Inside Bauer's radio land grab as it launches another new station

Bauer exec explains brand launch spree as it unveils first national country music station

Bauer Media has launched Country Hits Radio, the UK’s first national country music radio brand, at the height of a renewal of interest in the genre. It is Bauer’s third station launch in as many months - following Scala and Jazz FM - indicating newfound confidence in the audio market.

The channel will form part of the Hits Radio Network and aims to talk to a 25-44-year-old country-loving audience that Bauer identified off the back of rising genre performance across album sales (1.9m albums sold in 2017) and live ticket sales.

The brand reckons there are around 8.7 million country music fans in the UK.

Launch partner is Entertainment One - it kicks off promoting upcoming movie release Wild Rose - the story of a country singer's journey from Glasgow to Nashville.

Speaking broadly about its radio expansions, Simon Kilby, chief revenue officer at Bauer Media, said: “We believe that strong, distinctive brands, products for clearly defined and valuable audiences are what drives our consumers to listen and is why advertisers want to work with us."

He claimed that commercial radio has never been more attractive to advertisers and pointed to BBC talent moving into the commercial space, like Simon Mayo joining Scala or Chris Evans moving to Virgin Radio.

“There has been an explosion in listening hours via digital devices such as smart speakers which are up 268.1%," said Kilby of the other contributing factors.

"Combine that with radio offering a trusted and brand-safe environment, advertisers are rapidly waking up to the value and its ability to build brands long-term.”

He also pointed to UK radio hitting record revenue levels of £700m in 2018, with Deloitte projecting further growth.

“This points to a radio centre in the midst of huge reinvention and revolution, and with audio hours overall growing - there’s no better time to launch national radio stations that will cater to this demand," he said.

The Bauer strategy kicked off with the acquisition of Jazz FM late in 2018, helping the station develop a foothold in that musical genre. Following was accessible classical music channel Scala, with Disney as a sponsor, and this week the impending country offering.

On launching these brands, Kilby said that audience studies are gathered and music industry trends are analysed. Ticket sales and company experts also give thought to the new spaces to push into. “[Our experts also use their] instinct to spot opportunities: this could be the influence of the country genre in popular music or how classical music is consumed in new ways.”

With the latest launch, Kilby believes “we identified [country] is probably the largest genre of music not to have its own UK radio station”.

Scala similarly was positioned to make classical music accessible to the masses and in particular young people. Its surveys found that 45% of audiences claimed they wanted to know more about the classical genre, space for Bauer to fill.

When asked if there were immediate plans to launch any more stations, Kilby concluded: “We believe in the continuing relevance of radio as a medium and that there has never been a more exciting time to be in the audio business.”

The move comes as the media company is snapping up regional radio licences, with acquisitions of UKRD (722,000 listeners), and in February, Wireless Local (850,000 listeners), Celador and Lincs (1.1 million between both).

Country Hits Radio launches 5 April. BBC country music radio host Baylen Leonard will drive a daily weekday show, with Nashville’s Ty Bentli and singer-songwriter Una Healy also hosting.

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