Sullo sfondo, dice Ofcom, c’è la consapevolezza della crescente forza dell’ascolto della radio su piattaforme digitali. Con i trend attuali, scrive Ofcom, il 90% della radio si ascolterà in digitale nel 2017 e questo significa che entro pochi anni il regolatore dovrà essere in grado di riassegnare molto velocemente le porzioni di spettro oggi utilizzate per trasmissioni analogiche. Da qui la proposta choc: nel 2009 Ofcom farà una revisione generale dello spettro delle onde medie per capire se e quando imporre lo switch off, il definitivo passaggio al digitale. Nel 2012 sarà la volta dello spettro FM a meno che prima di questa data l’ascolto non sia già passato per oltre il 50% su piattaforme digitali.
Notoriamente, io sono perplesso. Mi piacerebbe capire davvero, in base ai numeri reali dei ricevitori digitali presenti sul mercato (e per ora nel Regno Unito si tratta solo di DAB, per cui si parla del superamento della soglia del milione di apparecchi). Considerando che un ricevitore digitale è anche in grado di sintonizzarsi su trasmissioni analogiche, qual è il vero comportamento del pubblico? Altra domanda: posto che nel 2009 le onde medie saranno effettivamente snobbate da tutti, ha davvero senso imporre l’uso di standard digitali in questa porzione dello spettro o viceversa è più sensato continuare con l’attuale regime di trasmissioni locali a bassa potenza? E’ evidente che la mia posizione è ultraminoritaria ma continuo a pensare che la digitalizzazione dei ricevitori sia un approccio sicuramente più sensato della parallela digitalizzazione di TUTTE le modalità di emissione.
Intanto leggetevi il testo introduttivo all’iniziativa di Ofcom, annunciata ieri e un articolo del Media Guardian a proposito dell’iniziativa. La documentazione completa di Ofcom si trova (Related Documents) su questa pagina del sito.
Ofcom consults on future of radio regulation and licensing
Ofcom today outlines a possible framework for future regulation and licensing of the radio sector. The framework takes into account the ongoing transition of analogue radio listening to digital platforms; including Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB), digital television and the internet.
There are a number of challenges currently facing the radio sector. These include increased competition from other technologies, such as the internet, and an increasing share of radio listening by digital platforms which places greater pressure on local analogue stations.
Ofcom’s proposed approach seeks to address these issues and ensure that as radio makes its transition to digital, it continues to offer listeners choice and diversity, and that regulation remains proportionate. Today’s consultation follows Ofcom’s discussion document published last November.
Ofcom’s consultation focuses on three main areas:
Regulation of commercial radio
Most regulation of commercial radio is currently focused on analogue local stations. As the proportion of listening on digital platforms increases Ofcom believes it makes sense to align the regulation of analogue radio with the regulation of DAB.
Ofcom proposes simplifying the level of detail required in analogue Formats, which specify the type of programming and the amount of local material a station must produce, and standardising the requirements for local material in programming based on the size of station.
These changes would allow stations to re-focus their local investment to meet listener needs more effectively. At the same time, the regulatory obligations imposed on smaller commercial radio stations would be reduced.
Ofcom also suggests that Government may wish to consider simplifying the current ownership rules, which currently apply in different ways to analogue and digital stations. Ofcom suggests moving to a single set of ownership rules across platforms as digital listening increases. Simplifying the ownership rules would provide greater flexibility for industry, and maintain listeners’ access to services and content from different providers.
Regulation of community radio
Ofcom has licensed 122 new community radio services to date. The level of regulation, such as funding restrictions and statutory licensing criteria, imposed upon these small stations is very high. Ofcom is seeking views on how the selection criteria, and ownership and funding rules in this area could be amended to reduce regulation. This will inform Ofcom’s work to prepare a report on community radio for the Secretary of State later this year.
Future use of analogue radio spectrum
Current trends suggest that 90% of all radio listening will be via digital platforms by 2017. At present, there are no plans to switch-off analogue (FM and AM) radio. Ofcom’s consultation seeks views on changes which could free-up spectrum, currently used by analogue radio services, at an appropriate time in the future.
Existing analogue commercial radio licences will expire between 2009 and 2027, depending upon the date of issue. Under current legislation, these licences would be re-advertised. However, in the future this spectrum might be better used for other services such as mobile television, more digital radio, more community radio services or other new technologies.
To avoid the possibility of inefficient spectrum use, Ofcom believes that Government and Parliament may wish to consider how to allow Ofcom to achieve common end-dates for all FM and AM licences. This will be a key question as digital radio listening continues to grow. Ofcom’s consultation sets out a suggested approach for achieving common end-dates, which includes:
▪ extending existing licences for an indefinite period;
▪ making any licences extended in this way subject to two years’ notice of termination; and
▪ removing the automatic renewal for analogue licences whose holders are also offering a DAB service on a relevant radio multiplex.
Any change to legislation and the timing of any changes are matters for Government and Parliament. In addition, Ofcom proposes two separate reviews of all analogue radio services:
▪ AM (Medium Wave) spectrum in 2009; and
▪ FM spectrum in 2012 or when digital listening accounts for 50% of all listening; whichever is earlier.
Both reviews would consider future use of analogue spectrum and set common end-dates for existing services (commercial and BBC). These reviews would include a full assessment of the costs and benefits, taking into account the needs of consumers, including the most vulnerable members of society.
Ofcom Chief Executive, Ed Richards, said: “Radio remains important to many consumers, but the environment which it operates in is changing. It is essential that regulation reflects this. The proposals we outline today seek to ensure a vibrant and innovative UK radio sector.”
The closing date for responses to Ofcom’s consultation is 29 June 2007. See Related Items for the full document.
Small stations get room to play
John Plunkett Tuesday April 17, 2007 MediaGuardian.co.uk
Ofcom is set to loosen up the regulation of small radio stations and will be considering the switch-off date for AM in two years’ time.
The regulator will give radio groups greater freedom in what they broadcast and the number of stations they are allowed to own.
The Ofcom chief executive, Ed Richards, said the changes would allow traditional analogue broadcasters to compete with digital radio and online listening.
By 2017, it is forecast that 90% of all radio listening will be via digital platforms.
Ofcom is proposing a review of the AM spectrum in 2009 and of FM in 2012 or when 50% of all listening is via digital, whichever is earlier.
“It is essential that we do not rush the question of analogue switch-off, but it is also important that we are ready to address the questions raised by digital migration in the right way at the right time,” said Mr Richards.
“If and when that time comes, there will need to be a full and detailed review of the costs and benefits involved.”
To prepare for analogue switch-off, Ofcom is proposing that existing radio licences be extended for an indefinite period, subject to two years’ notice of termination.
This would mean radio broadcasters – whose licences currently expire at various dates between 2009 and 2027 – could have their analogue signal switched off simultaneously.
Ofcom said the AM and FM spectrums could be “better used for other services such as mobile television, more digital radio, more community radio services or other new technologies”.
The proposals are included in an Ofcom consultation on the future of radio regulation and licensing, published today, and follows a discussion document published last November. The closing date for responses to the consultation is June 29.
Ofcom’s plan to ease the regulatory burden on small stations comes after two local broadcasters closed down in less than six months.
Star Radio in Stroud handed back its licence in protest at the way smaller radio stations are regulated last September, while River FM in Scotland stopped broadcasting in January this year after it failed to find a buyer.
The regulator’s research revealed that smaller analogue stations with a potential audience of fewer than 100,000 people made an average loss of £14,000 a year.
Commercial radio’s industry body, RadioCentre, welcomed the consultation, but said it was disappointed many of the proposals “appeared to be incremental small steps of deregulation rather than a giant leap forward for the industry”.
The RadioCentre chief executive, Andrew Harrison, added: “A vibrant and thriving commercial radio sector is what listeners deserve in the digital age, so we fundamentally believe it is essential to review the entire current approach to regulating commercial radio, which is a legacy from the analogue era.”
Mr Harrison said that despite commercial radio representing less than 5% of the overall media market in the UK, it was still subject to “far too detailed sector-specific rules on ownership, locally produced programming and technical broadcast standards”.
“We’re just not convinced that’s appropriate in a modern, market-led, multiplatform world,” he added.