The British broadcast regulator, Ofcom, has published new guidelines designed to ensure protect local content for listeners while simplifying regulation for commercial operators. It also set standards for audio quality and stereo/mono broadcasting via DAB.
While the local programming changes do not go as far as many operators wanted, they do represent a significant level of deregulation. Ofcom stated in its report that the mandate for local content on radio has be “shown by research to be important to listeners.”
Under the new guidelines, FM local stations must carry 10 or more hours of locally produced programming each weekday, including during the breakfast hours, and at least four hours of locally produced programming on weekends.
AM stations must produce at least four hours of locally produced programming each day of the week, and a further six hours must be produced within the Home Nation (England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) of the station.
Ofcom is also considering requests from stations with a population coverage of less than 250,000 for colocation and program sharing with a neighboring station. In cases where stations are allowed to share programming, however, each station will be responsible for at least four hours of local programming per day.
Also reëxamined was the policy of only allowing stations to change their formats after being on air for two years. Ofcom decided to keep the format change rules as they are with the exception that stations will be allowed to request colocation within two years of launch. However, “as a matter of policy, requests from stations with population coverage greater than 250,000 adults are likely to be approved only in exceptional circumstances.”
Regarding audio quality on DAB, Ofcom now requires stations to seek approval before switching from stereo broadcasts to mono. The policy will be reviewed after 12 months.
Ofcom stated the DAB audio policy “is intended to be a backstop to ensure that multiplex operators do not seek to unacceptably diminish the range and variety of the services that they broadcast by changing the audio characteristics of a radio service in order that freed-up capacity can be allocated to services which, in our view, would not be in the best interests of listeners.”
The regulator cited services would aimed at a closed user group as being the sort of use of DAB that would not be in the overall public interest.
Both the localness guidelines and the policy for stereo and mono broadcasting on DAB will come into effect immediately.
The full report, Localness on analogue commercial radio and stereo and mono broadcasting on DAB is available as a PDF from the Ofcom Web site.