100/00 17 July 2000
RADIO AUTHORITY PUBLISHES ASSESSMENT
OF AWARDED LOCAL DIGITAL MULTIPLEX LICENCE
The Radio Authority has today (17 July) published the details of the Coventry local digital multiplex licence award made to Now Digital Ltd. The Authority awarded the licence on 6 July 2000.
The Radio Authority is responsible for licensing and regulating Independent Radio in accordance with the statutory requirements of the Broadcasting Acts 1990 and 1996. It plans frequencies, awards licences, regulates programming and advertising, and plays an active role in the discussion and formulation of policies which affect the Independent Radio industry and its listeners.
LOCAL DIGITAL RADIO MULTIPLEX SERVICE: COVENTRY
ASSESSMENT OF LICENCE AWARD
The local digital radio multiplex service licence for Coventry was awarded to Now Digital Ltd on 6 July 2000 to run for twelve years from the date the services commence broadcasting.
Applications were invited on 21 January 2000. By the closing date of 9 May 2000, one application was received, from Now Digital Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GWR Group plc.
Consideration of the application
Members were satisfied with Now Digital’s technical proposals, which should provide robust coverage in Coventry and parts of the surrounding area. Now Digital plans to launch this service, subject to frequency clearance, in tandem with its Wolverhampton and Bristol/Bath licences in January 2001. Transmitters at Coventry (Samuel Vale House), Leamington Spa, Meriden and Barwell Water Tower will be used, providing an ‘outdoor coverage’ of up to 93% of the adult (aged 15+) population of the ‘primary protected area’ (PPA), according to the applicant’s own estimate.
Now Digital Ltd is wholly-owned by one of the largest commercial radio companies, GWR Group plc, which is also the major shareholder in Digital One, the national commercial digital multiplex which launched last November. Consequently the Authority had no doubt about Now Digital’s ability to establish and maintain the service proposed in the application in respect of both the financing and knowledge base required.
The commercial programme services proposed by the applicant are as follows:
Contemporary Hit Radio Mercia FM (programme provider: Mercia Sound Ltd.)
Gold Classic Gold (programme provider: Mercia Sound Ltd.)
Local (City of Coventry) Kix 96 (programme provider: Kix FM Ltd.)
Rock and Pop Rock The Storm (programme provider: GWR Digital Ltd.)
Urban programme provider: tba
Classic Soul The Rhythm (programme provider: Digital Programme Services Ltd.)
Films and Shows Flix (programme provider: UKRD Group Ltd.)
Asian Sunrise Radio (programme provider: Sunrise Radio Ltd.)
Mercia FM and Classic Gold are simulcasts of local services for Coventry provided by Mercia Sound Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of GWR. Kix 96 Ltd is the local licensee for the City of Coventry and its localised chart and dance music service will also be simulcast on the multiplex. GWR’s one permitted non-simulcast service, The Storm, will include a four-hour programme exclusive to the area from the launch of the service, and will be locally branded. The urban dance service will have local news and information from launch, while the classic soul service will include local content at the earliest available opportunity. The film and show channel, Flix, would be likely to include local content, such as cinema listings and amateur reviewers, when DAB penetration reaches thirty per cent of households. Members are aware that there is no explicit obligation for local digital multiplex licensees to provide localised services. However, section 85(3)(a) of the 1990 Broadcasting Act gives the Radio Authority an overarching statutory obligation to ensure the provision of licensed services of ‘high quality’, and Members view local content as forming an essential element of quality. Members were pleased to see that a service would be provided for Coventry’s sizeable Asian community, by Sunrise Radio.
As there are no local digital programme services available in the Coventry area, and as this was the sole application, this criterion was effectively satisfied by default.
Now Digital Ltd argued that a widespread canvassing campaign was not an appropriate measure of true support and instead chose to promote digital radio services in the Coventry area through holding presentations, the most significant of which took place at the University of Coventry. The applicant also chose to elicit support letters from selected local opinion-formers and businesses. A total of 17 letters of support were forwarded to the Authority.
The Authority has no reason to believe that the
applicant has not acted in a manner calculated to ensure fair and
effective competition when contracting or offering to contract with
potential or proposed service providers. In accordance with the licence
conditions pursuant to the Broadcasting Act 1996, the Authority will
keep matters of fair and effective competition and undue discrimination
under regular review.
Copies of the non-confidential section of the application were made available for public inspection in the local studies department of Coventry Central Library and at the Authority’s offices in London. A notice was issued on 9 May 2000 inviting public comments on the application. Under the terms of section 51(2) of the Broadcasting Act 1996, when considering whether, or to whom, to award a local digital radio multiplex licence, the Authority must have regard to the following specific matters:
The Authority is also required to take account of any representations made in respect of the application.