Tuesday, February 18, 2014

'Mature' French radio market relies on tight playlists

(This story was originally published in the Feb. 4 issue of German trade magazine MusikMarkt)

By Emmanuel Legrand

The French radio market is characterised by a high level of concentration and centralisation. The sector is segmented into national networks, that cover the whole territory, usually operating out of Paris, regional networks and local commercial and not-for-profit stations.

Aside from public broadcaster Radio France, three main groups control the bulk of France's radio frequencies: RTL, the affiliate of Bertelsmann, with RTL (full-service format), RTL2 (AC) and Fun Radio (Dance and electro); Lagardere Active, part of media group Lagardere, with Europe 1 (news and talk), Virgin Radio (rock) and RFM (Adult); and NRJ Group, property of media mogul Jean-Paul Baudecroux, with NRJ (CHR), Cherie FM (adult), Nostalgie (Golds) and Rire & Chansons (AC/Comedy). Other national operators include Skyrock (Urban music) and Next Radio (with news and talk station RMC and business news BFM).

Yacast's Mouhoub
In 2013, the radio market was rather stable, with no major changes in formats, but we've seen some swings in audience,” explains Ali Mouhoub, deputy Managing Director of Yacast, the French company that monitors national radio airplay. “The paradox is that the most listened to radio in France is NRJ, and its audience has been growing steadily over the past quarters, but other music station such as Fun, Skyrock or Cherie FM have problems. Overall, the Adult format has suffered.”

For Mouhoub, the French radio market is “mature” with strong brands and each national network targeting a specific audience with a specific format: NRJ with hits, Fun with dance, Skyrock with urban music and Virgin with pop/electro. “Each radio has its own market and NRJ is the dominant leader,” says Mouhoub.

From a promotional perspective, obtaining substantial airplay can be problematic: National networks only add a few tracks per week, and since each network has a specific format, very few tracks cross over to more than two or three networks. Labels also contend that the holy grail still remains being programmed on NRJ, which has the real capacity to provide massive exposure, but there are few elected songs that make it on NRJ's playlist.

Many non-mainstream tracks end up played on stations with more open programming policies like FIP, or rock station Oui FM, experimental station Nova, or electro/rock public station Le Mouv', or on the many local non for profit stations regrouped under the banner Ferarock. “You have the two extremes,”says Mouhoub, “with [free format public station] FIP, which plays over 35,000 different tracks each year, and tightly formatted station like NRJ that add two to five tracks maximum per week.”

With Urban, Dance and Pop being the taste of the moment (Robin Thicke's 'Blurred Lines' was one of the most played songs in France in 2013), other music genres are finding it even more difficult to access radio playlists. Even Rock as a genre has its own radio challenges, but for genres like Jazz, Classical and World, it is even tougher.

Media in France are not really open to non mainstream music, aside from a few exceptions like FIP or [Paris-based experimental station] Radio Nova,” says Petra Gehrmann, the German-born founder and CEO of music publishing company M√©tisse Music, which counts among its diverse catalogue such artists as Marina Cedro from Argentina, Jun Miyake from Japan, whose music is featured in Wim Wenders's documentary 'Pina', or La Caravane Passe from France.

Regardless of music genres, access to media remains a key issue. Record labels – through their representative bodies UPFI and SNEP – joined by SACEM have long complained that there is not enough diversity on mainstream media in France. In addition, indies claim that is no level playing field and majors tend to have an upper hand in getting their music played on the radio. Between the international hits provided by the majors and the local acts they produce, there is not much space left, lament indies label executives. And both majors and indies agree that radio stations constantly try to not respect the quota regulation.

These question were the object of a report (another one!), penned under the aegis of broadcasting authority the CSA. Presented to the Minister of Culture early January 2014, it attempted to tackle the issue of exposure of music on radio and TV. The conclusions fell short of the expectations of the industry, if judged by a joint statement issued by SNEP, performers' rights society Adami and SACEM.

They claim that the report does not address the issue of high rotations used by stations to meet their quotas (two third of the French-speaking output of radio stations targeting the youth are achieved with 10 tracks, according to SNEP), and does not propose solutions to address the issue of exposure of new talent on youth networks. [The issue of high rotations can be highlighted by the fact that during the third quarter of 2013, 0.7% of all the tracks played on radio represented 45.3% of the overall airplay.]

They also feel that the report's proposals to search alternative measures to quotas are not the right answer. “Quotas were asked for because the main FM stations did not play any domestic artists. They have been adjusted over the years, but radio stations keep trying to circumvent them,” says Monfort.

SNEP's director general Guillaume Leblanc says that the arguments of radio stations claiming that there is not enough material to play in French, especially because many French acts now sign in English, does not face the facts: among the albums by French artists that made it into the top 200 best-selling albums of 2013, 94% of them were sung in French and 17 of the Top 20 are from French-speaking artists. But he adds that out of 1,000 tracks in French sent to radio stations in 2013, only 10 accounted for over two third of the programming of tracks in French, and 50 tracks close to 100%.

If we did not have quotas, the share of domestic repertoire [in recorded music sales] would not be where it is today,” says Bruno Lion, Managing Director of peermusic France, also President of cross-industry organisation Tous Pour La Musique. “But quotas are not the only answer. The system is 20 years old, and everyone is testing the limits of the system.”

Share of music genres on radio in 2013 (in % of plays)
French chanson
International rock
International pop
French rock/pop
(Source: Yacast)

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