Supplementary written evidence from RadioCentre (FLM 48)

 

To: Mr Philip Davies MP

 

It was good to meet with you once again, at this week's Culture, Media and Sport select committee evidence session. Hopefully, the evidence that Travis Baxter, Steve Fountain and I gave helped inform your understanding of the challenges facing the Commercial Radio industry, and the vision that we have for its future.

 

I wanted to take this opportunity to provide further detail on the specific question that you asked regarding RadioCentre's representativeness of the industry. As I stated, it is very unfortunate that UTV felt it to be in their best interests to resign from RadioCentre. Commercial Radio is a small sector in a complex and fragmented media landscape, so we firmly believe we are stronger when we speak with one voice. I am pleased that UTV (and UKRD/TLRC) have decided to remain as RadioCentre shareholders.

 

RadioCentre continues to represent the vast majority of Commercial Radio stations across the UK. We have 270 member stations, constituting 93% of national revenue and over 85% of commercial listening. RadioCentre's membership is a broad collective with large and small stations, major groups and independents, rural and metropolitan, digital and analogue operators all in membership. A full membership list is attached. Inevitably, across such a broad church, there will be strongly-held differences of opinion but RadioCentre strives to reflect the views and needs of all, whether it is through promoting the benefits of our medium to advertisers and media agencies, or working with parliamentarians, journalists, regulators and the BBC Trust.

 

As you are aware, one issue of tension for UTV is the plan for digital radio upgrade. Clearly, all groups will have differing start points for their approach to digital transition based on their current (analogue) business models. However, through the process of discussion and alignment for Digital Britain we have achieved a broad consensus, not just within the majority of Commercial Radio operators but across all interested parties, including the BBC, the transmission operator Arqiva, and set and car manufacturers, and we now have the beginnings of a roadmap. We all firmly believe that a Digital Economy Bill which puts the listener in charge of the timing (by setting a series of consumer-led criteria which the sector has to meet before any upgrade timetable is actioned) is an eminently sensible approach rather than any scaremongering about possible dates.

 

In that context, you will be interested to learn how Commercial Radio's other national AM station, Absolute Radio (a key competitor to UTV's talkSPORT), is fairing. The industry has just published audience data for Q3 2009. In this latest quarter Absolute became the first national radio station to reach the listening consumer-led criteria for the digital upgrade - over four years ahead of the ambitious plans we are proposing for the sector. Here is an extract from their press release:

 

"Absolute Radio is now the first radio group to hit the 50% national digital listening penetration target set out in the Digital Britain report earlier this year. Digital innovation is core to the station's business and Absolute Radio continues to lead the radio industry. The station recorded 51.5% of the station's national listening on a digital platform."

 

In summary, I hope you will see we represent the vast majority of Commercial Radio groups and listening hours; there is broad consensus on the right consumer-led criteria to lead to a digital upgrade plan and some groups are already there. As we look forward to a bright future for the sector, we hope for political support to facilitate and enable a smooth transition to digital for listeners.

 

I hope that this additional detail has been of some use. I am, of course, happy to meet with you to discuss further should you feel that would be useful.

 

Andrew Harrison, Chief Executive, RadioCentre

cc Travis Baxter, Managing Director, Bauer Radio

Steve Fountain, Head of Radio, KM Group

 

October 2009