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From the top of America's music charts, the booming country music industry is eyeing Europe as its next frontier. But while country music is attracting a lot of European fans, finding ad support for TV and radio services has been downright achy-breaky heartbreaking.

The Country Music Association, Nashville, Tenn., estimates country & western album, tape and compact disc sales in 1992 (the latest year available) amounted to $40 million across Europe, up 43% from the year before.

"Country music right now in Europe is just as hot as it is domestically in the U.S.," said Robert Payne, president of syndicator Contemporary American Radio, one of the U.S. companies planning to enter Europe.

Right now, European country fanciers can tune into Country Music Radio, a 24-hour station begun in 1992 and available to 1.5 million homes on cable and satellite; and Country Radio FM 89.5, a 24-hour station reaching 3.5 million listeners in Prague.

Country has also moved onto TV with CMT Europe, a sister service to the U.S.' Country Music Television cable channel. In Europe, the music-video cable and satellite channel started up in 1992 and now reaches 8.4 million homes. And those starved for country music news can subscribe to one of 23 country music magazines in Europe.

The money so far is in subscriptions and music sales, not advertising.

Owing mainly to country's cornpone image among advertisers, Country Music Radio, Alton, England, still hasn't signed up a single major sponsor since its May 1993 start-up, said Lee Williams, owner-manager. "I'm prepared to give any of these agencies a special rate, but they're [still] not willing to try" advertising on the station.

Nor on CMT Europe, which doesn't even have a sales office in Europe. In the U.K., Rupert Murdoch's British Sky Broadcasting satellite TV service was appointed in May to handle U.K. ad sales, but there are still few. One is American Airlines, promoting U.K.-Nashville fares. CMT Europe is offered as part of BSkyB's basic satellite service.

Subscription fees will drive the channel for the next three to five years, said Lloyd Werner, senior VP of Stamford, Conn.-based Group W Satellite, part owner of CMT Europe along with Gaylord Entertainment Co., Nashville. He added CMT expects 30 million subscribers by the end of 1996.

Advertisers' reluctance to try the format is summed up by Jane Brown, TV group manager at London media buying agency CIA Media U.K. She said she would only place an ad on a country music channel for "a product that's cowboyish or Tammy Wynette-ish ... and only at bargain basement prices."

Even without advertising, the media are convinced there's gold in country. Among the new start-ups:

Satellite Music Networks, a division of ABC Radio, started on cable radio/TV systems last month.

Country 1035, a London radio station backed by several unnamed U.K. investors but no advertisers, starts Aug. 1 as the U.K.'s first terrestrial station.

Contemporary American Radio, with designs on reaching Latin America and Asia in 1995, starts up in Europe in July. So far in Europe, Contemporary has signed at least five advertisers, including Shepler's, an Omaha-based catalog clothier; and a beverage company, airline and dog food marketer.

Called "All American Country," the format will be available to stations for a minimum 4-hour block, though programming will be available 24 hours daily. It has signed Radio Eska in Poland, as well as stations in Sweden and the U.K., including Country 1035.

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