19 October 2001


Radio Authority publishes assessment of the local digital multiplex licence award for Exeter & Torbay

The Radio Authority has today published details of its assessment of the local digital multiplex licence award for Exeter & Torbay. The Authority awarded the licence to Now Digital on 4 October 2001.

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 the Exeter & Torbay area was awarded to the sole applicant, Now Digital Ltd., on Thursday 4 October 2001. The licence will run for twelve years from the date the service commences broadcasting. The licence was advertised on 20 April 2001, with a closing date for application of 24 July.

Consideration of the application

  1. Coverage area and timetable
  2. Now Digital proposes to commence its service by the end of June 2002 subject to frequency clearance. Transmitters at Beacon Hill (overlooking Torbay), Exeter and Stockland Hill (in East Devon) will be established from the outset, providing ‘outdoor coverage’ of up to 78% of the adult (aged 15+) population of the ‘Primary Protected Area’ (PPA), according to the applicant’s own estimate. This was considered an acceptable level of coverage, within an area whose hilly terrain and pattern of population distribution presents unusual difficulties. Once digital listening accounts for one-third of all radio listening, it is intended that another two transmission sites will be implemented, at Tiverton and Sidmouth, designed to extend and improve coverage in the north of the PPA and along the coast to the east, respectively.

  3. Ability to establish and maintain the service
  4. 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, holder of the national commercial digital multiplex. 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.

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

    Contemporary hit radio                        Gemini FM (provider: Gemini Radio Ltd.)

    Gold                                                    Classic Gold (provider: Classic Gold Digital Ltd.)

    Adult contemporary                             Passion (provider: Passion for the Planet Ltd.)

    Country                                               Provider to be confirmed

    Music from films and shows                 Flix (provider: Infinity Media Ltd.)

    Dance                                                 Provider to be confirmed

    A seventh commercial service will be introduced within two years of launch, with a format yet to be decided.

    Members considered that the bouquet of programme services proposed by Now Digital would satisfy a good range of tastes and interests. Local content will be provided by the simulcasting of Gemini FM and Classic Gold, the local services for Exeter and Torbay. In addition, Now Digital intends to broadcast the Torbay opt-outs of the Gemini FM service across the licence area, for so long as spare capacity is available to be utilised in this way. It is proposed that all non-simulcast services will contain additional local branding, news and information from launch, and that local content would be included once digital listening represents a third of all radio listening. In Members' view, Now Digital's application presented an imaginative proposition containing inventive proposals to make the best use of available capacity.

  7. Broadening the range of local digital programme services
  8. As there are no local digital programme services available in the Exeter and Torbay area, and as this was the sole application, this criterion was effectively satisfied by default.

  9. Local support

Now Digital demonstrated support for the services to be carried on the multiplex by citing evidence from its own audience research survey. In addition, the group promoted its digital proposals locally by holding a public presentation, advertising in the local press and organising a mail-out to local opinion formers in Exeter and Torbay. These activities generated an appreciable level of evidence of support.

  1. Fair and effective competition

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 reference sections of the main public libraries in Exeter and Torquay, and at the Authority’s offices in London. A notice was issued on 24 July 2001 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.



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