Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 253 - 259)



  Chairman: Gentlemen, we welcome you here today. This is proving to be a particularly interesting inquiry we are conducting. Mr Fearn.

Mr Fearn

  253. Do you think that an increased BBC presence on digital radio will provide a significant incentive for increased take-up of digital radio?

  (Mr Bernard) That is a question which is a very simple one to answer. Yes. There is no doubt that BBC presence in the digital radio arena has been somewhat lacking of late. They have made a renewed commitment to digital radio which we in the commercial sector welcome because only a united approach from both sides of the industry will encourage manufacturers to think that there is a market for digital radio production in this country and that would allow the opportunity for mass marketing of receivers and the costs ultimately to reduce.

  254. Are the BBC doing that, do you feel?
  (Mr Bernard) Are the BBC committing to digital radio?

  255. Yes.
  (Mr Bernard) They are committing up to a point. My understanding is that they are prepared to publicise their involvement in digital radio once the cost of sets reduces to around £150.

  256. GWR and Emap both support the relaxation of ownership controls on radio. Can you elaborate a bit more on this? This was in your submissions.
  (Mr Bernard) The ownership controls in radio have always been somewhat restrictive—and I speak from the GWR perspective, having reached the ownership ceiling quite some time ago and having gone through ever more interesting gymnastics to remain within the ownership rules during a time when the industry has increased dramatically in terms of the number of radio services available and in the popularity of commercial radio as well. The ownership limits are inadequate at present to allow those companies like my own, who are dedicated to the radio industry, to invest in the future as we have done in the past. In the past the future of radio has been fairly close to hand; it is now clear that with digital radio there is an ever widening vista of opportunity and that requires long-term investment which radio companies would be prepared to make if they can see a reasonable return from their long-term investment—and I might say that by long-term we are talking 10 years or more.
  (Mr Schoonmaker) In the last 10 years the radio industry has grown incredibly quickly: lots more listeners, lots more radio services, lots more advertisers using it. Progressive regulation is like oxygen for us. The changes over the last 10 years have been enabled by more progressive regulation, via vis-a"-vis ownership, format, and also separating television and radio into separate regulators. We are ready for the next step now. We have not seen a revolution in regulation over the last 10 years; we have seen gradual changes. We can see our industry continuing to grow. We are concerned more effectively with press and television. We are competing with these issues again, of more progressive ownership regulation again, not putting us back into an IBA kind of regulator and keeping radio separate from television. I think also this is the time to look at putting all regulation and broadcasting into one place, which includes the BBC.

  257. The ownership control at the moment is on a points system. Should that be retained?
  (Mr Schoonmaker) The points system, I guess, was designed for a time when RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research)—which is our current gold standard of audience measurement—was just in its infancy. The points system said: "We will just measure the coverage area of the transmission area and we will say, `Well, if you have covered this much territory then you can have a certain number of points'," regardless of how large your service was or how small. The game has moved on fantastically since then. There is a lot more radio. Also RAJAR is very robust and accepted by everyone as a very accurate measurement of audience. So we think, once again, it is time to move on to something that is more progressive—and the points system ain't it.

Mr Maxton

  258. What does digital radio allow you to do? What are the big differences for the people who are listening to your stations?
  (Mr Howard) There are a number of differences and they are progressing. The immediate ones are: much more choice of radio stations; much better quality (no interference, no fluttering, and a vast increase in quality for people listening on AM who transfer to digital). Those are the two immediate benefits. The benefits that are coming when technology advances a little further will be: to allow radio to play its part in interactive delivery of multimedia content (which would allow people using the radio to be able to use it in some cases rather like an Internet browser, for looking at more information); electronic programme guides to guide the way through their listening during the day; the ability to be able to record radio programmes on to their radio and listen to them later (so whenever you want to listen to the Archers or the news it is always in your radio). That transforms radio from being a medium which is very good and very personal with its listeners to something which is much richer and allows the radio industry to play its part along with other multimedia, the Internet, mobile telephony and television.

  259. Could I ask about choice of radio stations. What exactly would you have in mind in terms of these stations? What sort of content, for example. People like the quality, but it is what is on them that matters.
  (Mr Howard) They are here now. I mean, in London there are 40 digital radio stations; that is almost twice as many as the analogue stations. So you get your favourite analogue stations: Capital Radio, Kiss, Classic FM, Talk Radio; you also get new stations which are providing new formats of music. There are stations like Prime Time, which targets listeners over 50 who have been disenfranchised by the BBC because Radio 2 does not serve them any more by and large. You get new stations like One Word, where the commercial sector is doing something which perhaps five years ago it would never have been expected to do, providing an 18-hour service a day of plays, books and comedies and the best of English Literature. Again, the BBC is not doing that, commercial radio is. Those types of new channels—new types of music, speech formats, news, 24-hour news stations—are all the kinds of format which we can enable with digital radio.

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