Licensing drive-in events

21 August 2020

Information for anyone wishing to apply for a licence to hold a drive-in service.

Since our first update on drive-in services in May (see below), we have received a large number of applications for licences to broadcast drive-in services, including drive-in movies and drive-in church services. We acknowledge that carefully planned drive-in events may be a way for people to come together and still observe social distancing, but the laws and guidance in relation to whether they may lawfully be held are different in different parts of the UK. These laws and guidance may also be subject to change, and with little advance warning, depending on the progress of the Covid-19 virus.

Drive-in services need a ‘restricted service licence’ (‘RSL’) from Ofcom so that people in their cars can hear the movie soundtrack, or what is being said, on their car radios. In issuing a licence for a drive-in event, Ofcom is not authorising the event itself, but only the use of spectrum. It is for the licensee and those attending the event to make sure that holding and attending the event is allowed.

We usually ask for applications to be made 60 days before the planned event. In the circumstances back in May, we decided that we would accept applications for events that are planned sooner than 60 days from the application being received, and aimed to process applications quickly. We aimed to give an answer on an application within two weeks of it being received. We also advised that the process may take longer if we needed to ask for extra information about an application, and depending on the volume of applications we receive. We encouraged applicants to take these timescales into account when planning events. Broadcasting without a licence is a criminal offence.

Today we have published an update on the expiry date for temporary Covid-19 short-term restricted service licences. In that, we state that those licences will all be extended (if the licence holder wishes) for a period of 60 days from today, 7 July, to 5 September. We explain that we are mindful that we are now starting to receive applications for events and festivals other than drive-in services – which we have not said are also able to apply sooner than 60 days before their planned event. Giving an answer on applications sooner than 60 days places a significant administrative burden on us which will increase as applications for RSLs for other types of event increase. And we do not think it is appropriate to treat applicants differently based on if their event is a drive-in service or not, now we are beginning to see demand for RSLs for other types of events than drive-ins.

Because of this, we will be going back to requiring 60 days between the date an application is received and the start date of the event the licence is needed for. All policies and procedures for dealing with RSL applications will apply as stated in the applicable notes of guidance on our website for licences with a start date of 5 September or later. In practice, this means that from now on we will continue to aim to give an answer to applications made for licences beginning before 5 September as soon as we can, although we make no guarantees that we will be able to do so and we would ask applicants to make their applications as much in advance of their proposed start date as possible. Applications for any licences starting after 5 September must be made with 60 days’ notice.

It is important that applicants make sure that any event they plan is allowed under the Covid-19 legislation and guidance that applies to the Nation that they are broadcasting in. This may vary, depending on whether you are planning to broadcast in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales. We will not refund application fees for services to which we grant a licence, which later determine that they are unable to hold the event.

What are the different types of RSLs I can apply for? (PDF, 127.9 KB)