Small-Scale DAB Licensing consultation – Comment from the Community Media Association on the Government’s proposals

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DCMS

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) has published its response to the industry consultation on the development of Small Scale Digital Audio Broadcasting (SSDAB).

The Community Media Association (CMA) is the sector body for community media in the UK and includes among its membership the majority of the UK’s licensed community radio services. There are currently 268 licensed community radio services in the UK which stand to benefit from the opportunity for carriage on DAB through the licensing of SSDAB multiplexes. These represent 75% of existing UK FM and AM radio channels that are currently not able to broadcast on DAB because of constraints of cost and capacity.

Whilst the CMA welcomes the development of SSDAB as an opportunity for community radio to gain carriage on DAB we are disappointed that the Government has not taken on board several substantive proposals from the community radio sector that, when taken together, would increase the likelihood that community radio services will take up the SSDAB opportunity and would bring greater public value in terms of local media pluralism.

Furthermore, the CMA’s recommendation to limit ownership of multiplex licences to single entities was proposed to develop a plurality of media ownership and provide a robust broadcasting ecosystem better able to withstand the vicissitudes of market circumstances. We acknowledge some concessions from DCMS to the CMA’s position but have reservations that concentrations of multiplex ownership will still arise and stifle sector diversity.

We welcome the commitment in the DCMS plan to guarantee carriage for community radio services however we remain concerned that the ownership proposals are likely to lead to commercial for-profit multiplex operators seeking to cherry pick the most attractive urban coverage footprints to extract rental value from the SSDAB licences without any commitment to return that value to local communities. The risk of the ownership proposals from DCMS  is that where there is profit to be made, commercial multiplex operators will benefit and community radio services will pay, whilst in unprofitable locations it will be left to non-for-profit operators to try to develop alternative economic models.

Given the Government’s response to the Consultation, the CMA believes that public value will be better achieved by encouraging, through the licence selection and award process, the emergence of non-profit SSDAB multiplex operators in as many locations as possible and that priority should be given to such operators especially where they are formed as local consortia with existing community radio services as stakeholders and beneficiaries. For example, offering free carriage to community radio services and/or distributing profits to support community media content.

The CMA would like to use this opportunity to remind DCMS and the regulator Ofcom of their ongoing responsibilities to existing broadcasters and to reiterate their obligation to continue to support and develop community radio broadcasting on analogue platforms. The Community Radio Fund, frequently referred to in the Consultation Response, at £400,000 remains insufficient for nearly 270 community radio stations currently broadcasting. With potentially many new community radio stations joining the SSDAB platform under a C-DSP licence, it is clear that substantial investment in the Community Radio Fund is required to ensure the continued success of the community radio sector for those stations that wish to broadcast on both analogue and digital.

It should also be noted by DCMS that a new Community Radio (Amendment) Order ought to be confirmed in advance of 2020 when the first tranche of community radio licences will require renewal to ensure that current licensees can continue broadcasting beyond their present licence term. Additionally, DCMS should use the opportunity afforded by a new Amendment Order to remove the additional commercial restrictions on community radio stations operating a service which overlaps with any local commercial radio service serving a potential audience of fewer more than 150,000 adults.

NOTES:

The Community Media Association (CMA) champions access to community radio and local television for all to change lives, build diverse participation in social dialogue and give even the smallest communities a voice.

A non-profit membership organisation formed in 1983, the CMA leads advocacy for and governance of the UK’s movement of community broadcasters, which grew rapidly following a successful CMA campaign to establish community radio FM licences in 2004.

The CMA champions its members to uphold the Community Media Charter of best practice and celebrates members’ achievement with the annual Community Media Conference, regional networking events, a monthly Community Media Newsletter, an informative online discussion forum, and supports Internet radio through its flagship media streaming service, Canstream.

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