Ofcom has started a consultation on a plan to allow a single operator to run more than two SRSLs per year.
At the moment, one person or company can only run two Short-term Restricted Services Licences per year, or one if within the M25.
Current rules also state that the programme format of a short-term restricted service should broaden audience choice.
Now, the regulator is proposing to cease to apply these policies, saying they have not achieved their objective of securing the availability of a wider range of services.
Ofcom had a few situations where it refused applications based on other services that were planned but did not happen. The regulator says “The policy has not been effective in securing the provision of services calculated to appeal to a wider variety of tastes and interests than would be the case had the SRSLs concerned been granted, because there have not been other services provided in the same areas.
“We expect that the consequence of this would be that more SRSLs would be likely to broadcast content that is similar to content broadcast by community and commercial radio stations.
“We consider this likely to be neutral or beneficial to audiences, particularly Muslim audiences, in that they may have more radio services available to choose from than they otherwise would. It would also benefit those wishing to make broadcasts.
“However, where a licence applicant has already held two licences (or one licence if within the M25) within the previous 12 months, or is applying for a licence within four months of a previous one, we will consider the likelihood that a further licence grant will in practice negatively affect others wishing to broadcast, having particular regard to the power levels required and the nature of the service being licensed.”
Ofcom will prioritise applications from those who have not held a licence within the previous four months and have not held two licences (or one licence if within the M25) in the previous 12 months.
Comments are invited on this issue by 5pm on Thursday 31 October 2019.
Ofcom doesn’t put a limit on the number of licences a station can apply for per year with this change, but this move looks to be more about allowing an occasional third or forth licence per year, rather than giving a station a licence to broadcast every weekend, or every other month, for example.
The regulator admits to occasionally deviating from the current policy and granting more than two licences to the same applicant within the same year, so this will just allow them to do the same in the future within its own rules.