Diversity in radio broadcasting on DAB
I have been following the debate over the changes of stations broadcasting on Digital 1 and I have noted the recent press release issued by the Christian Broadcasting Council - www.cbc.org.uk/index.php/press-releases - which reads as follows:
The Christian Broadcasting Council (CBC) is concerned about PREMIER CHRISTIAN RADIO being ‘evicted’ from the national DAB radio at the end of March 2015 by the owner of Digital 1 multiplex licence Arqiva and replaced by a pop music station – Heart Extra – which is another version of Heart FM (which is already available in many parts of the country on DAB and FM).
Such a decision will reduce listener choice as a listener supported ‘variable speech’ station will be replaced by a music station.
CBC believes that this change of Digital Programme Services on the Digital 1 DAB multiplex would appear to contravene both the spirit and content of what Parliament intended. If this change of programme service is allowed to go through in March 2015 Ofcom will not be fulfilling the obligations placed upon it by Parliament in the Broadcasting Act 1996 (that set-up DAB) and the Communications Act 2003 (that enabled faith-based broadcasters access to DAB) to make sure that a wide variety of programme services are broadcast on DAB.
CBC suggests that the most equitable outcome to this situation would be for Ofcom to deny any change of programme services on Digital 1 until the new Digital 2 multiplex is on-air, whether it is provided by Sound Digital (Arqiva/Bauer/UTV) or Listen2Digital (Orion/Babcock in partnership with Folder Media and Sabras). As PREMIER CHRISTIAN RADIO is listed as a programme service on both applications for the Digital 2 multiplex this would enable PREMIER CHRISTIAN RADIO to stay as a national broadcaster on Digital 1 until they transfer to Digital 2.
I am therefore pleased to see that next Wednesday 11 February (2015-02-11), after Prime Minister's Questions , that MPs in the House of Commons will be staging a debate focusing on Premier and diversity in radio broadcasting.
This Parliamentary debate will help us understand how MPs view this matter.
Sorry Mr Wilson - but the UK is in desperate need of a station that says the word "Heart" 60 times an hour - and if they have enough time left they'll play edited versions of songs as well, whilst also promoting Heart's great competition called Who's on Heart, for which listeners to Heart can call up Heart on the Heart competition line, after they've gone to the Heart website and checked Heart's terms and conditions. Then they have to tune into to Heart, listen out for the Who's On Heart competition, for which they can guess who's saying the word 'Heart." They have to listen to Heart very carefully because Who's On Heart has three voices saying 'Heart.' Once they've guessed that three voices saying Heart, they can take part in the Who's On Heart competition by calling the Heart hotline and if the Heart computer selects them, Heart will call them back and they'll get put through to the Heart studio and talk to the Heart presenter, who will then play the three voices saying 'Heart' on the Who's On Heart competition. They might get one, two or three voices correct. If they don't get all of the three voices that are saying the word 'Heart' then the Who's On Heart competition rolls over to the next day and listeners to Heart get another chance to call Heart, after they've read Heart's terms and conditions on the Heart website, then they call the Heart hotline and if the Heart computer selects the Heart listener, then Heart will call them back and they'll get put through to the Heart studio and get to talk to the Heart presenter.
I realise that when I wrote this post that I am not actually given a proper representation of Heart's output - simply because I my actual mentions of the word Heart are a bit thin on the ground compared to what Heart actually puts out on air.
Dear Art: Yes I agree you don't seem to have mentioned Heart enough times or indeed a diversity of Hearts!!
The capitalist D1 which allowed Premier to broadcast when the major groups fell out of love with DAB have now returned as they can artificially boost the share of their brands with an extension station have returned and have the money to boot.
While it's disappointing that Premier will probably leave DAB at the end of March, they'll still have near national coverage on Freeview, Sky and online and could return to DAB in London by returning to their slot currently used by Premier Gospel in the interim, alongside AM coverage in London, Surrey and NE Hants.
At least when they get onto D2, it will secure a slot for a Christian broadcaster as part of the launch bid which they didn't have when D1 launched.
I've recently written an article about the diversity of UK digital radio for Radio World International. It is notable that we enjoy more diversity than any other country with HD or DAB, because of the rules surrounding access to digital multiplexes.
It strikes me that Premier now only wants an 18-month contract with D1, since they are guaranteed a slot on D2. This rather changes the story - rather than D1 "bullying Premier off", it would seem that as a company providing services, it is better for it to accept a presumably longer-term contract with Global. Premier wins by getting a slot at half the price of its current one (albeit with less comprehensive coverage), and D1 wins with a tenant who will wish to pay for a longer term contract than just eighteen months. D1 is acting entirely within the law.
This debate by MPs - who voted for the current system anyway - will nevertheless be interesting, and I look forward to following it. Here's hoping it'll be live somewhere.
A historical note. In November 1999 when Digital 1 launched its transmissions there were no faith-based broadcasters allowed access to DAB due to an 'over-sight' in the 1996 legislation that did not carry forward the same criteria for faith-based broadcasters that were in the 1990 Broadcasting Act for analogue broadcasts. It was therefore not until the passing into law of the Communications Act 2003 that any faith-based broadcaster, including Premier, were allowed access to DAB. This was one of the matters on which I gave evidence on 24 June 2002 (EV270-EV281), on behalf of the Evangelical Alliance, to the joint parliamentary committee on the Draft Communications Bill chaired by Lord Puttnam.
Are you sure Premier are after just a 18 month contract with Digital1one as the Radiotoday item of 16th December seems to suggest Premier wanted to stay on Digitalone?
“Premier’s determined to continue broadcasting nationally on Digital One so the battle for Premier’s national voice is not yet over.”
In response, Arqiva told RadioToday: “Premier has been a national Christian DAB radio station since September 2009. Premier’s current contract reaches its natural end on 20 December 2014 and we have been in discussions with them since September regarding options to extend their carriage on DAB until 31 March 2015 and possibly beyond. We hope to reach a conclusion to these discussions with Premier that satisfies all parties involved and are looking at some alternative solutions which help reduce transmission costs and fall within their budget.”
But looks like Arqiva refused to extend the Digitalone contract and it's solution for Premier was to go on Digitaltwo? But would still have to leave Digitalone to make way for Heart extra.
As the existing slot holder, Premier should be allowed to keep the slot, and Heart extra should go on Digitaltwo and wit for it to launch?
Can you verify this is the case?
Premier is part of both D2 bids. It is possible that it might put another service onto D1 and shift its main service to D2, but since D2 will have worse coverage than D1, I find that a little, er, taxing to believe.
But is it part of both bids because Arqiva eventually refused to extend it's Digital One contract long term as the Radiotoday item suggests?
The debate was last night, and here it is in full. Ed Vaizey, the Broadcasting Minister, is rather scathing about Arqiva.
Of note - Stephen Timms claimed that Premier were not outbid, which is potentially a little concerning for Arqiva since if that claim is right, it could have given preferential treatment to Global Radio. That isn't actually allowed under the Broadcasting Act.
It is good to hear that Premier and Arqiva have now agreed a 12 year contract for broadcasting on D1.
So it appears that the prayers of Premier supporters, the lobbying of MPs, the parliamentary debate on 11 February and financial donations from Premier listeners have all helped bring about this long-term agreement to enable a majority speech-based station with a Christian ethos to stay on air across the country thus helping to keep a variety of voices broadcasting in our democratic country.
We now await the outcome of the D2 bids as Premier appears on both applications. Their Premier Gospel station currently just broadcasts within the M25 on the London 3 multiplex and so we can anticipate that it will very probably now be heard by 70-80% of the population on D2 sometime in 2016.
Radiotoday are suggesting a one year contract, but the Arqiva press release does seem to suggest a 12 year contract with d1 and over 90% population coverage. Premier Gospel is in the Listen 2 digital d2 bid, but not the Sound digital d2 bid, so presumably if either win Premier Gospel will go on d2 with 70% coverage, rather than the main Premier station ?
The Premier presenters are saying on-air during the "Together Now" Appeal that the D1 licence has been secured until 2028.
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