Ofcom publish reasons for awarding of Cornwall FM licence

The FM local commercial radio licence for the county of Cornwall was awarded on 7 March 2005 to Atlantic Broadcasting Limited (Atlantic FM).

Today ofcom announce why they made the decision they did, and is re-produced below:

When the Cornwall licence was advertised last September, we stated that, given the large geographical area and the relatively dispersed nature of the population to be served by this Cornwall licence, criterion (a) of section 105 of the Broadcasting Act 1990 ? the ability of each applicant to maintain, throughout the period for which the licence would be in force, the service which it proposes to provide ? would be likely to be considered of particular importance.

We also said that as the licence is designed to serve a clearly defined locality (i.e. the county of Cornwall) which is not the sole focus (in marketing terms) of the only existing service available in the area, criterion (c) ? the extent to which a proposed service would broaden the range of programmes available by way of local (commercial) services in the area, and would cater for tastes and interests different from those already catered for ? would be likely to be considered as important in relation to an applicant’s proposals for speech content as it would be in relation to its music proposals, and less significant overall than criterion (b) ? the extent to which an applicant’s proposed service would cater for local tastes and interests (general or particular).

In respect of criterion (d) of section 105, we said that non-research based evidence of support would be likely to be considered alongside evidence of demand, as Ofcom appreciated that applicants might have wished to provide such evidence. However, we advised that a limited number of carefully-selected expressions of support would be likely to be considered more meaningful than volumes of repetitious letters or petitions.

We also noted that this guidance is subject to discretion, and that Ofcom will always consider each of the four statutory criteria when making a licence award.

In considering the applications submitted for this licence, the Radio Licensing Committee took full account of three important factors which are specific to the advertised licence area. Firstly, the Committee noted that the sole existing local commercial radio service in the area, Pirate FM, has a very broad Format which does not include any specified target audience and does not define the particular style of music that the station must play. Secondly, it was recognised that Cornwall is a relatively large and rural area in which the population is highly dispersed, with no single town or city acting as the focus for a majority of the county’s residents. Thirdly, the Committee noted the popularity of BBC Radio Cornwall among older listeners in the area, as evidenced by its share of listening according to RAJAR.

In relation to section 105(a), it was considered that the application by Atlantic FM benefited from the financial backing of Tindle Radio, a company which has a proven track record in successfully operating comparatively small radio stations in rural areas with a strong local identity, and which will also be able to provide local knowledge and contacts through its co-owned newspaper titles in the area. It was also considered that the establishment of a limited liability partnership to hold the stake in Atlantic FM of the non-corporate investors would enhance the potential efficiency and stability of the company structure, while some of these non-corporate investors offer additional commercial radio expertise as well as local knowledge. This local knowledge was fully demonstrated in Atlantic FM’s business plan, which displayed an extensive understanding of the local marketplace within which the station will operate, and made a convincing case based on the size of the market and the nature of the existing radio services in the area that the new service should not be confined by a narrow demographic target audience.

In terms of section 105(b), the Committee felt that the audience research conducted by Atlantic FM demonstrated convincingly that the service proposed in its application would cater for the tastes and interests of a substantial proportion of the local population, and that the Format proposed was an appropriate reflection of the programming philosophy outlined in the application.

The Committee recognised a particular difficulty in relation to section 105(c) resulting from the broad nature of Pirate FM’s Format. Atlantic FM’s proposal was to broaden choice in relation to Pirate FM by offering alternative output across a broad range of tastes and interests to a potential audience large enough to be commercially viable. The Committee felt that this proposal was superior to one which aimed to provide a service to a narrowly-defined age-group perceived to be underserved by Pirate FM’s present output and potentially offering less positive commercial prospects. The Committee therefore felt that Atlantic FM?s approach was appropriate in view of the characteristics of the market as outlined above.

In relation to section 105(d), as is indicated above, the Committee considered that the research conducted by Atlantic FM provided convincing evidence that a station aiming to appeal to a range of different ages and tastes would better provide a distinctive choice than one aimed specifically at a younger or older audience. The group’s main survey was conducted among a large and representative sample of the local population, with the interviews conducted in-home to maximise the reliability of the responses, and the findings provide strong evidence of demand for the proposed music/speech balance and emphasis on localness and adult-oriented music in Atlantic FM’s Format. The Committee recognised that other applicants had submitted more evidence of support for their proposals, in the form of letters, than had Atlantic FM, but felt that considerations in relation to section 105(a) were of greater significance in this particular licence award.

Finally, the RLC considered that, in relation to Section 314 of the Communications Act 2003, Atlantic FM demonstrated strong evidence of demand for the amount of local material and proportion of locally-made programming it proposed in its application. The station’s proposed Format includes commitments to local news throughout daytime and other speech content of specific local relevance, and all of the programming will be produced and presented in Cornwall.

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