Blow for O’Brien’s €200m radio bid

DENIS O’Brien’s Communicorp group has received a blow to its proposed €200 million takeover of the Irish radio assets of British media group Emap, at the first regulatory hurdle.

Yesterday, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) approved Communicorp’s proposed takeover of national station Today FM and the Donegal-based Highland Radio, but didn’t approve it taking over Dublin station FM104 — the third station being put on the market by Emap.

In a statement, the BCI said that it was “satisfied that Communicorp will not hold an undue amount of communications media in the franchise area of the State or the franchise area of Donegal [North],” but added that it “was not satisfied that Communicorp would not hold an undue amount of the communications media in [Dublin].”

Communicorp — which also owns Dublin stations 98FM and Spin 103.8 (and Spin’s sister station in Limerick), as well as Newstalk — emerged as the preferred bidder for Emap’s three Irish radio stations in July; ahead of interested parties reportedly including the Irish Times, UTV and Doughty Hanson — the private equity house that owns TV3.

The deal, however, was reliant on three regulatory hurdles — approval by the BCI, the Competition Authority and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

Yesterday’s BCI decision means Communicorp — a spokesperson for whom was unavailable for comment — cannot re-bid for FM104.

The Competition Authority is still in the first phase of its inspection, having recently applied for a four-week extension.

It is expected to return a verdict at the end of October, but could opt for a second phase of deliberations.

Today FM, Highland and FM104 are still owned by Emap.

According to an industry source, Emap is unlikely to try to re-sell the stations as a package of three.

“There are a number of possibilities including Mr O’Brien offering to sell 98FM or Emap simply selling FM104 on its own — something it shouldn’t have any difficulty doing given the healthy appetite for Irish radio assets at the moment.”


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