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Sunil Kumaran

Radio as a content marketing platform has immense scope of growth due to its reach in all parts of India, said Sunil Kumaran, Country Head, Thwink Big, the content studio and talent incubator entity at Big FM.

“Radio has not really been explored as a content medium strongly. The content power that radio brings in is unparalleled as it’s an audio medium and allows one-on-one interaction with your viewers and at the same time it operates out of geography,” said Kumaran.

Being the first radio channel brand to adapt the storytelling format for its listeners, Big FM launched Thwink Big in February 2018. After the launch of Thwink, the channel brought back Kumaran, who was earlier the Country Head of StoryLab (TSL), the specialist content agency of Dentsu Aegis Network, to head the content entity.

As brands gear up with the need for connecting with consumers through regional languages, being a radio channel with its presence across the categories, Thwink brings forth an expertise in the regional content space with its immense understanding of the various demographics.

Big FM also entered into the cluttered space of web series. Explaining the reason on how can Big FM stand out in the clutter, Kumaran said, “It is a crowded space from the perspective of business opportunity, but one who stands out is the one who is fundamentally very strong and doing work based on some strong insights and understanding.”

Thwink’s content ideas are not just limited to the audio space, but extends to all the platforms where content marketing is present. “Kumaran said, “We found the need for creating a content entity which is unique. We create content around the ideas first and then think about the platform.”

Excerpts:

What was the need for an in-house content studio at Big FM? Weren't you creating content for brands already? If so, why form a separate team and brand name? Does it have that big potential to bet for a big network like yours?

We have been in the content space for long now, especially the audio content space as it’s our expertise. As the content space is growing rapidly and digital is playing an important role as far as media choices are concerned, we felt that we should get into content space which transcends platform so that we don't only focus only on audio as our format. Our ideas are platform-agnostic and then we see where it fits in, it could actually go on to the radio if it is in audio format or digital, which we are increasingly seeing happening. So, we found the need for creating a content entity that is unique. We create content around the ideas first and then think about the platform. We also realise that while there are many players in the content space, there are very few who bring in the content expertise. This is where our differentiation and USP comes into play. Because we have been in the radio space for so long and have been doing a lot of work in regions, our understanding of regions is extremely strong. We have a good sense of what would work in the regional market. The other advantage is the fact that we have deep in-roots into music in various regions and that also helps in creating content specific for regions. In radio, we were the pioneers in storytelling as a format with shows like Nileesh Misra. It's very important to have USP and an entity in the cluttered space like content.

What differentiated offerings Thwink has to offer that other radio channels or content creators don’t have?

Our expertise lies in certain areas which we have built in our last 11-12 years of our existence in the radio space. We have a deep understanding of music, consumers in the regional space and our ability to tell interesting and engaging stories.

What are major content marketing initiatives undertaken by Thwink Big for the brands?

Big Golden Voice is a very strong property that we have been building over a period of time. Benadryl has partnered with us for the same. This is a talent hunt where we scout for the best voice in the region. It made a lot of sense as the values of the property was in sync with the brand objectives.

Another nice initiative is ‘No Khaali Pet’ along with Akshaya Patra Foundation and it was done on World Human Rights Day. It was done to address the larger issue of hunger and malnutrition in this country. Nature Fresh Sampoorna Chakki atta partnered with us in this whole initiative. We had a music video sung by a group of kids, which brought out the whole emotion of why food is their birth right and no one should go hungry in this country.

How would you differentiate between content marketing and branded content?

Any marketing initiative where content becomes the driver falls under content marketing. Within that, there could be branded content wherein one creates a specific piece of communication that connects with audiences and the brand is also an integral part of the storyline.

What scope of growth do you see for Thwink and how?

We have already defined our area of focus and we intend to grow in that space. You will see a whole lot of new formats in the music storytelling space and a lot of original content.

You have entered into the web series. Don't you think it is already a crowded place to be in with the big players like AltBalaji, Eros and several other large production houses?

I agree that it is a crowded space but frankly, it is based on what you do. It is a crowded space from the perspective of business opportunity, but one who stands out is the one who is fundamentally very strong and doing work based on some strong insights and understanding. We are not here to create just any kind of content but the content that comes from our core strengths. That is why we think that where we get into the digital or audio format, we will be able to offer a very distinct piece of content.

Can we see Thwink launching its own content platform anytime soon? How viable is it?

When it comes to audio content we already have Big FM. We have our own YouTube channel called Big Originals. We are looking to create more platforms beyond existing ones.

What is Thwink’s content strategy for the brands going forward?

As an entity, we are increasingly getting into digital space which is going beyond radio. All our large initiatives would now have a radio-cum-digital play. We will have a lot of digital first initiatives which will be purely digital-driven and may or may not be on radio. Our initiatives will be driven by ideas but not dependent upon the platform.

What percentage of Big FM’s revenue comes from content marketing?

When we do a deal it includes content as well as regular commercial spot buying, so it is difficult to bifurcate. That is possible when we start doing content deals separately. Content revenue is the fastest growing space for us.

While the world is talking about video content overpowering the content space, how prepared is Thwink to leverage the rise of video content consumption in India?

We are focusing on video content in a big way. Video consumption is on a big high. The platforms and trends will keep emerging as we go but what actually works is a strong idea which is always platform-agnostic. We have a strong team of ideators and strategic account management people who work closely with the ideators providing them deeper insights.

Thwink recently acquired the digital rights of Mania ki Duniya characters Baba BC and Mehta Kuch Nahi Kehta. What additional values these characters bring to the content generated by you for the brands? Is it just about the number of fan followings of these characters or something more?

Characters essentially are the smart format and good way to increase stickiness to the content. It happens across all platforms and not only with digital. That is the reason we are very keen on acquiring very good and strong characters. When we acquire a character, it comes with an existing appeal already and you do not have to build affinity from scratch. But having said that we will now leverage the characters to create interesting content going forward. We are quite actively looking to acquire more such characters.

In order to provide content solutions to brands, do you intend to partner external content creators or platforms other than YouTube?

Content solution is one aspect of the proposition. We are focusing on content which will acquire certain audience on its own. When you use the term solutions it narrows it down to brief-based work. It is not that we are creating content only for clients. We are creating original content which will attract viewers. That is the reason why we have created quite a few standalone content initiatives. When some brands think it’s big and relevant enough for them, they latch on to it.

When it comes to partnering external platforms or content creators, we are open to the ideas specially if there is expertise the content creators bring in which we do not have.

Don’t you think radio as a content marketing medium is really unexplored by the brands in India? What I mostly see is either textual or video content with digital being most used medium?

I agree with this to some extent. Radio has not really been explored as a content medium strongly. The power that radio brings in is unparalleled as it’s an audio medium and allows one-on-one interaction with your viewers and at the same time it operates out of geography. Every region has its own radio channel. So, your ability to reach out in a geographically specific manner is very high. Regional content can travel across the radio and couple with digital makes it a very potent combination.

How do you see the scope of content marketing on radio? Is it more difficult to persuade brands to invest in audio content than video format content?

I see a great scope. It is fairly nascent and has not been explored in a large way and if you can supplement it with digital, which will give you audio-visual capability, then it becomes a very strong package for anyone.

I don’t think it is difficult as long as you understand how to create good content. We have had extremely successful formats which are pure radio at one point in time.

What are the most challenging aspects of audio content creation and marketing?

Not just audio, but the challenging aspect in any form of content space is the understanding of what would work in the market. You should have a very deep understanding of audio to start with and how to engage with content as it’s an ever-evolving space. If you have the whole mechanism to understand your audience and their taste and preferences, then it’s not any challenge in coming up with good content. All this requires teamwork, experience and the right kind of thinking ability.

How do you help brands calculate sales lead generated from doing content on Big FM or it’s mostly a brand building exercise that happens on radio?

Unlike television, radio lends itself to lead generation also very beautifully. Radio has been traditionally used to collect data. In radio, interactions with your audiences can be leads, one could create SMS mechanism to reach out, through contests. Brand building is possible on any platform for that matter including radio. 

Which are the categories that are most active on radio for their content initiatives and which other categories should see potential in the medium?

FMCG is active on the radio in a big way. FMCG as the category has always been the first ones to come out of blocks in terms of experimenting with formats. We have seen a lot of actions in categories like BFSI, auto and service. I see potential in any of those new age media, which is reaching out to the newer and millennials kind of audience.