Capital FM Scotland - Request to change Format

  • Start: 01 July 2011
  • Status: Closed
  • End: 28 July 2011

A request from Global Radio Holdings Ltd ('Global') to change the Format of Capital FM Scotland was discussed by Ofcom's Radio Licensing Committee ('RLC') at its meeting on 19 September 2011. The Committee decided to approve the request.

The existing Character of Service (as set out in Capital FM Scotland's published Format document) is as follows:


The new Character of Service proposed by Global was:


Ofcom determined that the request, if approved, would be likely to result in a substantial change to the character of Capital FM Scotland's service, given the proposed amendments to the music genres required to be played, the target age group of the station, and the required volume of identifiable specialist music programmes the station would be required to broadcast. Therefore, in accordance with the statutory requirements, the proposed changes were subject to a public consultation.

Ofcom received 15 responses to the consultation, which ran for four weeks until 28 July 2011, 10 of which were non-confidential. All of these ten responses were opposed to the changes being requested by Global.

Ofcom has the ability to consent to Format changes under conditions included in each local analogue commercial radio licence, in accordance with Section 106(1A) of the Broadcasting Act 1990, if it is satisfied that at least one of the following criteria is met:

a. The departure would not substantially alter the character of the service
b. The change would not narrow the range of programmes available in the area by way of relevant independent radio services
c. The change would be conducive to the maintenance or promotion of fair or effective competition, or
d. There is evidence that, amongst persons living in the affected areas, there is a significant demand for, or significant support for, the change.
e. That the change would result from programmes in the licensed service ceasing to be made at premises in the area, but those programmes would continue to be made wholly or partly at premises within an area approved by Ofcom.

For the reasons already noted, Ofcom did not consider that the request met criterion (a). In addition, in considering the request following the consultation, the RLC took the view that criterion (e) was not relevant as there was no proposal to change the location where programmes included in the service are made, and criterion (c) was not applicable as neither Global nor any of the respondents to the consultation had submitted any evidence to make a case under this criterion. Consequently, the RLC's discussion focused on whether it was satisfied in relation to either of sections 106(1A)(b) and (d), as it was required to be so satisfied before it could decide whether or not to agree to Global's request.

In respect of section 106(1A)(d), Global submitted audience research data showing listening to Capital FM Scotland (and its predecessor brands) since 2000, and suggested that these data demonstrated that the station has been most popular when it has focused primarily on dance/rhythmic-based music rather than rock music. While the RLC accepted that this was true, it did not consider that this evidence indicated that there was a significant demand, or significant support, for the specific changes Global has requested. The Committee also noted that Global had not researched the views of listeners in the area that Capital FM Scotland serves regarding the details of its proposed changes. In the absence of any such evidence, the RLC did not believe that this criterion could be regarded as being satisfactorily met, particularly given that the vast majority of respondents to the public consultation were strongly opposed to the change.

The main evidence submitted by Global to support its contention that the RLC should be satisfied in relation to section 106(1A)(b) was a table showing the extent of musical overlap between other local commercial radio services in the central Scotland region and Capital Yorkshire (which was used by Global as an indicator of the type of music output which would be provided by Capital FM Scotland were the requested Format changes to be agreed), and data showing the average age of listeners to the same (and other) existing services in the area.

The former stated that the musical overlap with any of the main existing local commercial radio services in central Scotland would be no more than 41%. The RLC accepted that this analysis by Global was one way of seeking to demonstrate the extent to which Capital FM Scotland would be distinctive (in terms of the music it plays) in the central Scotland market with its proposed new Format, but at the same time the Committee recognised that other methodologies for measuring musical overlap may produce a different figure, and noted that neither Global nor any of the respondents to the consultation had sought to address directly the specific statutory criterion by showing the extent to which Capital FM Scotland's existing degree of distinctiveness would be affected were the proposed Format change to be agreed.

Global also argued in its request that having a Format which requires it to target 15-29 year-olds would lead to a lowering of the average age of the station's audience, thereby broadening choice. However, Ofcom's own analysis showed that the average age of a listener to the Capital FM network of stations is 34, and the Committee was not convinced that simply changing the target audience specified in the Format would necessarily result in a younger audience being attracted to the service. As such, the RLC took the view that this aspect of Global's request would be likely to have a neutral impact on the extent of listener choice in central Scotland.

Having considered fully the evidence submitted by Global, and the responses to the consultation, the RLC then made its own assessment of whether the changes proposed by Global would narrow the range of programmes available in central Scotland. In carrying out this analysis, the Committee was cognisant of how the Format included in the Central Scotland licence now held by Global has been interpreted, and regulated, over the years. This licence is notable in that by definition the Format spans two musical genres, initially termed as 'indie' and 'dance'. While musical tastes change over time, this Format has always been underpinned by a requirement to serve a youth audience. To accommodate the ebbs and flows of audience demand for one music genre over another, and changes to existing music genres and the evolution of new ones, Ofcom and its predecessor regulator the Radio Authority have taken an open interpretation with regard to this licence, allowing 'new rock' to predominate (under the Xfm brand), and 'dance' to predominate (under the Galaxy brand).

The RLC also took account of the view, which Ofcom has expressed previously, that a station with a Format requiring it to play 'rhythmic-based' music can include up to 5% of its music output from other genres, such as rock, and remain in compliance with the Format.

In this context, the Committee considered that the current Capital FM Scotland Format allows the station to play predominantly dance/rhythmic-based music with a small amount of rock music and the proposed new Format would allow the same mix of music to be played.

While Global's proposed reduction in weekly hours of identifiable specialist music programmes from 30 to 12 was considered by the RLC to clearly represent a potential reduction in the volume of such output, the lack of any requirements in the Format to include specific types of output (e.g. a particular music genre) in these programmes suggested that there would be unlikely to be any reduction in the range of such output being provided.

On the basis of the above, the RLC concluded that while Global's proposed changes would not result in a broadening of listener choice, they would also not result in a narrowing of listener choice. As such, the Committee was satisfied in relation to section 106(1A)(b).

Where Ofcom is satisfied that a proposed Format change would meet one of the statutory criteria, it still has discretion as to whether to agree to the change. Guidance about how we generally expect to exercise this discretion can be viewed at the regulation of format changes PDF, 63.7 KB .

In applying these discretionary criteria to Global's request, the Committee was of the view that it should agree to the request for the following reasons:

  • For the reasons set out above, the impact on the character of the Capital FM Scotland service of the changes proposed by Global would in practice be limited.
  • The licence was first awarded twelve years ago, and during that time musical tastes have changed (as demonstrated by the shifts of emphasis and re-brandings that the station has undergone) and the Format has been interpreted flexibly in recognition of this. In addition, the overall media market within which Capital FM Scotland operates has changed substantially.
  • Capital FM Scotland would continue to offer a distinctive service in the central Scotland market were the changes to be agreed.

1. When measured using the top 100 tracks played by each service.

Main documents

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Responder name Type
Campbell_Mr.pdf (PDF File, 7.7 KB) Individual
Fraser_Mr.pdf (PDF File, 9.2 KB) Individual
Gilmour_Mr.pdf (PDF File, 8.2 KB) Individual
Kerr_Mr.pdf (PDF File, 11.5 KB) Individual
Mchugh_Mr.pdf (PDF File, 8.5 KB) Individual
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