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Ofcom Deregulates Commercial Local Radio

Ofcom have announced it will be introducing a number of measures to deregulate the commercial local radio sector.
In recent years, declining advertising revenue combined with regulatory constraints have led to an uncertain future for many local stations, particularly smaller ones.
New provisions in the Digital Economy Act 2010 allow Ofcom to take a number of steps to ease these pressures and enable stations to make necessary cost savings.
The aim is to create a sustainable future, where stations continue to deliver services that listeners value.
The measures will still ensure that local stations stay local – providing the locally focused content listeners want and which is protected by the legislation governing radio – but in a more flexible way.
From June, local FM stations will be able to apply to Ofcom to co-locate and share all of their programming within approved areas. This will allow the stations to merge to form larger, more financially viable stations.
However, such stations must continue to meet their licence obligations to provide local material relevant to the listeners in their licensed areas.
Measures are also being introduced to protect and promote what listeners want most from local radio.
Top of the list is news, which is valued more than other content on local commercial radio, according to Ofcom research.
Stations may request to reduce the number of locally made programme hours from 10 a day to 7 a day, if they commit to providing local news bulletins throughout weekday daytime. These bulletins will need to be regularly refreshed and updated.
The aim is to provide flexibility to reduce the financial burden on local stations of developing local content, while at the same time safeguarding what consumers value most.
Local AM stations will be able to request to Ofcom to be freed of any requirement to provide locally made programming, except for the existing licence requirement to produce 10 hours a day of daytime programming (including breakfast) on weekdays from within their home nation.
This will protect the nation-specific content on services in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland so ensuring coverage of issues of particular interest to the relevant nation.
Ofcom also aims to allow the industry to increase the choice and diversity of UK-wide services.
Large regional analogue stations will be able to request to drop their regional programming. In exchange, these stations will be required to provide a national version of their programme service on DAB digital radio, either on a national multiplex or a combination of local and regional multiplexes.
This will encourage competition and choice in national services, a greater range and diversity of content for consumers, and the potential for new investment in programming.
Due to the specific needs of the devolved nations, regional stations in Scotland and Wales will retain their specific focus on programmes for their own nation.
Operators of DAB local and regional multiplexes may request changes to the areas they serve, so as to bring local DAB to new areas and increase the viability of the multiplexes.

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