Tuesday 23 October 2018

RTE loses out to UTV in UK digital radio bid

Pat Kenny and John McCann, Chief Executive of UTV Media PLC at the launch of UTV Ireland.
Pat Kenny and John McCann, Chief Executive of UTV Media PLC at the launch of UTV Ireland.

Paul O'Donoghue

An RTE-backed bid to broadcast the Irish channel on digital radio in the UK has lost out to a consortium backed by Northern Irish rivals UTV Media.

The State broadcaster had supported a bid by the Listen2Digital consortium to operate the UK's second national commercial Digital Audio Broadcasting (DAB) multiplex.

Unlike traditional analog radio which broadcasts one channel on every frequency, a DAB multiplex transmission can carry several channels on the same frequency.

DAB stations cannot be accessed through traditional radios. Under the RTE linked proposals, the Listen2Digital consortium would have received permission to operate the UK's second national commercial DAB multiplex.

RTE Radio 1 would have been one of the stations available on the frequency, which would in turn be available to over 80pc of the British population.

However, a rival bid submitted by the Sound Digital consortium won the licence, granted by communications regulator Ofcom. UTV Media is part of the Sound Digital group and will now launch four new radio stations on the service in 2016.

They will include a relaunched Virgin Radio, the rock and pop music brand owned by Richard Branson. It will operate under a 12-year licence agreement between UTV and the Virgin Group. The Virgin radio brand disappeared in the UK in 2008 when the station, was rebranded Absolute Radio.

UTV will also launch three other stations, talkRADIO, talkSPORT 2 and talkBUSINESS. The firm will invest £4m (€5.5m) in the stations in 2016 to set them up, and will sink a further £1m into the venture in 2017. UTV says that it expects the stations to move into "significant profit thereafter".

The two consortiums were assessed on criteria including: how the service would be established and maintained and its potential appeal to a different tastes and interests.

Ofcom said the bid from Sound Digital would "best promote the development of digital sound broadcasting."

A spokesman for RTE said the State owned broadcaster was disappointed with the decision.

"The bid was backed by RTE, of course we are disappointed. It is a pity but Ofcom gave their rationale."

RTE is now "exploring all our options in the UK." he said.

In December RTE said it will continue to broadcast into the UK via longwave until 2017.

Irish Independent

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