The Government explains that there are two UK national commercial radio multiplexes with 20 digital radio services broadcasting on each network. One of these multiplex licences is currently held by Digital One Limited and will expire in November 2023. The second licence is held by Sound Digital Ltd and will expire in March 2028.
Under existing broadcasting legislation, Ofcom does not have a power to renew the national commercial radio multiplex licences beyond their current expiry dates, and Ofcom would need to offer the licence currently held by Digital One Limited through an open competition, to be completed by summer 2022. There have been calls by some commercial operators for the Government to consider allowing Ofcom automatically to renew the national multiplex licences as this would provide the sector with certainty and support.
The Government is consulting to help inform its decision about the approach to the future relicensing of the two national commercial radio multiplex licences. It is seeking views on whether to legislate to allow for a renewal of licences (and if so, on the benefits and disadvantages of varying the length of extension of the two licences to align their expiry dates), or whether it would be better for Ofcom to re-advertise the national commercial digital radio multiplex licences ahead of their 2023/2028 expiry dates via an open competition. The Government says that its overall ambition is to ensure that the relicensing process for these national radio multiplexes works in the best interests of the commercial radio industry and audiences across the UK.
The consultation closes on 14 September 2021. To access the consultation, click here.
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