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Ofcom plans for the digital age

Ofcom has today published its submission to the Government’s Digital Britain project, outlining specific proposals and legislative changes required to secure the future of commercial radio.

Among a slew of recommendations the media regulator is proposing ways to encourage the growth of the DAB platform, ensure the future of locally produced content, a range of national services and a new approach to overcome what is sees as obstacles in the way of digital migration.

Among them is the controversial notion that regulations governing smaller local radio stations will be swept aside and a quasi-national network on the DAB platform instituted to replace it. The regulator insists the changes would safeguard the medium in the forthcoming digital age.

Under its agenda, smaller local commercial stations would be in the minority, but it would continue its successful campaign to encourage growth in community radio. As well as allowing regional stations to merge – in return for a commitment to broadcast on DAB – Ofcom is proposing that the regional DAB multiplexes are merged to create a UK-wide commercial DAB multiplex. Thus allowing commercial operators to broadcast nationally, but advertise regionally.

Though it backed DAB it warned both the BBC and commercial sectors that: "Without a strong UK-wide commercial proposition alongside the BBC's services, DAB will struggle to become the replacement platform for analogue radio."

They added: "Last year we halved the amount of localness required of licensees and simplified formats but the system is under increasing financial pressure and our modelling suggests that there are probably too many small stations to be viable in the long term."

Smaller local stations – those broadcasting to a population of fewer than 300,000 people – would be allowed to co-locate and share more programming with other stations in their area, or merge with other local commercial broadcasters.

"These larger local areas would ensure at least one local station in every part of the UK," said the regulator.

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