No new FM licence until radio market improves, says regulator

Communicorp Media and Wireless Group had opposed the plan

A plan for a new FM service outside Dublin has been postponed until radio sector revenues improve. Photograph: iStock

A plan for a new FM service outside Dublin has been postponed until radio sector revenues improve. Photograph: iStock

 

The broadcasting regulator said it remains committed to “exploring” the licensing of a new FM radio service outside the Dublin area, but not until or unless revenues and profitability in Irish radio improve.

Opponents to the plan within the industry had argued that it was already difficult to sustain a radio business in the current advertising environment and that the introduction of another licence would cause even greater difficulties.

The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), which published its new broadcasting services strategy on Wednesday, appeared to concede that this was the case, making the plan for at least one new “niche” FM service conditional on a better financial landscape for Irish radio.

“When signs of improving revenues and profitability are evident, the BAI commits to exploring the licensing of at least one new sound broadcasting service on the FM band,” said BAI chairman Pauric Travers.

The authority said it was “cognisant” of the economic considerations of adding another service, despite the potential it would have to “provide greater diversity of choice for audiences outside the Dublin area” and make more efficient use of the spectrum.

The Dublin radio market was deemed to be “well served”.

Mixed views

Radio Nova, which has an FM licence in the greater Dublin area, had supported the plan, saying it would not significantly affect the revenues of stations currently operating in the relevant franchise areas.

However, Communicorp Media, the owner of national stations Newstalk and Today FM as well as 98FM, Spin 1038 and Spin South West, said in response to an earlier consultation that the market had reached saturation point.

Wireless Group, which counts Dublin stations FM104 and Q102 among its Irish stations, submitted that by considering the licensing of a new FM service amid ongoing market turmoil, the BAI was acting contrary to its commitment to encourage sustainability in Irish radio.

A report on the Irish broadcasting market by UK consultancy firm Mediatique suggested there was “scope” to introduce “one to two” additional radio licences.

However, it said this could be delayed to give commercial radio operators “a chance to improve profitability and growth prospects”.