Ofcom invited applications to run the multiplex in July 2014, stating that it would consider whether bidders are looking to offer something new to UK audiences.
Ofcom hopes to award the licence by summer 2015 and the first new digital stations are expected to be on air in 2016.
Ofcom has received applications from:
* Listen2Digital: A joint application from Babcock’s Media Services business and Orion Media, a commercial radio group.
* Sound Digital: A consortium of transmission company Arqiva, and commercial radio broadcasters Bauer and UTV Media GB.
Listen2Digital is proposing to provide 18 national DAB services, and Sound Digital is proposing to provide 15 national DAB services.
Ofcom expects to publish non-confidential versions of the applicants’ proposals next week and will invite comments from listeners and the industry. Each application will be assessed against specified criteria, in what is known as a ‘beauty contest’.
Almost half of UK adults (48.5 per cent) say they now own a DAB digital radio set and 36.3 per cent of all radio listening is on a digital radio.
The first national, commercial DAB multiplex, operated by Digital One, is now at full capacity as the number of national, commercial digital stations has risen from four to 14 since 2009.
This has led to the need for more capacity so Ofcom advertised the second, commercial DAB multiplex in July 2014.
The BBC’s digital radio stations, including 1Xtra, 6 Music, Radio 4 Extra and Asian Network, are broadcast on a DAB multiplex owned and operated by the BBC.
The shareholders of Listen2Digital Limited are: Orion Media Holdings Limited – 45 per cent; Babcock Communications Limited – 35 per cent; Folder Media Limited – 5 per cent; Sabras Sound Limited – 5 per cent; Individuals – 10 per cent.
The shareholders of Sound Digital Limited are: Arqiva Limited – 40 per cent; Bauer Radio Limited – 30 per cent; UTV Media (GB) Limited – 30 per cent
Steve Holebrook, Managing Director of Arqiva Terrestrial Broadcast, said: “Sound Digital’s goal is to play a leading role in the development of digital radio. Our application pools our collective experience, expertise and financial backing to provide certainty that Sound Digital will deliver on its commitment to build and launch a new national digital radio network within 12 months of Ofcom’s decision, and to maintain the network for the full 12 year licence term.”
Dee Ford, Group Managing Director Radio, Bauer Media, said: “Sound Digital’s proposals are fantastic news for radio listeners, with an unprecedented expansion of choice in speech and music radio content. As well as providing expansion opportunities for existing successful digital broadcasters like Bauer, our network’s cost-effectiveness and open and accessible approach ensure that Sound Digital caters to the full range of digital radio content providers.”
Scott Taunton, Chief Operating Officer, UTV Media plc, said: “Sound Digital’s plans combine popular, well-loved brands such as the return of Virgin Radio with unique content including three brand new speech radio stations. The result will be a major increase in choice for audiences that already have digital radio, and a surge in take-up from those that don’t. This is fantastic news not just for listeners but for the wider radio industry.”
Listen2Digital is pledging to trial new, upgraded DAB+ platform as part of its bid. Listen2Digital will also be giving independent programme producers an opportunity to get their material (including one-offs, seasons and events) distributed to a national audience via ‘Upload Radio’.
The transmission of the multiplex will be managed for Listen2Digital by Babcock International Group. They have proven experience of this type of project, having worked extensively on UK digital TV switchover, together with their long-standing heritage working with international broadcasters.
Commenting on the bid, Orion founder Phil Riley said: “I have long thought that the UK Radio industry needed more choice, and more competition, in the provision of DAB, and I think our bid delivers that. A new transmission provider for the industry, and over a dozen new services, many of them exclusively on our bid, is a great outcome for the consortium and we are thrilled to be submitting this application today. Conscious of the importance of this multiplex to the future of the radio industry, I have also today moved into the new role of Chairman of Orion Media Ltd, the group’s main trading company, in order to allow me greater time to commit to this new venture, if successful.”
Speaking on behalf of Babcock, Leah Holding, Director, Media Services said: “We are delighted to be working alongside Orion Media in this application for the UK’s second national digital radio multiplex. Babcock’s Media Services business is trusted to deliver radio and television content to audiences around the world; we are excited at this opportunity to apply our proven experience of transmission service management to the UK’s commercial radio industry.”
It is expected that Ofcom will announce its decision on the winning bid in Spring 2015.
By Colin Mann