Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Channel 4 Radio

  Channel 4 Radio welcomes the invitation to submit evidence to the Committee's initial inquiry into media ownership and the news. We are happy to provide information on our proposals for news on national digital radio, both for our own Channel 4 Radio stations and in the context of 4 Digital Group.


  1.1  DAB digital radio now accounts for nearly a fifth of radio sales in the UK with over 5.1 million sets sold to date, and 1.8 million sets sold in the year to April 2007. Listening to digital radio services is now available to 19.5% of adults at home through DAB radio sets, but also through digital television (80.5% penetration by the end of Q1 2007) and residential broadband (53% penetration).[8]


  2.1  Early in 2005, Channel 4 decided to lead a consortium (which became 4 Digital Group) to apply for the licence for the second commercial national digital radio multiplex. The licence was formally advertised by Ofcom on 1 December 2006 and awarded to 4 Digital Group on 5 July 2007.

  2.2  The consortium which forms 4 Digital Group has six shareholders as follows:

  2.2.1  Channel 4 Radio Ltd 55%. Channel 4 Radio Ltd is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Channel 4 Television Corporation. Nathalie Schwarz is Director of Radio at Channel 4 and the CEO of Channel 4 Radio Ltd. She is also the Chair of 4 Digital Group.

  2.2.2.  Sky News Radio Ltd 10%. Sky News Radio is a joint venture company formed by British Sky Broadcasting and Chrysalis Radio (now Global Radio).

  2.2.3  Emap Digital Radio Ltd 10%. Emap Digital Radio Ltd is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Emap Radio Holdings Ltd. A subsidiary of Emap plc, it operates more than 40 local commercial radio stations in the UK. At the end of July 2007, Emap plc announced that it was reviewing its structure and has reported interest from potential buyers of its portfolio of assets (including its radio arm).

  2.2.4  UTV Radio (GB) Ltd 10%. UTV Radio is the fastest growing division of the eponymous, Ulster-based media company. Its UK arm was formed in June 2005 when UTV acquired The Wireless Group, giving it ownership of national station talkSPORT, sixteen local stations, and stakes in a number of local digital radio multiplexes. Since then, it has won two further local radio licences, including the all-speech Edinburgh service, Talk 107.

  2.2.5  The Carphone Warehouse Group plc 10%. Carphone Warehouse is Europe's largest independent mobile communications retailer. Following its flotation in 2000, it now has over 2,000 stores across 10 geographical markets.

  2.2.6  UBC Media Group plc 5%. As well as being a major independent supplier of content to the radio industry, UBC is a supplier of interactive and data technology products and services both in the UK and around the world.

  2.3  After the 4 Digital Group multiplex launches in July 2008, there will be 10 new national digital radio stations available as set out in Table 1 below.

Table 1

Provider and Launch Date

E4 Radio
Channel 4 Radio
July 2008
Youthful interactive entertainment
A music and entertainment service with an irreverent attitude and cross genre music appeal. The service is designed to appeal particularly to 15 to 29 year olds.
Channel 4 Radio
Channel 4 Radio
Jan 2009
Contemporary Public service speech
A speech-based service featuring news, comedy, drama, documentaries, conversation and debate.
Pure 4
Channel 4 Radio
July 2009
Intelligent contemporary adult
A contemporary music station covering a broad mix of genres and eras with intelligent conversation about music and culture. The service is designed to appeal to 30 to 49 year olds.
Talk Radio
UTV Radio
July 2008
News, views and entertainment
An all-speech service characterised by opinionated presentation and lively debate, delivered in a humorous and entertaining way.
Emap Radio
July 2008
Female adult-contemporary, celebrity and lifestyle
A broad mix of current and classic chart music with lifestyle conversation and topical chat on issues relevant to its 30+ female target.
Sky News Radio
Sky News Radio/Global Radio
July 2008
Rolling News
A 24-hour rolling news service providing national and international news, weather, travel, business, sports and entertainment news with in-dept features and interviews.
Sunrise Radio UK
Sunrise Radio
July 2008
A music-based service featuring artists of Asian origin and/or in an Asian language.
Virgin Radio Viva
July 2008
Female-friendly pop with attitude
A fearlessly female pop and lifestyle station, designed to appeal to independent fun-loving women with attitude aged 15 to 29.
July 2008
Adult album alternative
Album-led music from a wide range of credible artists, supported by meaningful speech. Aimed in particular at adults aged over 40.
Radio Disney
Disney Corporation
July 2008
Children's service
A varied blend of music and speech suited to, and suitable for, children aged 8 to 12. The service will offer an outlet for self-expression and social connection.

  2.4  In addition, there will be a podcast service, offering a wide selection of downloadable content from providers including: The Financial Times, Penguin, Gaydar, Colourful, NME, Club Asia, IMG Media, the Media Trust and the Prince's Trust.


  3.1  The introduction of 4 Digital Group into the radio market will extend the plurality of news providers in national radio through the entry of Channel 4 News.

  3.2  The news service for all three Channel 4 Radio Ltd. stations will be provided by what will be one of the biggest news operations in commercial radio. It will build on the success and style of Channel 4's award winning television news (the only news programme in the world to win an International Emmy two years in a row).[9] The radio news team will liaise with Channel 4's television and multimedia operations, maximising resources and expertise, and delivering a comprehensive service for audiences. It will have access to Channel 4 Television News' existing staff and bureaux and its international network of journalists.

  3.3  At E4 Radio, as well as having regular news bulletins, journalists from the Channel 4 news team will be invited to sit in with presenters to discuss news issues and to present occasional special features, such as interviews with leading politicians and public figures of interest to the E4 audience.

  3.4  At the heart of Channel 4 Radio will be one of the best resourced news services in British commercial radio, with the unique advantage of working in close co-operation with Channel 4's television and online news operations. As one of the most mature democracies in the world, we believe Britain needs more than one heavyweight radio news programme in the morning—the very time when the public most depends on radio for its news and when the political and news agenda for the day is being set. Channel 4 Radio's breakfast programme will have politics at its core, but it will look well beyond Westminster with a more broadly based agenda which includes popular culture, business, sport and the environment—all with a strong international focus.

  3.5  In addition to its breakfast programme and hourly bulletins, Channel 4 Radio will have substantial news programmes at three other times of day: lunch-time, drive-time and night-time. Compared with existing news services it will have a much broader repertory of informed and expert opinion to draw on, particularly voices from communities and points of view which are unrepresented, or under-represented, on radio today. Its news analysis will always seek to involve a range of opinions, rather than simply having journalists interviewing each other in the studio.

  3.6  Pure4 will present hourly news bulletins, with longer news programmes at key times during the day and evening.

  3.7  Sky News Radio will be the only 24-hour rolling national and international news channel on UK radio. Drawing on the resources and experience of Sky News—RTS News Channel of the Year 2006—Sky News Radio will provide comprehensive, up-to-the-minute news and analysis of events in the UK and the wider world. The programming will be based around a "spine" of news, sports, weather and travel headlines every half-hour and will be the essential radio news source for coverage of breaking news and major news events.

  3.8  Talk Radio will mix intelligent, entertaining and opinionated presentation with lively debate and phone-ins. It will break the mould of national news and current affairs radio by having a more interactive and compelling talkback element. Its free-flowing agenda will be dictated by the unfolding issues of the day. Programming will include regular news bulletins from an existing national provider, although contracts have not yet been signed.

  3.9  Sunrise Radio UK will offer a significant news provision for its UK-wide Asian audience sourced from a combination of IRN (for UK news) and a range of South Asian news providers in India and Sri Lanka.

  3.10  Both Closer and Original will carry news, but the details and the providers have not yet been decided.

  3.11  It has not yet been determined whether Virgin Radio Viva or Radio Disney will carry news.


  4.1  There are two national digital radio multiplexes currently on air. The first is operated by the BBC and carries only BBC radio services for which news is provided in-house.

  4.2  The second multiplex was awarded to Digital One Limited, a company owned by GCap Media plc (majority shareholder) and Arqiva. The stations broadcasting on the Digital One multiplex and their news providers (if any) are shown in Table 2 overleaf:

Table 2 News Provision on Digital One Multiplex

News Provider

Classic FM
GCap Media plc
Virgin Radio Ltd (SMG)
Sky News
UTV Radio Ltd (UTV)
Sky News
Planet Rock
GCap Media plc
Capital Life
GCap Media plc
OneWord Ltd (Channel 4 and UBC)
No news
GCap Media plc
No news
GCap Media plc
No news


  5.1  The Committee will be aware that there is no provision in the Communications Act 2003 covering public service radio and that, when awarding radio licences, Ofcom has no power to require applicants to include news in their proposed programme output. However, if an applicant offers news as part of their intended programming, this can then be included in the station's formal "format" and thus become a licence condition.[10] It is therefore encouraging that Ofcom has awarded the second national commercial digital radio multiplex licence to an applicant that has included news as an essential ingredient of several services. In particular, the 4 Digital Group multiplex will introduce Channel 4 News as a significant new provider of radio news and offer the only 24-hour rolling news service on national radio, from Sky News.

  5.2  The award of the licence to 4 Digital Group therefore extends the plurality of news sources on national radio. However, we have no knowledge whether this was a factor in Ofcom's licence decision (it was not included in the published reasons for the award, although the inclusion of Sky News Radio was specifically mentioned).[11] The Communications Act 2003 in itself does not contain instructions to Ofcom with regard to plurality of sources of news in radio. Nonetheless, the award of the 4 Digital Group licence does mean that the availability of comprehensive, quality news on national radio from a range of providers will be significantly enhanced.

September 2007

8   Ofcom Communications Market Report 2007. Back

9   In 2003, for coverage of the Iraq war, and in 2004 for the Madrid bombings. It also won 5 RTS awards in 2006 for: best home (Leak of the Attorney General's advice on the Iraq war) and foreign journalism (Congo's Heart of Darkness), for the best young journalist (Faisal Islam), specialist journalist (Jonathan Miller) and best journalist of the year (Jon Snow). Back

10   See Section 106(1) of the Broadcasting Act 1990 and Section 54(1(b) of the Broadcasting Act 1996. Back

11   The published reasons are available at Back

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