• Thu. Sep 8th, 2022

Employees informed of deal as billionaire exits Irish media market

Feb 25, 2021

Communicorp, the radio group controlled by Denis OBrien, has agreed a sale of the company to UK-based Bauer Media Audio for a sum understood to be north of 100 million.
The deal, which is subject to regulatory approval, will see Bauer take control of the national stations Today FM and Newstalk, as well as local music stations Spin 1038 and 98FM in Dublin and Spin Southwest in Limerick.
Digital radio sport station Off The Ball, digital audio exchange audioXI and aggregated listening platform GoLoud are also part of the company.
The move follows Mr OBriens sale of his 29 per cent shareholding in Independent News & Media (IMM) in 2019 and marks his exit from the Irish media market.
Communicorp employees were informed of the sale on Thursday morning.
The companys chairwoman Lucy Gaffney said the agreement to sell marked the culmination of an exciting and dynamic journey for Communicorp.
Hundreds of incredibly talented and special people, both in front of and behind the mic, have made that journey possible and I want to thank them for their enormous contribution to the company. I also want to thank our advertisers, our stakeholders and especially our listeners, for their support and loyalty over many years.
Mr OBriens decision to offload Communicorp was not unexpected. In 2016, Communicorp explored a deal to sell Newstalk to INM while Mr OBrien was still the largest shareholder in the newspaper group.
The Digicel founder entered the Irish media market through his interest in Classic Hits 98FM in 1989, the year licences were issued to independent radio stations for the first time. Communicorp went on to become the majority shareholder in Newstalk, then only a Dublin station, in 2004. It later gained a national licence.
Mr OBriens media holdings expanded significantly when he bought Today FM from Emap in a landmark 200 million deal in 2007 during a buoyant spell for the Irish advertising market. This deal also included Highland Radio and FM104, both of which were sold soon after in FM104s case to satisfy the concerns of the Competition Authority.
He first bought shares in INM in 2006, becoming its largest shareholder in 2012 following a six-year battle with Sir Anthony OReilly. After years of boardroom upheaval, the company was sold to Belgian publisher Mediahuis in 2019, ending Mr OBriens relationship with the company.
The latest accounts for Communicorp show that Mr OBrien, its majority shareholder, increased his financial support to the group in 2019, bringing his total loans to Communicorp to 104.2 million.
The accounts, filed in December, show that Communicorp made an after-tax profit of almost 1.6 million in 2019, compared to a 700,000 loss the year before.
Its revenues rose 4 per cent on a like-for-like basis to 43.8 million, despite significant challenges in a radio market that is increasingly vying with for advertising revenues with technology companies such as Google and Facebook.
The most recent figures from the Joint National Listenership Research survey show that Today FM has a market share of 7.8 per cent, which is a five-year high for the station. Newstalk has a market share of 6.7 per cent.
Bauer Media Audio president Paul Keenan said Communicorps radio stations and digital brands were well positioned to capitalise on the future development potential of the wider world of audio.
The deal represents Bauers entry into the Irish radio market and extends the commercial radio groups holdings to eight European countries.
In the UK, Bauer operates the stations Magic, Kiss, Absolute Radio, Scala Radio and the Hits Radio network, while it also has a presence in Sweden, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Denmark and Finland. Its brands are estimated to reach some 55 million listeners.
The radio division is part of Germanys Bauer Media Group, a family-owned media conglomerate that is headquartered in Hamburg and led by chief executive and majority owner Yvonne Bauer.
The fifth-generation company, which owns hundreds of websites and magazines including Grazia, Heat, Empire and Take a Break dates back to a small printing operation in 1875 and employs about 15,000 people.