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BW Businessworld

The Print Killed The Radio Star

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The Indian Readership Survey (IRS) data for the last quarter of calendar 2011 shows the resilience of the Indian print media in the face of the digital onslaught. It also shows a decline in the reach of radio and cinema, a trend that is here to stay.

While media pundits in western markets are writing the epitaph of the print media, in India, calendar Q4 saw the print media grow 1.5 per cent to 350.35 million readers from 347.76 million in Q2 of calendar 2011. Most of the top 10 English dailies, for instance, saw their readership grow. The Times of India added 149,000 readers, Hindustan Times 58,000, The Hindu 71,000 and The Telegraph added 6,000 readers. Even English magazines, written off as bad business, showed robust growth. Except for India Today that declined 1.5 per cent, losing 25,000 readers, others like Readers Digest (added 60,000 readers) and Outlook (added 43,000 readers) grew in the last quarter.

On the other hand, the Hindi print media, that had shown galloping growth in the 2000-2005 period, and had taken over as the highest read titles from Malayalam and Tamil dailies, is now showing signs of plateauing. For instance, Dainik Jagran (No. 1 with 16.41 million readers) and Dainik Bhaskar (No. 2 with 14.6 million readers) actually lost 48,000 and 274,000 readers, respectively, in the last quarter.

When private FM radio stations first launched in 2001, radio was hailed as the new revolution in cheap communication and entertainment. A decade later, listenership data is showing that this expectation has been belied. IRS's Q4 survey shows that the reach of radio had declined from 158.28 million in the previous quarter to 156.69 million in Q4 of calendar 2011, a decline of 1.59 million. More worrying is the continuing decline for eight straight quarters since January 2010, with radio's reach falling by 9.2 per cent over two years. However, L.V. Krishnan, CEO of TAM Media, that also runs a radio listenership audit called Radio Audience Measurement, says FM listenership in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata has grown 64 per cent. "Radio listeners have been growing for two reasons — radio is now available on multiple devices and second, young people (12+ and above) are giving radio robust numbers."

When the third phase of auctions opens up 839 FM stations covering 294 towns, hopefully the radio footprint will again begin to grow.

Cinema also seems to have a problem. The latest IRS survey shows that cinema viewership has declined 5.2 per cent over two quarters from 77.83 million in Q2 of 2011 to 75.77 million. This shows that alternative entertainment forms like home videos, soaps and reality shows on television are eating into cinema-watching. While television channels can juggle around their programming to accommodate changing consumer tastes, for single-screen and multiplex chains that are already reeling under the double whammy of mounting overheads and low occupancies, there is little room to manoeuvre.

The only form of media consumption that shows galloping growth is the Internet. Over the past six months, Internet users have grown from 28.4 million to 34.41 million.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 19-03-2012)