Thursday, 20 June 2013

Apparently local TV is good, local radio is bad

Earlier this year Ofcom found itself in a position where, in view of previous decisions on the viability of smaller commercial radio stations, it could not refuse a request by Bauer to merge the programming of TFM Radio on Teesside with that of its larger neighbour Metro Radio in Newcastle. Nobody had really thought the new rules on the location of studios and sharing of programming were meant to apply to stations as large as one serving Middlesbrough, Stockton-on-Tees, Hartlepool, Redcar, Darlington, parts of North Yorkshire and much of County Durham.  But they do.

Ofcom apparently accepted that radio stations the size of TFM Radio could not be commercially viable, nevertheless yesterday the regulator went ahead and advertised a local TV licence for Middlesbrough.  Serving a smaller population centred around just the Teesside towns of Stockton, Hartlepool, Redcar and Middlesbrough the digital TV service is expected to be receivable in just 280,000 households.

Now I’ve nothing against the offer of these local TV licences – I think people should be able to put together consortia, bid and then try to make them work. That’s how we make progress in broadcasting. But why has the government put Ofcom in a position where there is a predisposition against offering any new local commercial radio licences, where Ofcom goes out of its way to support big companies who say they can’t make the current local radio licences pay and where the favoured digital technology (DAB) mitigates against smaller-scale local radio - while at the same time they are championing commercial local television!

Why can’t the same rules apply to local radio? If a company tries to make a licence work and fails then, okay, they must hand the licence back and the opportunity should be offered again, perhaps in a slightly different form.

Instead TFM get a licence extension to 2025 (ironically on the grounds that they commit to DAB) and then, within months, are able to claim local radio on Teesside is not commercially viable and announce that for the next twelve years they will share all their programmes with another station in a completely different city.

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