Ofcom urged to consider radical changes to radio

Ofcom is being urged to consider a range of radical changes to the radio sector, including looser station format regulations and the auctioning off of spectrum, as part of a wide-ranging review of the industry.

The regulator will launch a public consultation in the autumn, looking at development, technology, the future use of spectrum and the migration of small stations onto digital platforms. In the run-up to the review, three seminars are being held with leading industry figures to identify major issues.

After an initial general meeting in April, the second, held in July, looked at the process of stations re-applying for their licences. The final seminar, focusing on community radio stations, will be held later this month.

Shaun Gregory, media advisor to Australian investment bank Macquarie and a former executive at Emap Radio, said the consultation should be used as a chance for some radical thinking.

Radio's share of the display marketplace has dropped from 6.6% for the first quarter of 2003, to 6.2% for the same period of 2006, according to the Radio Advertising Bureau.

"They shouldn't be afraid to make some dramatic changes and quickly, or radio will fall off a cliff," said Gregory. He argued broader regulation of formats would allow "innovation" and the development of "better content". He also proposed the auctioning off of spectrum.

Chrysalis Radio chief executive Phil Riley agreed there was scope to loosen format regulation.

However, he was against selling off spectrum. "I don't think you should get rid of formats, because then the only way you would award licences is by auction, and I don't think that is the best way to go," he said.

There has been some resistance to changing radio formats. The Music Business Forum has expressed concern that broader definitions would make formats "effectively redundant and meaningless at the expense of music diversity"

An Ofcom spokeswoman said details of the consultation were still at an early stage.

"No decisions have yet been made, but operationally, we want to develop a plan for the future of radio in the UK," she said.

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