Upbeat Bauer bids to reverse radio fortunes and ‘bring new things’ to listeners

Former Communicorp group will explore subscriptions in future, says Paul Keenan

Bauer Media Audio president Paul Keenan: Newstalk ‘will remain a very important part of our business’.

Bauer Media Audio president Paul Keenan: Newstalk ‘will remain a very important part of our business’.

 

The Irish radio advertising market can reverse its fortunes over the next five years, while subscription products offering listeners “a bit more control than the passive radio experience” may also be introduced, say the new owners of the former Communicorp group.

Paul Keenan, president of London-headquartered Bauer Media Audio, gave an upbeat assessment of the prospects for both the sector and the Irish economy, speaking to The Irish Times in a week in which it completed its deal to buy Denis O’Brien’s Communicorp.

“We expect the radio advertising market in Ireland to grow. We see that we have a responsibility to stimulate that growth,” Mr Keenan said.

The renamed Bauer Media Audio Ireland, which includes national stations Today FM and Newstalk, must demonstrate to advertisers that it is “bringing new things to listeners” and prove to younger audiences that radio “deserves their attention”.

Radio advertising, on which the medium largely depends for revenues, has shrunk in recent years, with the market in the Republic – propped up in 2020 by Government spending – estimated to be worth about €100 million.

Mr Keenan reiterated an earlier assurance to staff that Bauer would not seek to offload Newstalk. The mix of speech and music within the Irish group – which also includes Spin, Spin Southwest, 98FM and online station Off the Ball – “makes a lot of sense commercially” and helps maintains scale, he said.

Newstalk “is a very important part of the business in Ireland and it will remain a very important part of our business going forward”, while Today FM “looks to be a very successful entertainment offer of high relevance”.

He acknowledged that it is harder to win the attention of younger listeners, something Mr O’Brien said was a reason he sold the group. But Mr Keenan also cited the digital expansion of Bauer’s Kiss radio portfolio in the UK and said he saw “similar prospects” for the Spin stations.

Simon Myciunka, who was appointed Communicorp chief executive last October, remains in his position.

Mr Keenan said his only role in Thursday’s lifting of the long-term ban on contributors from The Irish Times appearing on the group’s stations was to “just make clear to Simon and the management team” that editorial decisions “are made by him and his team”.

“We want to give our management teams autonomy to run the business in the way that they see fit and to make the decisions that they think are in the best interest of the business there.”

Bauer also owns stations in Sweden, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Denmark and Finland, as well as in the UK, where it recently started offering “super-fans” of its stations Planet Rock, Kerrang! Radio, Scala and Jazz FM the ability to avoid adverts, skip tracks and access additional content for £3.99 (€4.64) a month.

Listener interest has been “encouraging” to date and once Bauer develops more insights into how these subscriptions are working in the UK, it will “definitely look at opportunities to do this internationally, yes”.

Regulatory backdrop

The group plans to invest “serious time” in its relationship with the Irish media regulator to ensure commercial radio is given the “flexibility” to stay viable, Mr Keenan said, adding that publicly owned broadcasters such as RTÉ should not be “unnecessarily competing with services that the commercial sector is able to provide”.

Bauer Media Audio is part of Hamburg-based Bauer Media Group, a family-owned publishing and radio empire led by chief executive Yvonne Bauer.

Mr Keenan, who declined to comment on the value of the deal, said the company viewed the Communicorp business with “considerable admiration for some time” and that talks to acquire it “became more real” near the end of 2020.

The “super-efficient” process was “all done entirely virtually” in January and February. He intends to visit Dublin “as soon as I will be welcome, from a healthcare crisis point of view”.

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