Saturday, June 23, 2018

For local people

Presumably OFCOM can produce a pile of letters from genuine members of the public along the lines "Dear OFCOM, I can no longer listen to my favourite radio station. It has become TOO local, and I wish for less locally-produced content, with more stuff from across my region (why not mirror the old ITV Regions ?). This has gone on long enough - please act now !".

It would be shameful if OFCOM has simply listened to pressure from the big commercial groups to look for more consolidation opportunities and further reductions in commitments to local content, wouldn't it ?

OFCOM's consultation on commercial local radio is apparently aimed at giving stations more 'freedom' and 'flexibility'. Under current rules, most stations need to provide a minimum of seven hours a day of locally- made programmes, including breakfast. Under OFCOM'S new proposals, stations will need to provide either three hours of locally-made programmes between 6am and 7pm weekdays if they have an hourly news bulletin, or six hours of locally made programming between 6am and 7pm weekdays if they only provide hourly bulletins during peak times.

Thus there'd be no need for a locally-made breakfast show on a local radio station, or locally-made weekend programmes.  Currently, there are 31 Ofcom “Approved Areas” mapped out across the UK, in which stations are allowed some co-location or federation. Under the new rules, there would be just 12, matching the old ITV Regions.

Attached to the proposal is a survey by Populus over just one week, from 29th March. Advertisers who use some stations outside the big chains should look away - there's a terrifying list of stations with shares way, way below 1%. And Ofcom has used data which says people turn to stations principally for music and presenters, to suggest that local content doesn't matter as much. Perhaps, dear regulators, it's not good enough.

Take some reverse data from the Populus Survey: 24% of listeners to Smooth stations said 'it doesn't feel local'; it was 14% for Heart, and 13% for Capital stations. While it was just 2% of listeners to 'Other stations' who said their stations 'didn't feel local'.

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