17 October 2000
RADIO AUTHORITY PUBLISHES ASSESSMENT OF THE LOCAL DIGITAL MULTIPLEX LICENCE AWARD FOR NORTHERN IRELAND
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.
NOTE TO EDITORS
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:
ASSESSMENT OF LICENCE AWARD
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
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.
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.
The commercial programme services proposed by the applicant are as follows:
Northern Ireland local radio
Downtown (provider: Downtown Radio Ltd)
Northern Ireland local radio
Cool FM (provider: Downtown Radio Ltd.)
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.
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:
The Authority is also required to take account of any representations made in respect of the application.