Not Being Contemporary Enough

Earlier today Ofcom issued a yellow card to GWR Bristol for having drifted out of its format musically. In case you haven’t heard, the majority of Global Radio’s local stations are being turned into Heart. This is being carried out in three phases, with the second phase due to kick in a week Monday (and which will see GWR Bristol itself become a Heart).

Whilst the name change is the big thing, all of the stations actually started taking the Heart music log at the end of last year. Having had a listen, the daytimes basically follow London with a couple of extra contemporary tunes thrown in. And this is where all the trouble’s started. Global (GWR’s owners) are trying to keep all of the Heart’s roughly similar, so they’re keen not to deviate too much from the London log.

The problem is that Heart was originally licensed to be a complimentary station to the CHRs that existed (in the West Mids and London) and therefore trying to Heartify a load of CHRs isn’t really in the spirit of the format. This GWR yellow-card is the first time that Global have been called on it. Interestingly in the judgement Ofcom make specific reference to the fact there’s a similar problem across the rest of the Heart and soon-to-be-Heart network. In other words GWR Bristol is not an isolated case.

To keep Ofcom happy Global has to up the contemporary factor (that’s songs released in the last two years) to about 2/3rds of the output in non-specialist programming – which is basically 6am to 7pm (less a time tunnel) in weekdays. This is quite a significant change from the ‘Heart format’  and will neccessiate a little more investment into ‘Heart network 2’ – something Global are not very keen on doing.

What is odd is Global’s response where they’ve made this weird statement:
“GWR Bristol was asked to supply music logs to Ofcom by today, Friday 13 March. The requested information was supplied by yesterday, 12 March. Ofcom’s decision was made without reference to either the station, or by talking to its owners, Global Radio,”

On the music logs front, well, you don’t actually need to look at the logs if you just listen to the radio station, do you? Ofcom’s got Radiomonitor just like everyone else. And if I was Ofcom issuing quite a group-wide statement, I think i’d rather trust what was on-air rather than a list faxed through from Mark in London.

And, to be honest, Ofcom don’t need to talk to Global. Much of this thinking was explained when Ocean FM got it’s musical wrap over the knuckles. Plus its something that pretty much everyone in the industry’s been talking about. The main danger, which happens when you’re in a big company, is arrogance. A ‘we can do what we want attitude’.

What Global fail to understand is that if Ofcom’s gone through relaxing significantly it’s rules – then it’s going to defend what it has left. The biggest failing is whoever thought they could get away with 47% rercurrents – if they’d had 60% they probably would have got away with it – and that would of been probably one (maybe two) extra songs an hour. Now they’re stuck with having to increase their contemporary output from 47% to 66%, making Heart a much less focused proposition and having Ofcom on their backs. As a yellow-card’s been issued it’s much easier for Ofcom to keep monitoring the situation rather than have to wait for complaints.

The most interesting thing, however, is Ofcom’s date that GWR Bristol (and the other network stations) must comply by – March 23rd. The date in which phase two of the Heartification starts, if that doesn’t shown Ofcom’s intent, I don’t know what would.

One thought on “Not Being Contemporary Enough”

  1. I’m not totally sure about Global’s reference to music logs either. Ofcom’s decision was based on content sampling of March 3/4/5 – presumably Global had been asked to provide copies of their logs for those days to enable Ofcom to check whether the format breach was purely a local issue or something that was programmed centrally.

    While I can understand Global’s strategy of adopting the French/Italian radio business model of acquiring a bunch of local licences and turning them into a single quasi-national brand, the jury is still out over whether ‘Heart or bust’ is really the right way to go.

    It worked well in France and Italy because the stations involved were invariably those licensed under de-regulation in the 80s, had subsequently failed and were now being bought by the successful players, such as (in France) NRJ, Skyrock and Fun Radio, who simply installed a satellite dish and relayed programming from Paris.

    What we have here is a group of well-established heritage FM stations being given a new brand – and format – and going ahead without, it would seem, having cleared it with the regulator first.

    From Ofcom’s content sampling report:

    “Licensees do not require Ofcom’s permission to change the names of their stations, although they do need to inform us. They do, however, require Ofcom’s consent to make any changes to a station’s published Format, including the ‘Character of Service’ which provides a general description of the station’s output. To date, Ofcom has not received any request from Global Radio to make alterations to the Format of GWR FM (or, indeed, to any of the other stations that will be adopting the ‘Heart’ branding).”

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