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JNLR Analysis: The Battle for Dublin

Oilbhe Doyle, account director with media agency OMD, looks at the latest set of figures from the JNLR and the battle between FM104, 98FM and Spin 103.8

We’ve been singing off this hymn sheet for a while now, the stellar success of FM104 in the market place marked against the unfortunate decline of 98FM. It has now become a real question of why, why two brands who were at loggerheads for a slice of the Dublin pie for so long now have a gaping divide between them? FM104 now sits at well over double the daily listeners and market share of 98FM, 22% and 9% respectively.

FM104 and 98FM have traditionally been keen rivals. Both stations entered the Dublin market in 1989, FM104 first and then shortly followed behind by what was known as Classic Hits – 98FM.  For the first few years 98FM took the lead in the market spearheaded by it’s anchor breakfast show with Pat Courtenay. FM104 made a few directional changes, re-branding to Rock 104 and then Dublin’s FM104. However the real success that became the catalyst for FM104 overtaking 98FM was the introduction of the Strawberry Alarm Clock in 1995. Building on this platform, FM104 have been consistent in their approach, in how they perceive themselves and in how they behave. They have retained and recruited new listeners in a solid and unflinching manner.

On the other hand, 98FM’s have been undergoing a prolonged period of unrest as they have struggled to compete with rival FM104.  There have been several inconsistent brand moves over the years. They dropped the Classic Hits out of their name, and then in 2008 the station was renamed to Dublin’s 98. In 2009 they had a new slogan “Dublin’s Best Music Mix”. In 2010 the station was named back to 98FM and a new slogan “now is good”. There have been several shifts with schedules and DJs, with the latest recruitment of Ray Foley from Today FM yet to bear any fruit for them. The gap of 67,000 listeners between him and the Strawberry Alarm Clock is certainly a concern for the powers that be on Grand Canal Quay.

In reality, Spin 103.8 is Dublin’s second station, not 98FM. Putting aside for a moment the somewhat patchy book they have just had, Spin has been a huge success story.  The question is whether in the long run, Spin can catch up and overtake FM104 as Dublin’s leading station.

Operating under a youth licence, it is hardly surprising that 77% of Spin’s listenership falls into the 15-34 category. Within this, the audience splits fairly evenly amongst 15-24s and 25-34s, with 45% falling into the 25-34 group. However, as recently as 2009, this figure was only 35%. This pattern of an ageing profile is nothing new to youth media brands.

Audience retention is difficult enough, but when the relevance of your product hangs on to something as temporary and arbitrary as the audience’s age, it is a near impossible challenge. The temptation to hold on to audience by changing the product must, for youth radio stations, be powerful. But if there is anything to be learned from the history of 2FM, it is that for a youth media brand to remain a youth media brand, it must be willing to let its audience go.

This is the dilemma facing Spin in the medium to long term; do they allow their product to age with their audience and hope that they can still recruit at the young end of the market? In a year when Spotify launched and recruited 420,000 Irish users, this doesn’t seem like a viable strategy. The unfortunate truth is that for youth stations to remain true to their remit, they must intentionally put a limit on their own growth potential.

This challenge is not one that faces FM104. The advantage of its wider remit, combined with the strength and consistency of its brand, leaves FM104 in an undeniably strong position. It appears that in the long run, FM104 are well positioned to remain at the top of the Dublin market.

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