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14 August 2003

Radio Authority publishes assessment of local digital multiplex licence award for Reading & Basingstoke

The Radio Authority has today (14 August) published the details of its assessment of the local digital multiplex licence award for Reading & Basingstoke. The Authority awarded the licence to Now Digital Ltd. on 10 July 2003.

A copy of the full assessment is attached.


ENDS

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. 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.


2. Towards the end of this year, the Radio Authority will cease to exist, and its responsibilities for licensing and regulating independent radio will pass to Ofcom, the new converged regulator for the communications sector. See the Ofcom transitional website at www.ofcom.org.uk for more details. 

Local digital radio multiplex service
Reading & Basingstoke

Assessment of licence award



The local digital radio multiplex service licence for the Reading & Basingstoke area was awarded to Now Digital Ltd. on Thursday 10 July 2003, to run for twelve years from the date the service commences broadcasting.

Applications were invited on 7 February 2003. By the closing date of 20 May 2003, one application was received, from Now Digital Ltd., a wholly-owned subsidiary of the GWR Group plc.

Consideration of the application

1. Coverage area and timetable

Now Digital proposes to commence its service by June 2004, subject to frequency clearance, using four transmitters, at Hannington, Bracknell, Hemdean and Basingstoke, which it estimates will provide noise-limited ‘outdoor coverage’ of 96.1% of the adult population of the 'primary protected area' (PPA). Members noted that this is one of the highest levels of coverage that has been achieved in any multiplex licence application, and felt that the applicant deserved credit for making such a strong commitment to transmission provision for this multiplex.

2. Ability to establish and maintain the service

Now Digital Ltd. is a wholly-owned subsidiary of GWR Group plc and has extensive experience as a digital multiplex operator. Members considered that Now Digital’s business plan for this multiplex was sustainable, with a sufficient cushion to allow for some unutilised capacity at the outset. The majority of service providers have some shareholder involvement from the GWR Group which should enhance the security of income for the multiplex operation.

3. Catering for tastes and interests of people in the area

The commercial programme services which are confirmed for carriage from the launch of the multiplex are as follows:

Contemporary hit radio 2-Ten (provider: Thames Valley Broadcasting Ltd.)

Gold Classic Gold 1431/1485 (provider: Classic Gold Digital Ltd)

Modern Rock The Storm (provider: The Storm (Digital Radio) Ltd.)

Easy Listening Saga (provider: Saga Group Ltd.)

Dance Kiss (provider: EG Digital Ltd.)

‘Access’: various services including: SBN (provider: SBN Ltd.)
Student Broadcasting
(19.00 – 00.00)

Now Digital hopes to complete a full line-up of services, adding two further programme channels, within twelve months of the multiplex launch. Now Digital’s initial programming bouquet includes a simulcast of the popular local FM station in Reading and Basingstoke, 2-Ten FM, which targets the under-40s with contemporary and chart music. Classic Gold 1431/1485, the existing local analogue service on the AM waveband, will also be simulcast. Of the three digital-only services proposed, Kiss and The Storm are both aimed at an under-35 audience, whilst Saga targets the over-50s with its easy listening and melodic format. Consequently, Members considered that the multiplex line-up offered a good balance of established services, which between them catered for the musical interests of listeners of all ages. Local content will be provided by the two simulcast local services, and SBN on the access channel, which proposes to include locally produced student programming.

4. Broadening the range of local digital programme services

This is currently, and will for the foreseeable future remain, the only local multiplex available to listeners in the Reading and Basingstoke area, and there is no coverage overlap at all with any of the neighbouring multiplexes. Therefore this statutory criterion is effectively satisfied by default.

5. Local support

A substantial volume of letters in support of the application were submitted by the time of the licence award. The group also commissioned an audience research survey to gauge the support of local listeners for particular formats; however, its ability to act upon the research findings was constrained by the availability of programme providers.

6. Fair and effective competition

The Authority has been given no reason to believe that the applicant did not act 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.

BACKGROUND

Copies of the non-confidential section of the application was made available for public inspection in the reference sections of Reading Central Library and Basingstoke Library, and at the Authority’s offices in London. A notice was issued on 20 May 2003 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: 

(a) the extent of the coverage area as proposed by the applicant;

(b) the timetable relating to achievement of the proposed coverage area and the start of broadcast services;

(c) 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;

(d) 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;

(e) 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 

(f) would cater for tastes and interests different from those already catered for by local digital programme services already provided in that area; 

(g) the extent to which the application is supported by persons living in the area; and

(h) 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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