News Feature

By The Drum, Administrator

July 4, 2005 | 6 min read

Nineteen ambitious competitors, one absolute winner and no runner’s up prizes; it sounds like reality TV rather than commercial radio. But it wasn’t, this was radio, and this was actually worth watching.

The contest – no, let’s call it the battle – for the new Manchester FM radio licence was a bloody one. All the major industry heavyweights weighed in to the ring, each eager to land the knockout blow and emerge with, if not a licence to print money, then certainly a licence to make some.

In its wisdom OFCOM plumped for GCap’s London-proven XFM proposition and the celebrations, recriminations and fulminations kicked off in earnest. The city’s leading newspaper ran a story reporting that the choice had “rankled with other bidders”, one of who claimed that the decision had left them all “scratching their heads”, noting that “it looks like the winning package will be parachuted into Manchester from London.” Cue a follow-up interview with XFM boss Graham Bryce that set the scene for the victor with the line, “eyebrows were raised when an out of town media company”. Hmmm.

In an attempt to see if the wonderful people of the Mancunian media scene are turning up their noses, rather than the sides of their mouths, at OFCOM’s decision we thought we’d better ask them. For a neutral-ish trans Pennine view we even invited someone from Leeds to the party. So, come on then, what do they think?

Q1 Was XFM the right choice for Manchester?

“XFM is a great choice for the Manchester area. It dials into the heritage of a city that’s been truly seminal in setting trends in music over the last 30 years. It has a fantastic opportunity to be an agenda setting station; if they resource and nurture it correctly and don’t simply try and overlay a London programming formula on to it.”

Mick Carter, Mediaedge:cia, Manchester

“Any of the 19 stations that pitched would have been good for the commercial radio market in Manchester. However, will another station similar to Key and Galaxy help to take listeners from the BBC, and in particular Radio 1? Personally I think not, and I believe that XFM will actually take the bulk of its listeners from these two.”

Matt Hatton, Brilliant, Manchester

“The award of the FM license to GCap station XFM is absolutely the best choice for Manchester. Having said that, I’m sure Emap’s Kerrang was running a close second and realistically would have offered a similar proposition to the market.”

El Long, Mediavest Leeds

Q2 With a TSA of 1.3 million how many listeners will XFM need to be an attractive proposition to advertisers?

“GCap are being rather cagey about announcing any reach estimates, at least for now. Certainly the music format of XFM limits its mainstream appeal so the listening figures certainly won’t be huge. Using XFM in London as a barometer, we should be looking at around 5 per cent weekly reach of all adults. However, coverage of their core demographic of 15 to 35-year-old men should be significantly higher at around 12 per cent reach. If they can do these kinds of reach figures they should have cracked it.”

Steve Blakeman, PHD Compass, Manchester

“XFM will be attractive to advertisers who need to reach young upmarket people in Manchester and the way this city is going these people are in abundance, so it should be a relatively easy task. GCap Media will make sure that XFM is on every advertiser’s shopping list from day one. The national brands will use it because of the familiarity of it in London. The regional and local advertisers will warm to it because of the aggressive marketing that is bound to happen at launch by GCap. With Century already so well established it has a great platform to launch it on.”

Matt Hatton

Q3 Is there a perception that this is a London-owned group invading Manchester?

“I don’t believe it’s a concern that it’s a London-owned group coming to Manchester. After all, if they bring this station up here and go all London-centric the Manc’s will turn off and not come back. The advantage is that XFM have experience of survival in the tough London market and know how to make a good station, with a good format, work for all parties – listeners and advertisers included.”

El Long

“Listeners will only be bothered about the music, not who owns the station or where the concept was born. And, as long as XFM can deliver the numbers at the right price, then agencies and advertisers will both be happy.”

Steve Blakeman

“GCap own Century 105 and Capital Gold in Manchester, so integration into the Manchester marketplace should not be an issue. However the fact that it’s just been announced that Andy Ashton has been promoted to the newly created role of programme director for the XFM Network should raise a few questions – Andy will head up programming in London and Manchester. For the station to succeed its output must be totally focused on Manchester listeners and not just a rehash of the London play-list.”

Nola Astle, Mediaedge:cia

Q4 Does this strengthen the commercial radio sector in the area or will it cannibalise the existing market?

“Hopefully, I say this with desperation in my voice, the station will draw listeners from Radio 1 and will not cannibalise the current commercial offering in Manchester. This is a new format in Manchester and, unless you listen to a few specialist shows on Revolution FM, GMR, or you have a digital radio, XFM will be a welcome addition to the dial.”

Nola Astle

“XFM’s core target demographic is clearly 15 to 35-year-old men. That specific audience is not the primary focus for any of the other stations within their TSA. Consequently, they may well nibble around the edges of the likes of Key 103, Century, Smooth and Galaxy, but I really can’t see them cannibalising the existing listener base too dramatically. The real battleground is the non-commercial listener-ship of Radio 1 – they will be the biggest losers if XFM proves to be a success.”

Steve Blakeman

Q5 Any other comments?

“After Kerrang’s success in Birmingham I feel very sorry for Emap. They must be absolutely gutted and equally bemused as to why XFM and not Kerrang. What did they do so wrong when Birmingham is going so right? They must be asking themselves how these licences are decided. Did they toss a coin and XFM came up heads? I would have preferred a speech-based radio station to have won this licence as that is what I believe is missing in the marketplace. However, congratulations to GCap and XFM, I wish them well.”

Matt Hatton


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