Radio acquisitions spark fears over sales power

Advertisers and ad agencies are voicing their fears about the increasing concentration of commercial radio airtime sales following EMAP’s acquisition of Metro Radio Group and GWR’s purchase of Chiltern Radio.

Agencies are briefing their clients about the possibility of Capital Radio controlling 65 per cent of local radio airtime sales through its sales house, Media Sales & Marketing, and Capital Radio sales.

EMAP bought Metro last week in a 99m deal. Metro’s airtime is handled by Independent Radio Sales. Although EMAP insists it has no immediate plans to move the business out of IRS – the existing contract has a further 18 months to run – there is speculation it may do so.

EMAP stations’ sales are split between MS&M and IRS. The company could move all sales into one or the other. Or it could set up its own airtime sales house.

“It certainly has the volume to do the latter, and I would welcome it. Another sales house would invigorate the whole market,” says Leo Burnett head of radio Vicky Richardson.

BMP DDB Needham Derek Morris voices agencies’ concern at increased concentration of airtime sales power, although with reservation. “We are right to be concerned about increased power blocks, but only if this distorts the market,” he says. “The key point is that major media owners are now investing in the medium. That can only be good.”

GWR’s hostile bid for Chiltern raises the possibility of Chiltern sales being moved out of IRS and into MS&M. This would affect IRS, which, some observers suggest, would have difficulty continuing in business if it lost both the Metro and Chiltern accounts.

However, IRS stresses it has received assurances from EMAP that there are no plans to move Metro’s business. And it insists it remains in a strong position – a further airtime sales contract win was expected as Marketing Week went to press.

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