, "The FM players will not emulate 24-hour news channels, but to safeguard the interests of authentic news, a guideline should be charted out and should be adhered to."
The onus of coherent news broadcast is now on the private FM players. This proposal can be seen in the light of breaking clutter and pushing the contingent of journalism in the hear-hear domain. The development certainly has the private FM industry all excited. Watch this space for further developments.
(With additional inputs from Pallavi Goorha)
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