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Competition regulator finally clears Bauer’s 2019 local radio acquisitions

By | Published on Monday 16 March 2020

Bauer Media

The UK competition regulator last week finally gave its approval to a series of acquisitions undertaken by the radio division of Bauer Media last year.

Bauer announced deals to buy Celador Radio, Lincs FM Group, UKRD and the local stations of the Wireless Group all within the first quarter of 2019. The Competition & Markets Authority then confirmed it was investigating the deals to see if they raised any competition law concerns. In a December update, the regulator said that its main ongoing concern related to the ad sales business First Radio Sales, previously half-owned by UKRD.

FRS sells national advertising for various independently owned commercial radio stations. The UKRD acquisition meant that Bauer now owned 50% of that business.

The CMA said that, if Bauer sought to close down FRS, or more likely merge it with its existing ad sales business, that would reduce the options for smaller radio stations still seeking sales representation. Which could result in those smaller radio stations having to pay higher commission rates.

In a bid to allay those concerns, the CMA has approved Bauer’s deals on the condition it provides ad sales representation to those third party radio stations that have previously utilised FRS on the same terms as they have enjoyed to date, for at least the next ten years.

CMA Panel Chair Stuart McIntosh explained: “It’s really important that independent radio stations have good access to representation for national radio ad sales as it is an important source of income for those stations. Without the CMA’s remedy, it’s likely that these stations would have to pay over the odds for national advertising representation”.

The regulator had also previously raised concerns about Bauer’s purchase of Signal 107 in Wolverhampton as part of its deal with the Wireless Group, because the media firm already has an outlet of its Free Radio network in that region.

Elsewhere in its statement, the regulator said last week: “The CMA was also previously concerned that Bauer’s purchase of Wireless’s Signal 107 station would reduce competition for local advertisers wishing to promote their products in the Wolverhampton area. Following further investigation, the CMA does not have concerns about this”.

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