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 Tuesday, 28 January, 2003, 10:52 GMT
Capital's unlucky countdown
Chris Tarrant
Chris Tarrant's flagship show is stumbling

Last week was not a good one for Britain's largest commercial radio company, Capital, and this week promises to be little better.

For a start there was the embarrassing business of the 15,000 fine for breaches of health and safety regulations, after a competition stunt run by the company's Birmingham station, BRMB, left four people with severe frostbite.

Capital's competition
Jonathan Coleman
Kiss 100: Dance-oriented pop music
Xfm 104.9: Rock/ alternative sounds (owned by Capital)
Magic 105.4: Easy listening and pop
Virgin 105.8: Rock and pop
Heart 106.2: Softer pop hits, features Jonathan Coleman at breakfast (above)
Then there was the announcement at the annual meeting that advertising revenue in the final quarter of last year was six per cent down on the previous year.

Although this was better than expected, and the figures for January apparently show a slight increase.

This week will see publication of the latest Rajar audience figures which are expected to show a continuing decline in audience share for Capital's flagship station on 95.8 FM in London, in the face of increased competition.

The station's all-important breakfast show, presented by Chris Tarrant, suffered a drop of 300,000 in listeners in the three months to last September and Capital's chief executive, David Mansfield, says he doesn't expect it to have improved much in the final quarter of the year.

The show was revamped in November with a new co-presenter Becky Jago, but it is too early for any benefits to show up in the ratings.

Meanwhile shows on rival stations like Virgin have also been revamped, and Virgin, Heart, Kiss and the rest are gradually eating into the audience share of a station which, for 25 years, was the unchallenged (and unchallengable) powerhouse of commercial radio and of the London market in particular.

ITV woes

With Capital's share price weak there is speculation about a possible takeover bid (unthinkable a few years ago when Capital was the predator, gobbling up smaller radio companies) and much tutting over the complacency which has led the market leader to such a pass.

Becky Jago
Becky Jago joined Capital from the BBC's Newsround
There is similar tutting over ITV, another market leader currently on the slide. To add to ITV's problems with falling audience share, its advertising revenue too is trickling down the plughole.

The advertising industry expects the network's share of all television advertising to be only just above 50 per cent this year (the share is easy to predict since many large advertisers negotiate television airtime deals in advance for the whole 12 months).

It is easy to criticise once-dominant organisations for complacency in retrospect, less easy to suggest what they should have done earlier to avert decline.

It takes a degree of bravery few managements possess to abandon a successful formula and try something new just at the moment when you are cock of the walk and making pots and pots of money.

In fact, both ITV and Capital have taken risks. It was just unfortunate that ITV's chosen risk was the launch of ITV Digital, while Capital's was to think up new and inventive ways to promote its stations - like running a competition to see who could sit for longest on a block of ice.

This feature also appears in the BBC's staff magazine Ariel.

The BBC's Nick Higham writes on broadcasting

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26 Sep 02 | TV and Radio
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