Siobhan Kenny, Chief Executive of Radiocentre, writes for eRADIO about plans to deregulate the radio industry.
This week the Government made a long-awaited announcement (on World Radio Day, appropriately) of plans to modernise the regulation determining the shape of commercial radio in the UK.
We were delighted by this news, which follows a report from Ofcom last year signalling their support for deregulation. The goal is to continue to ensure plurality of radio provision for listeners across the UK, to help stations remain economically viable and, at the same time, invest in more high quality and locally-relevant content.
How did we get here?
Radiocentre has been asking Government for some time to look at the regulation of commercial radio with a view to updating some of the existing rules both on music output and on how and where content is made. Most of these rules are over 20 years old, and therefore designed in a pre-internet age. Listener choices and habits have inevitably changed since that time, with 45% of radio listening now on digital platforms and new competition from streaming services and other ways of listening. It is time for the legislation to catch up.
Digital technology has transformed media consumption in the UK and across the globe in the 20 years since the current regulatory regime was put in place. Entertainment and information can be consumed almost anywhere, at any time. Established business models have been disrupted and new players have emerged, opening up whole new swathes of opportunity for creating and consuming content.
These changes are part of what make our media so dynamic and at the same time they really do present regulators with a huge challenge, trying always to keep up with the rapid pace of change. At times there is a feeling that this delay is holding companies back from innovating and doing the most they can with what new technology offers.
Where do we want to be?
UK commercial radio needs to address this urgently if it is to stay competitive. Our commercial radio sector is full of brilliant people bursting with ideas, from the smallest stations to the biggest groups. It is one of the reasons why 90% of the population still tunes in to the radio every week. But, we maintain there could be even more innovation and more choice for listeners if radio stations were free to adapt their business in the way these proposed changes would allow.
In practice, this will mean providing a lighter-touch regime for stations on FM, so they can share programming in different ways and choose the music they want, rather than being constrained by the terms of their licence. At the same time, local news and other salient information will continue to be at the heart of local radio programming because that’s a big part of the unique selling point of local radio. It is why many listeners tune in.
So assurances can happily be given about the continuing provision of high quality news, traffic and other critical local community information, keeping these commitments in place for FM services and strengthening them for the future on DAB.
It is worth pointing out that the consultation states quite clearly that the purpose of the proposed reforms is not to alter the character of small local commercial radio stations that still operate in particular areas and that want to produce content in and for their communities and local advertisers. Those operators can carry on as they currently do. Others can determine themselves whether to take account of the new flexibilities.
The Government’s consultation runs until 8 May 2017. Radiocentre, on behalf of the DCMS, will shortly be announcing a series of meetings across the UK, providing a forum for discussion on the proposals. Once that process is complete we hope that Government will move as quickly as possible to implement these changes and help guarantee the continuing good health of local radio in the UK.