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Almost 20 years since it launched, leading private FM brand ‘Radio Mirchi’, owned by The Times Group, has embarked on a new journey and launched a new brand identity and positioning.

Going forward ‘radio’ has been dropped from the name and the brand will be called just ‘Mirchi’ as it expands into a wider media and entertainment brand.

The Drum speaks to Prashant Panday, managing director and chief executive officer of Mirchi, who confesses that “for a brand that started with radio, has been a leader for 20 years, and has earned most of its spurs on radio, dropping radio is a very big move!” Panday shares more details on the transformational roadmap undertaken by the brand to become India’s leading city-centric music and entertainment company.

A challenging year and the radio category

2020 has been harsh to most industries with the pandemic ravaging many of their business models and media is no different. The pandemic was kinder to some within the media industry – like the internet and some genres of TV (like sports), but harsher on others like radio, print and OOH. 

Shares Panday, “Verticals that depend heavily on retail advertising continue to be badly hit by the slowdown and radio is one such which has seen a substantial drop in revenues on account of the pandemic.”

This also meant that companies had to start looking at newer means of future-proofing their business, by stretching the current offering as well as pivoting the models and positioning.      

The journey from an audio company to an integrated media and entertainment content company

Thus, began Radio Mirchi’s journey of repositioning its offerings and pitch itself as beyond a radio-led company. The company’s vision-statement captures its transition as India’s number one city-centric, music and entertainment company in the future.

If all goes as per the plan, Panday hopes that it will fundamentally be a very different company in five years. “Earlier, we saw ourselves as an FM company; now we will see ourselves as a platform agnostic company and will embrace digital, web, TV, print, on-ground, in-flight, in-cab and other platforms,” explains Panday.

Interestingly, currently, Mirchi’s FM business contributes 66% of overall revenues, with the other 34% coming from their ‘solutions’ business emphasising the point that the business has already grown beyond radio. Now it is all being brought together from a repositioned go-to-market offering.

From an ‘audio’ company the pivot will be on a combined focus towards embracing audio, video, text as well as on-ground formats. Even from a hiring perspective, the company plans to hire many more people in the non-radio businesses over the next five years.

The inspiration behind moving the needle from its core as a radio brand  

Panday confesses to not having had any ready-made case studies or global examples or role models to follow since “no other radio company in the world has been doing the kind of things we are doing.”

Most radio players in the West have their own websites on which they host local content while a few big players like Clear Channel in the US have built big businesses in concerts. However, rarely has anyone created such a diversified portfolio of products, all connected through a popular consumer brand, he adds.

Pivoting the offering for the stakeholder universe

“Our radio consumers expect the best in films, music, youth and city-centric content from us - after delivering this in the radio industry, we will now deliver this across platforms, and across media types with the new positioning,” says Panday. The offering would take different forms – ranging from content on podcasts to video form on YouTube and OTT platforms to live entertainment in the form of events, concerts, and TV shows and much more.

Interestingly a lot of the pivoting and transformation has been happening for some time now. for example, the company’s latest two businesses, Original Content (videos) and Original Podcasts have been around for three and two years old respectively.  

For brands that work with us, they will grow to understand to expect ‘solutions’, and not ‘sales pitches’ from us, says Panday. “They can expect us to first listen to their marketing challenges, and then develop personalised and unique solutions for them.”

New growth pillars in a post-pandemic world order

Thanks to the pandemic, the entire digital ecosystem has got a big boost with people doing more things online than they did before – from grocery shopping to banking to doctor visits to education and much more. Even after the pandemic goes away, many of these habits will become permanent. “With respect to our business, a lot more people will get to experience Mirchi on digital and other platforms”, says Panday.

"As of today, we already reach an estimated 60 million people every month online, more than the 50 odd million every month through radio and in the near future, the digital reach will become 4-5X of our radio reach", he adds. To that end, the brand has plans to redouble the thrust towards original video content, original podcasts and original web content.

Prashant Panday shares his most memorable  radio moments of the past 20 years 

“The first would be our first-ever launch when we sparked to life, a completely dead medium. No one expected the radio to succeed. However, much to everyone’s surprise, we not only succeeded but also made radio into a thriving and buzzing medium!

Second would be our decision to move away from English music and English talk shows to more vernacular content in big cities like Mumbai. This happened a few months after our launch and as a result of continuous research feedback and the chairman Vineet Jain’s vision.

The third would be our huge expansion in phase two when we moved from just seven stations to 32. That gave the brand the national spread that it missed earlier. What a moment that was, when the 25 new cities welcomed us with open arms! In most markets, we are number 1 in listenership today, including markets like Lucknow where we entered many years after the first players there.”