Monday, 29 July 2013

Bauer's acquisition of Absolute Radio

Eventually, Bauer have won the prize London FM slot alongside two more slots on the Digital One DAB multiplex that it's been alleged they've been attempting to acquire for months.

Absolute Radio, the AOR format station which was previously Virgin Radio also operates a national AM licence, six decades stations and a classic rock format on digital radio and online.

Bauer already have complimentary rock orientated brands such as Q, Kerrang! and Planet Rock, the latter which recently launched on FM in the West Midlands.

So what could Bauer do with it's new acquisition?  In the press statement from Bauer and One Golden Square, the brand is staying, yet that doesn't mean it'll stay in it's present form.  Bauer cut costs from the then digital only Planet Rock on-air by axing live shows from 7pm and airing repeats of weekend specialist shows.  It's almost certain the station will move from One Golden Square to Bauer's hub a few minutes walk away to share with Kiss, Magic 105.4 and Planet Rock.

I believe that for Planet Rock to increase it's share in the London area, it'll need to replace Absolute Radio on 105.8 FM.  An FM presence in London, the most competitive market in the country is important for national advertisers to hear what the brand is about.   This is why Smooth Radio despite having little or no regional output still uses 102.2 despite having a flagging share in the capital.   This is a high risk strategy as Absolute has taken five years to gain some form of a presence after rebranding from Virgin Radio in that market.

Absolute has a higher share of listeners over Virgin Radio, however the latter only had two digital spin off stations which you could only hear in the London area.   Absolute has invested heavily in DAB and satellite transmission for it's seven digital spin-offs across the country with the 80s and 90s stations on the national Digital One multiplex.

So considering Bauer are committed to Absolute, this 'could' happen.

London FM: Planet Rock replaces Absolute to provide a regional FM network for London and the West Midlands.   In London this provides a new format for the capital.

1215 AM:  Stays as Absolute Radio.  My own personal opinion is to replace it with PR, but I doubt it'd raise share in the likes of Liverpool, Glasgow and Edinburgh even if had classic rock on it instead.  Those who listen to PR there already use DAB.

Digital One DAB: Absolute Radio and 80s stay, although the latter is rebranded under one of Bauer's brands which can skew the playlist away from rock to AC which will enable the 80s station to reach it's full potential without the stigma of trying to be uber cool too.  90s is axed. 

Local DAB multiplex relays of the decades stations:  All axed.  With the exception of Classic Rock, the 60s, 70s and 00s stations have very little reach. These could be sold to OXIS Media for their expansion of Jack FM.

I really hope as many staff from Absolute are kept on as possible.   Despite the Islington skewed nonsense from management which I felt dogged their five years on-air, those with a real passion for radio not just on-air have an affinity for a station which has had an interesting history over the last twenty years.

The 'real' music era nonsense and cheap publicity stunts such as banning Cliff Richard are coming to an end.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Do OXIS Media really know how to Jack?

Friday saw the shock announcement from OXIS Media which whose largest shareholder is Absolute Radio International (ARI Consultancy) about the expansion of their licensed Jack FM brand across the UK regionally and the launch of Jack FM 2, a female skewed version of the largely automated main station in Oxford.

Jack FM 2 replaces Glide FM, which itself launched with a blaze of glory by stunting as Glee FM, which played tracks from the hit musical tv series.  However since then, ARI hasn't been able to capitalise on it's early publicity and is now on it's third relaunch in a short period for a station which was also called FM 107.9.  As Oxford's only commercial radio station for young adults, this is a failure despite sharing resources with the main Jack FM station, yet it appears that a CHR skewed Heart is still continuing to bring in the numbers, despite being networked from Reading and London.

For those of you who are not aware, ARI are also under contract to manage Absolute Radio, the national AM and London FM station on behalf of the Times of India, which may also be converted to be a Jack FM later in the year.   While ARI have increased the share of the overall Absolute Radio network, this has been done by launching seven costly digital radio spin off stations based on the decades from the 1960s to the 2000s and a mainstream classic rock station.

While some of the programming decisions of the main station have to be applauded, such as their investment in personality presenters such as Christian O'Connell, Geof Lloyd, Frank Skinner and Emily Dean, the business continues to lose money and has been rumoured that the likes of Richard Branson and Bauer have attempted to acquire the station.

If TIML don't sell and ARI continue to operate the station as Jack FM, this is about preserving the business and cost cutting, rather than taking the money from a larger well resourced radio group as well as maintaining Absolute's AOR 'real' music policy while not having to pay presenters.  

The other rumour is OXIS/ARI may be ready to step in and acquire stations Global Radio have to divest as part of their acquisition of GMG Radio to launch Jack FM in major regional markets.  The beauty of the Jack brand is that it can be adapted to suit the formats of other stations, for example Jack FM Solent a former AAA format is as far as you can get from Jack Hertfordshire which plays Hot AC.  Both of these stations are not owned by OXIS, but they have licenced them to other media groups as part of the business to sell the branding to local stations.

If OXIS pulls this off, it'll take them from being a small scale operator in Oxfordshire and a loss making contractor in London to taking their one successful brand Jack into something special.  It could be that midas touch that stops Bauer's expansion of Planet Rock and puts them into another successful male skewed brand alongside UTV's talkSPORT while keeping the contract for the national and London station safe.