Bauer Radio have applied to Ofcom to network their three existing Kiss FM licences, creating a national service.
It would mean local content on the Greater London, East Anglia and Severn Estuary stations would disappear and the service would become available on more DAB multiplexes across the country.
A spokesperson for Bauer Radio told RadioToday.co.uk: "Kiss 101 and Kiss 105-108 are extremely successful stations within the Bauer Radio Network. Latest RAJAR results confirmed best listening figures ever across the Kiss network driven by the quality of our programming and the resonance it has with our core demographic of 15 -34 year olds. It is now enjoyed by more than 4m people across the UK every week on FM; on line; DTV; DAB; App and Kiss Kube.
"Our absolute commitment is to broadcast quality programming that excites and delights our audiences and advertisers – not just across the Kiss 101 and 105-108 transmission areas, but this provides an exciting opportunity to expand the Kiss footprint across more of the UK. Audience research consistently cites music and mood, rather than geography, as key drivers to strong listener engagement."
Ofcom is seeking the industry and listeners' views on whether Bauer's proposal constitutes sufficent 'national coverage'. Bauer say Kiss will initially be available to 73 percent of the UK adult population, rising to 79.4 percent within a few months.
The three Kiss stations are currently required to provide seven hours of locally-produced programmes during weekdays, and four at weekends. Bauer’s proposal is for all three stations to have these obligations removed and be able to share their programming.
Bauer is proposing, in the format change request to Ofcom, a two-stage coverage proposal for the new ‘national’ Kiss DAB service.
Stage one would give 73 percent coverage of the adult UK population, achieved by carriage of Kiss on 34 out of the current 38 local DAB multiplexes. This would extend current DAB coverage of Kiss to Scotland and Northern Ireland, while coverage in Wales, Yorkshire, Kent and Sussex would be improved. Within a few months of stage one being completed, Bauer states that DAB carriage of Kiss in the East Midlands (specifically, the local multiplexes for each of Nottingham and Leicester) and South Hampshire for the first time would extend the adult UK population coverage of Kiss on DAB to 79.6 percent.
Bauer say the regional licences given to Kiss were to mainly provide an extension of music choice – so current regional news content would be replaced with national news and entertainment news on Mondays to Saturdays only if the plan gets Ofcom's approval.
"The removal of locally-made programming and regional speech content will not substantially change the essential Format character of Kiss," say Bauer in their request. "Our independently researched monthly brand tracker survey of Kiss (Leapfrog, August 2010, 214 Kiss 100 listeners) shows that there are three key consistent reasons for listening to Kiss: namely music genre, lifestyle, and mood. Of the top ten ranked reasons for choosing Kiss, 5 are music based (eg plays the best music for my taste) and 3 are mood based (eg energetic). The only geographical factor relating to locality (ie importance of 'Kiss being a local station') comes 24th out of 28 factors."
Kiss already have networking in daytime, 9am to 3pm. Bauer say the growth of those programmes is bigger than that of locally produced shows.
The request to Ofcom says: "Growth of our Monday to Friday daytime networked shows has outstripped growth of our Monday to Friday daytime local shows. Reach for the networked shows has grown by 50 percent with hours growing by 35 percent. This compares to reach growth for the local shows of 35 percent with 18 percent growth in hours, in the same period."
Ofcom will make a decision on the format change request following the consultation on whether Bauer's proposal satisfies 'national' status in terms of the audience it will reach.
You can see the full proposal and consultation [link=http://stakeholders.ofcom.org.uk/consultations/kiss100-101-105/executive-summary]here[/link].
The request follows similar ones from the other two of the UK's three biggest commercial radio groups. Global Radio will take their Capital FM brand national in January when it replaces Galaxy FM stations around the country. And last month, GMG Radio launched its new national Smooth Radio network on Digital 1 as well as five former regional FM licences.
Bauer's spokesperson told us that Kiss will make no further comment until the Ofcom public consultation is concluded.