For the first time, we are in a position to offer India-based advertisers a ‘network’ in the Middle East: Prashant Panday, ENIL
I expect strong growth prospects from FY23 onwards: Prashant Panday, ENIL
Radio Mirchi is expanding to Middle East - Dubai, Qatar, and Bahrain
media

For the first time, we are in a position to offer India-based advertisers a ‘network’ in the Middle East: Prashant Panday, ENIL

Radio Mirchi is expanding to Middle East - Dubai, Qatar, and Bahrain
  • Radio Mirchi, that rebranded itself in late 2020, has now announced that it is expanding its presence to three international markets.
  • We reached out to Prashant Panday, MD and CEO, ENIL to understand what the platform has in store.
Around the end of 2020, Entertainment Network India Ltd (ENIL) announced that it is rebranding Radio Mirchi to Mirchi, with the aim of depicting the evolution that the brand had gone through in the last few years. Less than four months later, Mirchi is now spreading its wings wider and expanding to three key markets in the Middle East - Dubai, Qatar, and Bahrain.

Mirchi has already had some experience in two of these markets and the organization’s goal is to become not just the listener’s favorite there but the advertisers’ favorite too.

We caught up with Prashant Panday, MD and CEO, ENIL, who will be spearheading Mirchi’s international foray and tried to understand all that he has planned for these three exciting markets.

Excerpts:

Q. You are entering 3 major MENA markets in the next few months. How different are your strategies going to be for these 3 markets?
The MENA markets are very rich. Almost everyone there has a car, and we know that radio listenership is the highest in cars. Each of these three markets has a high population of South Asians. In two of them, Mirchi has existed in the past, and very successfully at that. In that sense, there is an already existent listenership craving for Mirchi. From an advertising angle, most of these markets are at present mostly radio-FCT/radio-innovation markets. That being said, it will be our endeavor to offer the whole line of our “Solutions” products that we offer to the advertisers in India. I think advertisers love solutions and there is no reason why the MENA advertisers won’t!

Q. Why were these three markets in the MENA region your choice?
Any expansion in the radio space has to depend on availability of frequencies. It so happens that we got frequencies in these markets and hence, are launching here first. In the UAE, we are partnering with a committed and well-entrenched, existing radio player – Suno FM – and entering the market by rebranding it to Radio Mirchi. In Qatar, we have partnered with another committed local player – One FM – and launched MirchiOne. In Bahrain, we won the frequency through the Government auction that happened before the pandemic began. Here, we are launching our own operation.

Q. What will your content strategy look like for these three markets? Will it be primarily aimed at the Indian diaspora there or will it have a local play too?
In MENA, and even in other international markets, we look at the larger South Asian population as our target audience. From a language and culture perspective, and from an entertainment and music consumption perspective, there are lot of similarities between Indians, Pakistanis, Nepalese and even Bangladeshis. Sri Lankans also love Indian music, so they are also within our sight. In all of these markets, the promise of Mirchi is that, being India’s biggest FM broadcaster, we will bring the best in entertainment and music. Our deep connects with the film and music fraternity ensures that we have access to Bollywood content on tap, including access to the top celebrities. The MENA region is of great important to the film and music industry, and so our partnership with them in MENA will be a strong one. Apart from this, we will be happy to bring the news from South Asia to our listeners, and arouse memories of “back home” in them! Having said all this, the core of any radio product is always local in nature. So the bulk of the content will be local in nature. Local issues, traffic, weather, festivals, shopping etc. will form the mainstay of the product.

Q. You were present in Dubai till last year. What made you pull out of the country, and how different will your offering there be now?
Our agreement with our erstwhile partners concluded. We, therefore, withdrew the brand from the market. Now, after 9 months, we are entering the country again! There is going to be a huge difference in the content as well as its treatment this time around. Last time, our entire programming team was based in Abu Dhabi, and so the content was created primarily for that emirate. Of course our signals covered Dubai as well. This time, our content will be tailor made for Dubai. It will be far more local and relevant for people of Dubai. Of course, the signals will travel to Abu Dhabi and to other emirates as well. Furthermore, our local research indicates that people are yearning for many of our popular“sparklers” like “Murga”, “What the Farhan” and “Sud”. We will therefore be re-launching them soon. Then there are so many other strong programming IPs that we will bring to the UAE. The music will largely be contemporary, and will be wider than what we play in India. There will also be shows that we will carry from India to all MENA markets. Very importantly, and this is different from our earlier presence, we will be bringing a lot more Hindi films to Dubai for their promotion. This will offer us great opportunity for local content, and for our listeners to engage with film and music celebrities, in person.

Q. What are your launch plans? What media are you going to use to talk to audiences in these markets?
In the UAE, we have extensive launch activities planned. We are doing extensive digital campaigns, but most importantly, we are also launching an aggressive print campaign. In the other markets, the biggest medium really is radio itself, and with the word of mouth that already exists, our effort will be to tap the audience through digital platforms, contests and on-ground activations.

Q. What kind of advertiser response have you seen in these markets?
In Qatar, we have had a huge response to our product! In fact, we’ve got sponsorship orders prior to our launch. From the start we’ve got, it looks like we’re on track to achieving our annual target. The UAE is a far more competitive market, so we want to launch our product first, and then approach advertisers. We know that the response will be terrific! In Bahrain, the launch is a month away; but we are already getting feelers from advertisers there! Equally, there is a lot of interest in India based advertisers, all of whom target the Middle East. We are now going to encourage them to “Add Dubai and Doha and Bahrain to your plans just as you add Delhi and Mumbai”. For the first time, we are in a position to offer India-based advertisers a ‘network’ in the Middle East.

Q. What are your expectations from Qatar and Bahrain given that they are new markets for Mirchi?
We’re not entirely new to Bahrain! We were already present there as a brand till some time back; but in a partnership with a local player. So it’s a re-launch there! In Qatar, however, we are new. In both these markets, there is a huge entertainment gap and we will endeavor to fill that. We will offer not just our radio product, but also our video and on-ground LIVE entertainment products. Qatar is going to host the football world cup in 2022, and that’s going to create a huge amount of travel from India. The buzz around football is usually so high that the whole advertising ecosystem gets a big boost. We hope to capitalize on that as well. In Bahrain, we have a 5-year contract from the Kingdom of Bahrain. We will therefore, need to be very efficient in our operations. Fortunately, we have a strong leadership team in ENIL, and many of our key managers are getting a good opportunity to prove themselves in these exciting markets!

Q. You rebranded around 6 months back. How has the reception been so far, both from listeners and advertisers?
We are doing exceptionally well in our Solutions business, despite our radio business being hit by COVID-19. Our Digital solutions are especially doing very well. Thanks to the pandemic, digital products have got a big leg up and we’ve benefitted from that. The other solutions product that has done very well is the TV solutions. I am so proud to share with you that despite the pandemic and despite no other award shows happening in this quarter, the Mirchi Music Awards happened in as pompous a style as always! It was broadcasted on 28th March, on Colors. We have also successfully completed the Mirchi Music Awards in Marathi, Tamil, Telegu, Kannada, Malayalam and Bangla. Likewise we have successfully completed the Mirchi Cover Star, the music talenthunt competition. The winner of the Mirchi Cover Star got to perform on TV during the Mirchi Music Awards. Except for TV solutions, the rest of our on-ground solutions (Live solutions) got almost completely derailed because of COVID. However, even within this space, we innovated and created new products like online R&R (Rewards and Recognition) events and online concerts for our corporate clients.

Q. What more can we expect from Mirchi in the next few months?
You can expect a lot of action on the digital side. We will soon be revamping our website and making a big push there. We will also be expanding our online radio stations. Our YouTube channels are growing rapidly; and with more content that we will make, we hope to expand that substantially too. We have big plans in our Original Content space– web series and individual sketches. We are also looking at making a play in the podcast space, on the platform side in addition to the content side. In addition to this, we are also evaluating new business opportunities beyond what we have already entered, opportunities that mix the power of digital technology with our content/film relationship strengths. In the next few years, we expect our solutions business (digital, TV, Live) to grow rapidly. During this time, we also expect radio to do a recovery, with growth rates stabilizing in the high single digits.

Q. In India, what will your growth strategy be in the next year? Where will your next phase of growth come from?
Our 5-year strategy is built on growing our solutions business rapidly, and also stabilizing our radio business. In the next few years, I expect both to grow. However, with solutions growing faster, the share of solutions could become about 50%. Our solutions business has been generating high operating margins; so that should boost our EBITDA too. I expect FY22 to remain tough, given the COVID conditions. That being said, I expect strong growth prospects from FY23 onwards.