SUPPLEMENT: EUROPEAN MEDIA; Can pan-Euro radio play to local strengths?

Ambitious plans are being made for a Europe-wide commercial radio station. Can its programming attract mainstream advertisers? Meg Carter investigates

Ambitious plans are being made for a Europe-wide commercial radio

station. Can its programming attract mainstream advertisers? Meg Carter

investigates



Europe’s first pan-European radio station is preparing for launch.

Eurozone will be ‘Radio One-and-a-quarter’, according to one of its

backers - a truly pan-European station offering a blend of music and

talk originating from different regional centres throughout Europe,

targeting new Europeans of all ages. A grand idea. But will it work?



Pan-European radio has a patchy track record: while a number of current

services can be heard in more than one country, they are generally

produced for, and broadcast from, only one country - such as Atlantic

252, which is based in Ireland. Or, they are distributed via satellite -

which enables a national service to become international in reach, such

as BBC Radios 1 to 5 and Virgin 1215.



Perhaps the best-known European radio service was Radio Luxembourg, a

commercial station launched in the 30s. It broadcast on medium wave and

sometimes short wave, which gave it considerable reach into Europe and

beyond. The station went off air in 1992 due to increased competition on

better quality FM frequencies, which exacerbated a lack of advertising

revenue.



All of which leaves the field clear for Eurozone, the brainchild of the

Armenian businessman, Toby Mansurian. ‘One night, as I left a restaurant

in London, I turned on Jazz FM and thought ‘if only I could drive to my

home in France with the same station playing all the time’,’ he

explains. A simple concept and over the past three years, Mansurian has

assembled a variety of backers to make his dream come true.



The station will have an 80:20 music-to-speech ratio, playing a broad

range of tracks with mass-European appeal. It has set itself a broad-

based audience target, too: aiming to appeal to anyone with a European

outlook, from students in their late teens and early 20s to middle-aged

professionals. Programming will include European chart fodder, pop,

dance, rock and jazz - plus news, what’s on, weather, travel and sports

bulletins.



Mansurian hopes the station can reach three million listeners in its

first year, rising to 12 million by the end of the decade. As 45 per

cent of Europeans outside the UK have a working knowledge of English,

the service will be mostly in English, although in France it will be

Anglo-French, in Germany Anglo-German, and so on. Distribution will be

through a variety of means, although primarily by applying for radio

licences in each market - which allows for the local language opt-out.



Another route will be to buy existing stations and re-format them. In

this way, Mansurian claims, Eurozone can capitalise on one of radio’s

greatest strengths: being a local medium. ‘History proves that pan-

European TV is profitable, and pan-European publishing, too. This is a

natural progression,’ he says. ‘Europe is relatively small, so it can -

and should - have a single service which can communicate a European

agenda.’



Critical to its success will be programming, which,along with

transmission services and distribution, will be co-ordinated by the

broadcasting services company, SSVC. This has provided British armed

forces with radio services worldwide for the past 50 years and owns half

of the new station. Meanwhile, Katz International will handle pan-

European airtime sales.



‘Pan-European advertising, even on a relatively low reach-per-country,

can still be viable,’ Peter McDonagh, SSVC’s director of broadcasting,

says. ‘Advertisers have always seen pan-European radio as a no-no. But

we believe we have sufficient support and expertise to make it work.’



The English language need not be a turn off either. In Germany, the

English-speaking station, BBFS, has attracted a big following among

German speakers. McDonagh claims: ‘It is possible - if you have

sufficient cultural input from other countries, too. I would envisage a

schedule with programmes originating in different places so you hand

over at the end from London to Lisbon, or Paris to Madrid.’



According to Katz International’s chief executive and president, Simon

Lynds, the time has never been better to launch a pan-European network.

‘Advertisers are interested in supporting their pan-European brands with

centralised budgets, but to date, radio has not been able to meet this

in either distribution or format,’ he says.Katz’s analysis of the pan-

European market shows radio takes a 6 per cent share of total

advertising expenditure. Lynds believes there remains significant room

for growth through developing pan-European advertising opportunities -

either through new stations or networked opportunities using existing

local services.



The latter is exactly what the programme, barter and syndication

specialist, Unique Broadcasting, has been doing in recent months. But,

according to Unique’s head of international business, Pascal Grierson:

‘I think one-stop European radio will struggle, both in terms of

programming and revenue.’ Advertisers want significant numbers of

listeners, but the question is: what format will deliver audiences in

sufficient volume? ‘If it is predominantly English-language, this will

limit its reach. It will probably end up serving travelling English

businessmen,’ Grierson warns.



Mansurian counters this, and claims: ‘As a network, we will need only a

relatively small reach in each country to be commercially viable.’ But,

while many believe Eurozone is an admirable idea, they identify a number

of obstacles to be overcome.



Although there is a pan-European market, significant differences exist

between different countries, says Dale Butler, head of marketing and

research at Classic FM, which operates local-language sister stations in

Holland, Sweden and Finland. ‘Radio listening patterns in Holland, for

instance, are particularly distinct. With most stations relayed by

cable, the change in season is a key factor - reach can drop from 90 per

cent in winter months to 50 per cent in July and August.’



Competition for commercial audiences can also vary dramatically. In some

Scandinavian countries, state-run stations also carry advertising. In

Holland, commercial broadcasting is relatively new and, although

audiences and revenue are growing fast, scope for further growth (and

change) remains great. In Sweden, more than 90 commercial stations have

launched over the past two years.



‘We can attract a very similar audience in different territories which

is, of course, attractive to advertisers,’ Butler says. The development

of pan-European radio advertising, however, will battle against a major

obstacle: the lack of a cohesive pan-European audience-research system.

As Butler says: ‘Rajar remains light years ahead.’



David Campbell, Virgin Radio’s managing director, voices similar

reservations. ‘While the technology side of it is feasible, regional

quotas will be a problem.’ Distribution via satellite or the Internet

(Virgin 1215 is available on both) is one thing, he says. ‘The minute

you get into terrestrial broadcasting you enter a whole new legal

situation.’



The French are firm advocates of quotas to restrict the proportion of

non-EC-originated programming. And they are not alone. Campbell says:

‘If you broadcast across Europe but take out chunks for local music and

local language content, at what point does it stop being a pan-European

station? I think it’s an impossible task to fulfil.’



Nor will it be easy securing the local terrestrial licences needed to

establish the network, he points out. Virgin is expanding through

acquisitions and licence applications. It recently announced plans to

bid for a South African licence in Johannesburg and also holds a stake

in the Paris rock station, Oui FM. ‘Terrestrial licences are a rare

commodity - if you could just swan into a country and pick one up, we’d

have a dozen,’ Campbell says.



Advertisers are still set up on a country-by-country basis. Campbell

says: ‘They don’t buy or plan on a pan-European basis. There is a big

difference between pan-European co-ordination and pan-European

implementation.’ Even so, Ogilvy and Mather’s head of European media,

Alan Rutherford, is hopeful Eurozone can succeed. ‘It all depends on

distribution,’ he says. ‘Although it will be distributed by satellite,

it will be re-broadcast to listeners locally on FM. Once they have the

partnerships in place, it becomes a clearer proposition.’ Rutherford

thinks ‘there probably is’ a market for Eurozone, providing it pitches

for a slightly older MTV audience. It would be popular with major

advertisers such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Nike, he says. ‘Look at pan-

European TV. It has a similar profile; it’s not massive in any one

country - but it is significant when spread across the whole.’



Butler believes Eurozone has potential. ‘The market is there, but reach

is important and market share essential.’ Reach is regarded as a

currency by radio buyers on the Continent, he explains. ‘While the idea

sounds good, success will depend on how much pan-European business there

is out there and whether the service really will be pan-European, or

whether there will be large gaps.’



Spike Milligan, director of Mobile Advertising and Promotions and a

former sales director of Radio Luxembourg, comments: ‘Pure competition

killed Radio Luxembourg in the early 90s.’



European advertising expenditure was never a significant source of

revenue, which made it vulnerable to trends in just one market: the UK.

Spreading the net wider could now work, Milligan believes, but adds one

proviso: irrespective of the range of new station formats now on air,

commercial radio’s prime strength remains its local relationship with

its listeners. ‘Eurozone will have to be something really special to

overcome this.’



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