Friday 23 March 2018

Niche stations seeking new radio licences on offer from the BAI

Plan for new stations met with anger from existing operators in sector

Lucy Gaffney, chairwoman of Communicorp. Photo: Collins
Lucy Gaffney, chairwoman of Communicorp. Photo: Collins
Samantha McCaughren

Samantha McCaughren

A number of small radio groups plan to apply for new radio licences which the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI) is preparing to make available.

In a move which has already sparked controversy, the regulator has invited submissions of interest for potential new stations.

Radio veteran Martin Block, founder of Dublin's Lite FM which later became Q102, confirmed that he and a group called Easy Media would seek to establish a country music station.

Simon Maher of 8Radio, a co-founder of Phantom FM, will also seek a licence. His proposal is for a multi-city, alternative music station. He said it would be a niche station with his projections suggesting that advertising revenue of around €500,000 would be available for a new entrant.

Radio Nova would also like to expand and become a national station, according to chief executive Kevin Branigan.

The BAI put ads in the national press last week calling for submissions from parties interested in providing new commercial FM radio services. The BAI said it was open to suggestions on the types of services to be provided, and the areas to be served by new services.

The BAI will also carry out a significant piece of research as it develops a new broadcasting services strategy.

"This will involve a comprehensive environmental and economic analysis of the media sector," said the BAI.

Submissions of interest for new stations are required to provide detailed information regarding the quality, range and types of services to be provided and the extent to which any new service will add to diversity for listeners.

A number of key players in the industry are unhappy with the prospect of more stations, claiming that the market cannot sustain more competition.

Communicorp, which is owned by businessman Denis O'Brien, strongly criticised the BAI for its "sudden and unexpected announcement" to seek proposals for new radio services. O'Brien is the largest shareholder in Independent News & Media, publishers of this newspaper.

Communicorp has written to the Minister for Communications, Denis Naughten, seeking a meeting to outline the "urgent reform" needed to the regulation and funding of the independent radio industry.

Lucy Gaffney, chairwoman of Communicorp, said: "The radio sector is in crisis and facing unprecedented pressure on its commercial revenues which has resulted in many media organisations, including Communicorp, making significant cuts to their businesses.

"The digital share of the advertising market has grown to 40pc with Google and Facebook commanding a large portion of the revenue and they are both unregulated. Meanwhile, the radio industry in Ireland is forced to continue operating in an outdated and inappropriate regulatory environment. Any decision to issue new licences will only serve to compound the existing pressures," she said.

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