UK communications regulator Ofcom today announced that it will be
introducing a number of measures to deregulate the commercial local radio
sector. In recent years, declining advertising revenue combined with
regulatory constraints have led to an uncertain future for many local
stations, particularly smaller ones.
New provisions in the Digital Economy Act 2010 allow Ofcom to take a number
of steps to ease these pressures and enable stations to make necessary cost
savings. The aim is to create a sustainable future, where stations continue
to deliver services that listeners value. The measures will still ensure
that local stations stay local – providing the locally focused content
listeners want and which is protected by the legislation governing radio –
but in a more flexible way.
Sharing facilities and programmes
From June, local FM stations will be able to apply to Ofcom to co-locate and
share all of their programming within approved areas. This will allow the
stations to merge to form larger, more financially viable stations. However,
such stations must continue to meet their licence obligations to provide
local material relevant to the listeners in their licensed areas.
Protecting radio news
Measures are also being introduced to protect and promote what listeners
want most from local radio. Top of the list is news, which is valued more
than other content on local commercial radio, according to Ofcom research.
Stations may request to reduce the number of locally made programme hours
from 10 a day to 7 a day, if they commit to providing local news bulletins
throughout weekday daytime. These bulletins will need to be regularly
refreshed and updated.
The aim is to provide flexibility to reduce the financial burden on local
stations of developing local content, while at the same time safeguarding
what consumers value most.
Freeing up local AM stations
Local AM stations will be able to request to Ofcom to be freed of any
requirement to provide locally made programming, except for the existing
licence requirement to produce 10 hours a day of daytime programming
(including breakfast) on weekdays from within their home nation. This will
protect the nation-specific content on services in Scotland, Wales and
Northern Ireland so ensuring coverage of issues of particular interest to
the relevant nation.
Encouraging UK-wide services
Ofcom also aims to allow the industry to increase the choice and diversity
of UK-wide services. Large regional analogue stations will be able to
request to drop their regional programming. In exchange, these stations will
be required to provide a national version of their programme service on DAB
digital radio, either on a national multiplex or a combination of local and
This will encourage competition and choice in national services, a greater
range and diversity of content for consumers, and the potential for new
investment in programming.
Due to the specific needs of the devolved nations, regional stations in
Scotland and Wales will retain their specific focus on programmes for their
Operators of DAB local and regional multiplexes may request changes to the
areas they serve, so as to bring local DAB to new areas and increase the
viability of the multiplexes.
The full Ofcom news release can be found here: