Choice FM Becomes Capital Xtra

Looking at my referrer logs for the blog I often get searches for people asking “Why did x station become x” or “Why did x station close”. So I thought it might be (mildly) interesting to look at Choice FM’s change to Capital Xtra in that context.

Choice was well liked and had a good, different history as one of the only black-owned stations. Even after being subsumed into the Capital Radio Group it retained a (relatively) good connection with its first community.

Historically Choice was stymied by its two frequencies – two lower powered licences rather than a London-wide frequency that the other stations have. I remember when I was there I did some analysis that showed how in the postcodes you could actually get it, it would often do better than Kiss. I also know that before GCap, the Capital Group looked at what the benefits would be of swapping frequencies with some of its other London brands. In other words, was it a potential sleeping giant – particularly as a more urban market had opened up as Kiss had (albeit very successfully) moved into a more mainstream format.

There was a national idea of Choice with it broadcasting Urban Choice (a voicetracked spin off version) on the MXR multiplexes (that it was a shareholder in) which later merged into a Choice simulcast that came off the air in the last few years.

It’s national audience though never really hit the numbers the format deserved. This was partly because of Galaxy’s (then) existence, the rise of 1xtra and the fact there had been no real out of London marketing.

I imagine the Choice brand and heritage also didn’t always make it a mainstream buy for advertising agencies. It probably didn’t get on as many schedules as it should, and probably at a lower value too. No matter how hard you try, some brands just don’t get the national agency resonance. This, ultimately, is why Galaxy re-branded as Capital too.

From an advertising angle, a re-brand to Capital Xtra means agencies will understand it better – as they already understand the Capital position. It’ll also end up on more schedules as I imagine agencies will buy a ‘Capital All’ which will be spots on both services.

The other reason Global have done this is Bauer.

There’s no love lost between the two organisations and they’re very competitive. Bauer’s new national strategy has spooked Global at the same time as their own M&A is mired in the Competition Commission. Global wanted to be the ‘national brand’ company – but suddenly Bauer’s distribution of Kiss, Planet Rock, Absolute (and Absolute spin-offs) nationally on D1, was vast compared to Global’s Classic and (now) Smooth. Heart and Capital have good coverage – but it’s not very national – that’s what the GMG acquisition was supposed to fix. The extra Absolute spin-offs also potentially provide more capacity to be re-purposed for other Bauer brands, Magic perhaps, if it’s what Bauer wants to do. Bauer are clearly on a journey to have their key brands nationwide.

Additionally, Kiss and Magic continue to do very well in London, stopping the Global brands from having consistent market-leading dominance. Clearly, the new Smooth will aim to give Magic a bit of a kick, but it’s also Kiss that needs some knocks to make Capital more dominant.

The close nature of the London market means that you don’t need to lose that much audience to give market-leadership to someone else. Half a share point off Magic and Kiss will give Heart and Capital a real boost. It doesn’t matter of course where that half a point has gone to, just that it’s no longer with Magic and Kiss.

A Choice re-boot, re-brand and marketing push has the potential to do that to Kiss. With Capital and Capital Xtra nationwide, grouped and sold together it will also look a strong nationwide sell when compared to Kiss nationally on its own.

With Smooth becoming the Magic that Richard Park created ten years ago, Global have the chance of a pincer movement to disrupt Bauer’s success in London.

The other competitor is 1Xtra. It’s had a great year, now regularly over 1m listeners. A more populist version will have a good opportunity.

Finally, in any company, having less brands means its much easier to run. Subsuming Choice into the Capital family makes it easier to do more and re-enforce each other. There aren’t that many people at Global – this is commercial radio after all – so having the resources concentrated on less people is a sensible thing to do.

The radio industry is, more than ever, in a state of flux. This is primarily driven through consumer change – listeners are tuning into more stations across more platforms. This brings new opportunities for some and significant issues for others. Global themselves have grown their business through assimilating assets and redeveloping them to generate both significant financial returns and to better position the stations for the future. This growth is particularly driven by deploying change on a large scale.

A Choice re-brand has been in the works for months, I think I first heard about it in July. The interesting thing is not the re-brand (they’re easy), the clever thing is changing the nature of the station by making it a new national opportunity. This is something they could only do when they integrated Smooth, as it released capacity on Digital One by closing Smooth 70s to deliver on that vision.

It’s also the first real signal about Global’s position on a digital radio future.

The easy thing to have done would have sell-off some excess digital radio capacity – there’s plenty of demand after all. Instead they’ve chosen to invest in one of their brands, expand the footprint and try and build a true digital radio station. I think it can also be read as an acknowledgement that digital has become an important battleground- one that you can use to beat your enemies as well as new ground to colonise and develop.




Positioning Statements and Odd Emails

I get quite a lot of ‘member club’ emails from radio stations, as one of the things we do at Folder Media is help stations decide what their stategy is for sending them – so i’m definitely not an impartial observer. However the one I got from Choice FM this morning was really very odd:

Choice Email News Letter

I think its the use of the phrase ‘straplines’ that seems slightly strange. Firstly i’m not sure that listeners really equate the fact the station often says the phrase “Number 1 for hip hop and RnB” with the reason they tune in – the presenters, the content and the music. Straplines like ‘Today’s Best Mix’ and “London’s Hit Music Station’ are there to bury into listeners minds something that a station does or is. However it is rarely the reason that listeners would cite about why they tune into a particular station.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with asking listeners what they think about something – indeed much of the successful bits of commercial radio comes from the radio stations’ understanding of listeners tastes. However i’m not sure asking listeners to come up with a phrase they’ll be repeating over and over again really says much about what the radio station thinks is important. Indeed if it’s the only thing that Choice wants to email me about this week/month then that really is a bit of a worry.

If Choice is desperate to get listener’s views on this topic surely there are better ways to bring it closer to the programming. Why not have one of the breakfast show presenters bring up the topic, maybe in response to the co-host saying the current phrase and suggesting other thing that they could say. This banter could then be turned into a request for listeners to get involved and then the email could come from that presenter saying “All this week on the Breakfast show we’ve been arguing about what we should say about the radio station. Tim from Southwark says x, Janie from Beckton says y, what do you think – prove me right that we need a new one and win some iTunes downloads…”

Mark Ramsay has some interesting stuff to say on positioning statements here.