17 October 2000


The Radio Authority has today (17 October) published details of its assessment of the local digital multiplex licence award for Northern Ireland. The Authority awarded the licence to SCORE Digital Ltd. on 5 October 2000.

A copy of the full assessment is attached.





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.





The local digital radio multiplex service licence for Northern Ireland was awarded to SCORE Digital Ltd. on Thursday 5 October 2000, to run for twelve years from the date the service commences broadcasting.

Consideration of the application

  1. Coverage area and timetable
  2. SCORE Digital Ltd. proposes to roll out the transmission of its service between August and October 2001, using six transmission sites, at Black Mountain, Colinward, Londonderry, Strabane, Limavady and Brougher Mountain. This should provide ‘outdoor coverage’ of approximately 88.6% of the adult (aged 15+) population of the ‘primary protected area’ (PPA), according to the applicants own estimates.

  3. Ability to establish and maintain the service
  4. SCORE Digital Ltd. is wholly owned by the dominant commercial radio company in Northern Ireland, Scottish Radio Holdings plc. The Authority had no doubt about SCORE Digital’s ability to establish and maintain the service proposed in the application.

  5. Catering for tastes and interests of people in the area
  6. The commercial programme services proposed by the applicant are as follows:

    Northern Ireland local radio                               Downtown (provider: Downtown Radio Ltd)
    for the over-30’s

    Northern Ireland local radio                               Cool FM (provider: Downtown Radio Ltd.)
    for the under-35’s

    Belfast adult contemporary hits                          City Beat (provider: Belfast City Beat Ltd.)

    Londonderry local radio                                    Q102.9 (provider: Q102.9 FM Ltd.)

    UK classical music radio                                   Classic FM (provider: Classic FM plc)

    UK rock music radio                                        Virgin (provider: Virgin Radio Ltd.)

    UK sport radio                                                 TalkSport (provider: TalkSport Ltd.)

    50 plus radio                                                    Prime Time (provider: Saga Digital Radio 

    Pop country                                                     3C (provider: Downtown Radio Ltd.)

    Members were pleased to note the wide range and number of services proposed on this multiplex, most of which will be new to a considerable portion of the potential audience. Although four of the services will be simulcasts of existing local Northern Ireland services, listeners throughout the Province will for the first time be able to access all of them. Given that the services provided by Digital One, the national (UK) digital multiplex licensee, are not available in Northern Ireland due to a lack of digital spectrum. Members were glad that all of existing (analogue) INR services were to be made available on the multiplex.

  7. Broadening the range of local digital programme services

As there are no local digital programme services available in Northern Ireland, and as this was the sole application, this criterion was effectively satisfied by default.

5.      Local support

SCORE Digital Ltd. wrote to businesses and political and community representatives in Northern Ireland explaining the concept of digital radio and summarising its application proposals. This generated a modest volume of support. In order to demonstrate audience demand for the services offered on the multiplex, the group cited evidence from RAJAR showing that the four local simulcast services currently account for over half of all radio listening in Northern Ireland.

6. Fair and effective competition

The Radio Authority considered a competition complaint against SCORE Digital Ltd. by Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE), which applied to it to be a programme service provider but was not chosen. After due consideration, Members determined that SCORE Digital had satisfied section 51(2)(g) of the Broadcasting Act 1996 and had not acted in a manner contrary to fair and effective competition. In reaching this determination, Members understood that the Authority is not required to consider the merits of programme proposals which have failed to gain inclusion in an applicant's bouquet. Members are only required to decide whether an applicant has acted in a manner calculated to ensure fair and effective competition in the selection and provision of programme services.

RTE complained that its proposal was not given serious consideration by SCORE Digital Ltd. On the basis of evidence provided by both parties, Members were satisfied that RTE’s proposal was given the same degree of consideration as all of the others. RTE also alleged that SCORE Digital had abused its dominant position in the Northern Ireland radio market in order to discriminate against RTE and benefit its own stations in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In this regard Members did not consider there to be an established market in Northern Ireland for DAB services, nor were they convinced that there was evidence to suggest that Scottish Radio Holdings had abused its position as a significant provider of analogue radio services in the Province.

They noted that RTE, as indeed any other service provider, could have applied for the multiplex licence but had not done so. They also noted that although Scottish Radio Holdings plc would be providing three of the ten programme services proposed for inclusion on the multiplex (as permitted under the Broadcasting Act), two of the other services are those of its existing competitors in the Northern Ireland analogue market. Members were clear that it is for the multiplex operator to make commercial decisions about the suitability or otherwise of potential digital sound programme services and did not consider that, on the evidence before them, SCORE Digital had acted in an anti-competitive or discriminatory manner in not choosing RTE as a programme service provider on the Northern Ireland multiplex. In accordance with the licence conditions pursuant to the Broadcasting Act 1996, the Authority is empowered to keep matters of fair and effective competition and undue discrimination under regular review.


Applications for this licence were invited on 4 April 2000. By the closing date of 25 July 2000, one application had been received, from SCORE Digital Ltd., a wholly owned subsidiary of Scottish Radio Holdings plc.

Copies of the non-confidential section of the application were made available for public inspection in Belfast Central Library, Londonderry Central Library and at the Authority’s offices in London. A notice was issued on 25 July 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:

    1. the extent of the coverage area as proposed by the applicant;
    2. the timetable relating to achievement of the proposed coverage area and the start of broadcast services;
    3. the ability of the applicant to establish the proposed service and to maintain it throughout the period for which the licence will be in force;
    4. the extent to which the digital programme services proposed to be included in the service would cater for the tastes and interests of persons living in the area and, where it is proposed to cater for particular tastes and interests, the extent to which those services would in fact cater for those tastes and interests;
    5. the extent to which any proposed digital sound programme services would broaden the range of programmes available by way of local digital programme services in that area and, in particular, the extent to which they would cater for tastes and interests different from those already catered for by local digital programme services already provided in that area;
    6. the extent to which the application is supported by persons living in the area; and
    7. whether, in contracting or offering to contract with persons providing digital programme services or digital additional services, the applicant has acted in a manner calculated to ensure fair and effective competition in the provision of such services.

The Authority is also required to take account of any representations made in respect of the application.