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Radio Multiplex Licence Award: Northeast Wales & West Cheshire

Published 14|09|07

The local radio multiplex licence for Northeast Wales & West Cheshire (‘NEWWC’) was awarded on 6 September 2007 to MuxCo Northeast Wales and West Cheshire Ltd.

Northeast Wales & West Cheshire licence award decision

In relation to sections 51(2)(a) and (b) of the Broadcasting Act 1996, MuxCo Northeast Wales and West Cheshire (‘MuxCo’) intends to launch its service by August 2008 using three transmitters at Moel-y-Parc, Wrexham Rhos and St.John’s Beacon. Based on Ofcom estimates using RAL-compliant transmitter powers, this network of transmitters will provide 'outdoor coverage' (to in-car and mobile receivers, for example) to 97.2% of the adult (aged 15+) population of the licensed area, and higher strength 'indoor coverage' (e.g. to kitchen radios) to 94.8% of the local adult population. The Radio Licensing Committee (RLC) felt that this represented an impressive initial level of coverage, particularly for indoor reception.

MuxCo proposes to launch with eight local digital sound programme services (details of which are set out in the table below), including BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru.

A ninth service, Wales Live, will commence broadcasting within nine months after the launch of the multiplex. The RLC considered the proposed timetable for launching the multiplex and rolling out coverage to be realistic, given that all but one of its proposed service providers are currently on the air (or, in the case of Jack FM, about to come air). It was felt that the extra time allocated for the launch of the one entirely new service, Wales Live, was prudent, particularly given the station’s relatively high speech minimum of 30%.

With regard to section 51(2)(c), the RLC considered that although MuxCo is a new company, many of its executives have extensive experience in the management of local DAB multiplexes. Furthermore, it was noted MuxCo shareholders include a number of established radio operators. The Committee felt that MuxCo’s business plan demonstrated the group’s ability to operate the multiplex over the term of the licence, although it was acknowledged that there were no definite agreements in place with GCap Media for the proposed carriage of Marcher Sound and Gold.

In relation to section 51(2)(d) and (e), the RLC noted that MuxCo’s proposed bouquet of local digital sound programme services includes simulcasts of three existing local analogue services (Marcher Sound, Gold and Dee 106.3), as well as a simulcast of 107.6 Juice FM/Liverpool, which can currently be heard in much of the licensed area. In addition, MuxCo plans to broadcast three further services ¬– Easy Radio, Jack FM and Wales Live – which are not currently available in the NEWWC area either on analogue or via the Liverpool or North West England DAB multiplexes (which both substantially overlap the coverage area of the NEWWC multiplex). Taken together, it was felt that this package of services would be likely to appeal to a broad range of listeners in the area through their differing geographical emphasis, target age demographics and music formats.

The Committee considered that the proposed multiplex line-up would broaden local digital choice by offering local services specific to the NEWWC area on DAB for the first time, combined with the three new services which, while having some similarities to various other services already available on the overlapping Liverpool and North West England multiplexes, also have some clear points of difference (such as the country music flavour of the proposed Easy Listening Format), and therefore should provide a reasonably clear extension of choice to listeners in the NEWWC area.

With regard to section 51(2)(f), RAJAR data confirm the popularity of the multiplex’s proposed local services (particularly Marcher Sound and Dee 106.3). MuxCo conducted a methodologically robust programme of quantitative research in the local market, although the RLC noted that the applicant could have demonstrated a stronger link between the results of its format research and the final line-up of programme services proposed. Ofcom also received some letters of support for MuxCo’s application from individuals based in the local area.

The Radio Licensing Committee agreed that the following commitments should be included as conditions of MuxCo’s licence when granted:

  • The implementation by August 2008 of the three transmitters proposed in the application, with the transmission parameters for the St.John’s Beacon and Wrexham Rhos transmitters at RAL-compliant power levels, and a commitment to increase power levels to those proposed in the technical plan if approval can be reached with the affected DAB operators.
  • The provision of six local digital sound programme services from the launch of the multiplex service, with the proposed 'Full Service' Format to launch within nine months of the commencement of the multiplex service.
  • The provision of the local digital sound programme services as proposed in the application (with some minor amendments due to the re-branding of the proposed 'Gold' service from Classic Gold Marcher to Gold), and summarised below:
Format description Service name Provider
Contemporary

Marcher Sound

GCap Media plc
Gold Gold GCap Media plc
Contemporary Dee 106.3 Dee 106.3 Ltd.
New music, chart and dance 107.6 Juice FM UTV Radio (GB) Ltd.
Easy Easy Radio Easy Radio Ltd.
Full service Wales Live Town & Country Broadcasting Ltd.
Variety pop & rock Jack FM Absolute Radio International Ltd.
  • The provision of the above local digital sound programme services with the audio characteristics (e.g. stereo or mono) proposed in the application.

This local radio multiplex service will also transmit BBC Radio Wales and BBC Radio Cymru.

The following pages set out the statutory requirements relating to local radio multiplex licensing, and details of the licensing process. Further information about these, and detailed information relating to the applications for the NEWWC licence, can be found at:
http://www.ofcom.org.uk/radio/ifi/rbl/dcr/

Statutory requirements relating to local radio multiplex licensing

In carrying out all of its functions, Ofcom is required to have regard to the general duties set out in section 3 of the Communications Act 2003.

Specific local radio multiplex licence award criteria

In considering the applications it receives for local radio multiplex licences, Ofcom is required to have regard to each of the statutory criteria set out in section 51(2) of the Broadcasting Act 1996. These are as follows:

  1. the extent of the coverage area proposed to be achieved by the applicant
  2. the timetables proposed by the applicant for achieving the stated coverage (i.e. transmission roll-out) and for the commencement of broadcasting of the digital sound programme services proposed;
  3. the ability of the applicant to establish the proposed service and to maintain it throughout the period for which the licence would be in force;
  4. the extent to which the digital sound programme services (other than BBC services) proposed to be included in the service would cater for the tastes and interests of persons living in the area or locality for which the service is to be provided and, where it is proposed to cater for any particular tastes and interests of such persons, the extent to which those services would cater for those tastes and interests;
  5. the extent to which any such digital sound programme services would broaden the range of programmes available by way of local digital sound programme services to persons living in the area or locality for which it is to be provided and, in particular, the extent to which they would cater for tastes and interests different from those already catered for by local digital sound programme services provided for that area or locality
  6. the extent to which there is evidence that, amongst persons living in that area or locality, there is a demand for, or support for, the provision of the proposed service; and
  7. whether, in contracting or offering to contract with persons providing digital sound programme services, television licensable content services or digital additional services, the applicant has acted in a manner calculated to ensure fair and effective competition in the provision of those services.

The legislation does not rate these requirements in order of priority, but it may be that Ofcom will regard one or more of the criteria as being particularly important in view of the characteristics of the licence to be awarded and the applications for it.

Process for assessment of applications

The Northeast Wales & West Cheshire local radio multiplex licence was advertised on 7 February 2007. By the closing-date of 9 May 2007, two applications were received, as follows:

MuxCo Northeast Wales and West Cheshire Ltd.
Now Digital (North Wales, Wirral and Cheshire) Ltd.

The membership of Ofcom's Radio Licensing Committee (RLC) for this licence award was as follows:

Philip Graf, Ofcom Deputy Chairman (Chair)
Peter Bury, Director of Strategic Resources
Martin Campbell, Chief Advisor, Radio
Peter Davies, Director of Radio and Convergent Media
Pam Giddy, Content Board member
Neil Stock, Head of Radio
Joyce Taylor, Content Board member

The applications were circulated among all members of the RLC as well as among relevant Ofcom colleagues. Copies of the non-confidential sections of the applications were made available for public scrutiny on the Ofcom website, and public comment on the local radio needs of listeners in the area, and the type of service required, was invited on the day after the applications were received. The RLC took all replies into account when reaching its decision.

Each applicant was then invited to respond, within a two-week period, to written questions of clarification and/or amplification on aspects of their proposals. The non-confidential questions and responses were subsequently made available for public scrutiny on the Ofcom website.

A paper which summarised the issues of relevance for each application under each of the statutory criteria was presented to the RLC at its 6 September 2007 meeting. The information included in this paper was drawn both from the applications and the subsequent responses to questions of clarification and/or amplification.

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