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UK government to drop genre obligations from radio licences

By | Published on Tuesday 19 December 2017

Digital Music

The UK government has announced plans to further deregulate commercial radio so that the genres of music each station plays will no longer be fixed in its licence agreement with media regulator OfCom. The announcement follows the previously reported government consultation on radio licensing that was launched earlier this year.

Broadcasting rules governing commercial radio have been relaxed numerous times over the years, though radio companies have been pushing for even more flexibility – especially when it comes to their music policies – arguing that fixed genre obligations date from a time when there were far fewer radio stations for listeners to choose from, and no online music services offering other alternatives.

Confirming that commercial radio would now get that extra flexibility, the Department For Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said yesterday that it was “removing these outdated rules that restrict the growth of the sector”. This means “stations will no longer need to play specific genres as part of their licences” plus “there will be no requirement for OfCom to approve changes to programme formats”.

Though, while on the music front the rules will pretty much shift to “anything goes”, obligations for news provision will remain. The DDCMS added: “With recent research showing that radio is the most trusted medium for news, strong requirements will remain on commercial radio stations to provide national and local news as well as travel information and weather”.

Confirming all this, Digital Minister Matt Hancock said: “The UK’s thriving commercial radio sector is highly valued by local communities across the country. Removing these unnecessary burdens means commercial radio stations will have the freedom and flexibility to respond to their local audience and give listeners greater choice”.

Some argue that, while the rule change in theory allows radio stations to experiment more with their musical output, most broadcasters – cut free from any obligations to air niche genres or new artists – will mainly experiment with playing ever more mainstream music. Though radio firms would argue that fans of any niche genres which may ultimately disappear from the FM dial as a result of this rule change can likely access plenty of music of that variety online, via online radio stations or the free streaming services.

Either way, radio industry trade group Radiocentre, which has long been pushing for the removal of genre obligations from radio licences, welcomed the announcement. Its CEO Siobhan Kenny said: “Radiocentre welcomes the government’s plans for deregulation of the pre-internet age rules that govern commercial radio. The new rules will give stations greater flexibility in how they operate, unlocking the potential of commercial radio and giving listeners even more choice from their favourite radio brands. We now look forward to the government enacting these sensible changes at the earliest opportunity”.