Ofcom has awarded the Ceredigion licence to Nation Broadcasting despite “barely any evidence that the station would broaden choice for listeners”.
The regulator said the application had a lack of commitment to provide any Ceredigion-specific local content, or provide Welsh language content in an area with a relatively high proportion of Welsh speakers.
Ofcom also said it was preferable for listeners in the Ceredigion area to continue to be able to have a choice of local analogue commercial radio services.
In making the award to the only applicant, Ofcom felt that the ability of Nation Broadcasting to maintain the service was of key importance, made possible by replacing the existing Radio Ceredigion service with a relay of the South Wales licenced service Nation Radio.
It was noted that, historically, the Ceredigion licence has been a challenging one to operate profitably because of the large coverage area requiring three different frequencies and a small population and low potential commercial revenue base.
Although the station has become loss-making, having been marginally profitable for the last few years, its parent company Nation Broadcasting is cash generative and free of external debt, with positive shareholders’ funds. Because the proposed new service will be a 100% simulcast of Nation Radio, it will essentially only require expenditure on marketing and transmission, while the station will still be able to obtain local advertising revenues from the licence.
Ofcom considered that barely any evidence had been provided that the proposal to provide the Nation Radio service would cater for the tastes and interests of listeners in the Ceredigion area.
The lack of a commitment to provide any Ceredigion-specific local content for the new licence period, and the removal of any obligation to provide content in the Welsh language in an area with a relatively high proportion of Welsh speakers, contributed to this view. They also felt that the proposed Nation Radio service would be less likely to broaden choice for listeners in the Ceredigion area than the current Radio Ceredigion service.
They further considered that Nation Radio’s Format would allow its music output potentially to overlap considerably with that of the Heart service which is also available in the area.
The proposed commitment to produce 21 hours of output a day from within Radio Ceredigion’s existing approved licence area was noted. In spite of this, because of recent amendments to Ofcom’s localness guidelines, a commitment to locally-made programming does not necessarily equate to content which is local in character. Providing Welsh national news at peak-time was however considered to represent a potential point of difference for the service.
Ofcom said it was difficult to take a view on whether Nation Radio would be more or less popular with listeners in Ceredigion than the existing Radio Ceredigion service, which currently achieves a 4.7% share of listening hours because the station hadn’t conducted any market research in the area to test the potential appeal of broadcasting Nation Radio to Ceredigion.
In reaching its decision, Ofcom felt that Radio Ceredigion was in a very strong position to sustain the licence. Their view was, that given the significant economic difficulties the Ceredigion licence has faced in the past under a variety of different ownership models, and that no company other than Radio Ceredigion Limited submitted a valid application for this licence, it would be preferable for listeners in the Ceredigion area to continue to be able to have a choice of local analogue commercial radio services.