An era of consolidation is on the cards for local media, after the industry watchdog Ofcom proposed a relaxation of ownership rules.
The regulator has written to the government recommending that radio operators be allowed to consolidate around a local area, helping independent commercial operators compete with the state-funded BBC.
They would also liberalise cross-media ownership regulations to the extent that the only banned combination would be to own a local radio station, local newspapers with majority local market share, and a regional channel 3 television licence all at once.
The changes would allow local media – such as radio stations operated by Bauer and Guardian Media, and regional newspaper groups Trinity Mirror and Daily Mail & General Trust – to create economies of scale and to compete in the advertising downturn and in an increasingly internet-driven news environment.
“These proposals would allow local media companies more flexibility to respond to the challenges that they are facing while at the same time protecting plurality for listeners and viewers,” said Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards.
If approved, the changes would also pave the way for conservative proposals to create a series of local media hubs, comprising of print, radio and television units.
Ofcom has concluded a consultation period on the proposals – which were sent yesterday to culture secretary Ben Bradshaw – during which it received “generally supportive” responses.