Bauer have got their cheque book out again, but this time they have abandoned our fine shores to bunk up with the Irish. They’ve acquired Communicorp Media, the owner of the two national commercial stations Today FM and Newstalk, Dublin’s 98FM, the two Spins and some digital assets too, all for a purported €100m (about £85m). Communicorp’s UK operation (FM stations that, in the main, licence Global’s brands) remains unaffected.
Ireland is an interesting market. Radio’s popular with consumers there, and the fact RTE has advertising too, means pretty much the whole population can be reached through radio – which makes a difference to its share of the country’s advertising Euros.
It’s also heavily regulated, with a limited number of FM radio stations and no real DAB roll-out. If you walk into a station there’s often 30 or 40 people there, with a strong news team and little networking or automation. RTE have national stations, but don’t provide the local competition that say, the BBC does in the UK.
Yesterday’s StreamOn, a 90-minute presentation from Spotify extolled the virtues of its streaming audio world. Alongside digs at radio, music stores and the digital advertising market, Spotify positioned their platform as the perfect place for artists, podcasters, advertisers and listeners. Good news for all, except perhaps other middlemen.
Bauer’s portfolio management continues to be ever-evolving. GHR replaced many heritage local radio stations late last year, building the network out to a significant size. It did, however, lack a sizeable outlet in London – historically important to ad agencies to demonstrate your station is a big player – as well as an opportunity to garner more audience.
This has been corrected with an application to Ofcom to swap out Absolute Radio from 105.8 and replace it with GHR.
All radio stations are not created equal. Talent, content budgets, marketing, positioning, distribution, coverage and heritage all vary. For stations to grow, these elements have to exist in the right quantities, alongside a decent dollop of luck too.
Like anything, we often analyse failure but rarely interrogate success. We’re so relieved that something’s gone well, we just celebrate it. For disaster on the other hand, we have post-mortems, lessons learned and blame storming sessions. It seems that’s probably the wrong way round. Understanding why something works is probably significantly more valuable.
For a few years I had a standard section I trotted out when I went to speak at radio conferences around the world. It was a good ‘bit’ because pretty much every market in the world was the same, and audiences could (hopefully) relate to what as I was saying. I also got to have a bit of a go at the audience, always fun, before I then won them all back. Mostly.
The bit talked about how in the analogue world I felt that most stations had put way too much emphasis on their success coming from their programming, and less about how they were usually the monopoly provider of a format, sitting on a platform with virtually no competition. That perhaps really they weren’t the best at what they were doing, and just merely the least worst option.
At the moment there’s a huge amount of buzz about Clubhouse, a new audio social network. Indeed there’s so much buzz, the recent investments (of around $100m) have made it worth (well, on paper at least) $1bn.
Personally, I’m still not particularly sold. I think Clubhouse has definitely done some interesting things, but I don’t think the ‘killer feature’ is much to do with audio.
Overtly paying for media is not something that the UK was particularly used to. Yes, there was the licence fee, but early on it was probably more regarded as a device licence rather than that thing that paid for the BBC. What we didn’t have were the exhortations to donate to programme makers that they had in America – whether that was for NPR affiliates or televangelists.
Naturally this has changed more recently. The advent of cable and satellite, with premium movies and sport through to Netflix and Disney+, we’re more used to paying subscriptions for content.
In the audio space music streamers like Spotify or even audiobooks through Audible have become more common place.
In the battle for the attention of the young, TikTok and Snapchat are really going for it.
Snapchat has invented much of what has been adopted by other services, including Stories and timed, disappearing messages. It has also innovated with what its camera can do. The rise of TikTok, though, has been uncomfortable for Snapchat as it too targets 13 to 19s and has become the de-facto place for young people to consume short form, entertaining video clips.
Snapchat itself hasn’t gone away (they have 90m daily active users in the US, 249m across the world). It’s also still massively used as a messaging platform between teens, and indeed lots use Snapchat’s camera to make their TikToks. The problem for Snapchat was that it concentrated on the original social network feed idea of showing content just from the people that you’re following. Meanwhile TikTok exposed public posts more easily for other people to find. With many social media users always clamouring for more attention, this feature resonated well, and particularly because much of social video is literally performing for others.
Snapchat’s answer was to add TikTok style functionality to its app, but more importantly to incentivise its use. To do this they announced they would be giving successful creators a share of $1m every day.
Launching spin-offs, or brand extensions, for radio stations has been all the rage in the UK for the past few years. It was re-born by Clive Dickens who was running Absolute Radio, when he pushed live Absolute 80s. Like all good (re)inventions it was somewhat driven by a combination of opportunity and necessity.
2020 saw lots of audio acquisitions particularly around podcast content and ad-tech. If you were a big boy, or wanted to be, you got out the chequebook and started buying.
Spotify was the poster-boy for this (Gimlet, Parcast, Megaphone) but there was also iHeart buying Voxnest, SiriusXM getting Stitcher and a loads of others too.
One of the issues has been large companies were running out of big podcast companies to buy. In the content space, one of the top indies left was Wondery, and just before the New Year Amazon announced they were snaffling it up.