The government has today (Thursday 28 April 2022) published its response to the Radio & Audio Review alongside its wider White Paper on broadcasting.
The government response to the Digital Radio and Audio Review outlines its position on the Review’s overall key findings and responds in detail to those of the Review’s 42 recommendations calling for specific government action.
In summary, the government response to the Review's key recommendations in relation to digital radio transmission, delivery and devices finds:
Maintain FM until at least 2030
- The government agrees with the Review’s main conclusion that there should be no formal switch-off of analogue radio services before 2030 at the earliest, and notes that the ongoing decline of analogue listening makes it appropriate to consider updating elements of the legislative framework to support a smooth transition of services away from analogue in due course. Government also agrees that government and industry should look at this again in 2026.
- In relation to smart speakers, the government agrees with the conclusions of the Review that the case has been made for taking action to protect radio’s long term position in the context of the rapid growth in usage of smart speakers. However, government states ‘this will not be straightforward’ and any intervention will need to be considered in the wider context of other government work, particularly in relation to digital markets and data protection reform.
- Therefore, the response concludes that government 'will also need to engage further with the radio industry, and to gain a deeper understanding of the policies and practices of the smart speaker platforms, in order to ensure that we are putting in place the best possible regime to allow radio to continue to thrive.' This is also covered in section 5.5 of the White Paper.
- The government’s response to the Review agrees that it may be appropriate, subject to developments in the radio market and in listening habits, for action to be taken to support a faster migration of stations from DAB to DAB+.
- In order to enable potential mandation of DAB+ in all digital radios in due course, government will seek to legislate (when parliamentary time allows) to allow Ministers - following advice from Ofcom and consultation with industry - to be able to set requirements for radio devices so that all digital radios are able to receive the full range of available stations.
- Government agrees with the Review’s recommendation that Ofcom should provide advice on how to accelerate the migration of services to DAB+, including a market study and the initiation of a call for evidence in relation to DAB+, and has asked Ofcom to complete its review of DAB+ within the next 12 months.
Coverage and network planning
- The government response underlines there is currently no funding provision for additional buildout of the DAB network, and says a strong case would need to be made by industry for the government to consider this given that analogue will be retained until at least 2030. However, government highlights and welcomes the work of the Broadcast Radio Coverage Group (BRCG) to assess future options for further DAB coverage improvements.
- The government notes the recommendation in relation to mobile networks, but does not believe the case has yet been made for prioritising radio traffic on mobile networks, and says there is further work for the industry to do in this area, in collaboration with the mobile telecoms sector and with Ofcom.
Digital radio in cars
- The government response notes the Review’s view that the development of exclusive in-car entertainment systems by car manufacturers and tech platforms may in the longer term seek to exclude broadcast radio, and says it will look to address these concerns as part of wider work in relation to the impact of connected audio devices on radio’s route to its listeners.
- The government says it will also keep the position in terms of mandating DAB (and potentially, in due course, DAB+) radios in commercial vehicles under review, and in particular will consider whether it may be appropriate to extend to commercial vehicles the requirements mandating DAB in radio for passenger cars introduced in December 2020.
Prominence of radio on TVs
- The government response highlights that ensuring high quality public service content is widely available and easy to find is currently achieved for linear broadcasting through rules set out by Ofcom that affect the position of channels on electronic programme guides (EPGs), and says it will keep this provision under review in the context of ensuring appropriate protection for radio content in years to come.
- The government response welcomes the work the broadcasting sector is already doing to support the UK’s net-zero target and the positive example the UK industry is already setting globally, with broadcasters including the BBC committing to carbon neutrality by 2030.
- The response recognises the radio industry’s acknowledgment of the need to commit to lower energy use for transmission and radio sets, and says it will work closely with industry to support action in this area.
Abridged summary of the responses on other key areas covered by the Review:
Updating the commercial radio regulatory framework
- The government agrees that the current commercial radio licensing structure requires simplification, and proposes introducing the relevant legislation (when parliamentary time allows) to update the regulatory framework for commercial radio, giving stations greater flexibility to respond to changing listener demand while maintaining local radio’s vital public service role. This is also covered in Section 4.2 of the White Paper.
Reviewing the rules governing terms and conditions in radio advertising
- The government response recognises these concerns and reinforces its commitment to supporting the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) in ensuring rules governing financial promotions provide sufficient protections for the public and place proportionate burdens on advertisers and media platforms across all media, including for radio.
Expanding ethnic minority services
- The government response strongly supports the recommendation to identify opportunities to expand radio and audio services for under-served groups, and will continue to work with industry accordingly. This is also covered in section 4.4 of the White Paper.
- The response highlights the jointly funded research carried out into diversity in radio and audio, and that Review stakeholders will be coordinating work with the existing action being taken by Ofcom.
- The response points to small-scale DAB and hopes that a significant number of stations targeted at under-served groups will take up licences as the number of multiplexes across the UK increases.
Funding to support radio and audio
- The response highlights the government’s external evaluation of the Community Radio Fund, and says government is exploring options to adapt the Fund’s operations to the current sector landscape. The evaluation will also inform future discussions about the level of the Fund and its priorities.
- The response recognises the success of the Audio Content Fund, and says government is now working on a formal evaluation, as agreed when it was initially set up, and will review the possibility of further investment in public service audio content once the economic landscape allows.
- The government recognises the importance of ensuring that the audio sector is able to deliver high quality skills training, and will be supporting a new working group with industry stakeholders.
Audio production tax relief
- The response notes the growth of the UK audio production sector, and recognises the sector’s potential to continue its growth in the years to come. Whilst the government says it will keep tax reliefs under review, it is not currently considering introducing an Audio Production Tax Relief.