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Launch of BBC 1 Radio Dance discussed in court following commercial radio criticism

By | Published on Thursday 24 March 2022

BBC Radio 1

The launch of the BBC’s Radio 1 Dance channel in 2020 was under the spotlight in the high court in London yesterday, with commercial radio trade group Radiocentre arguing that the BBC should have properly consulted its commercial rivals before putting the new service live.

Radio 1 Dance is a channel within the BBC Sounds app that aggregates and repurposes dance music content from elsewhere on the BBC radio networks. When it was first announced it was criticised by both Radiocentre and the All-Party Parliamentary Group On Commercial Radio, which claimed that the new channel didn’t fulfil a public service remit, and therefore constituted the BBC going into competition with commercial dance music stations.

The Chair of the APPG For Commercial Radio, Andy Carter, added that he felt media regulator OfCom was not properly scrutinising the evolution of the BBC Sounds platform, which was allowing the licence fee funded broadcaster to develop services that unfairly compete with rivals and which it would not be allowed to pursue via its AM and FM frequencies.

A key beef between the commercial radio sector on the one side, and the BBC and OfCom on the other, is whether or not Radio 1 Dance was actually a new service. Because it aggregates content from other stations and is only available online, OfCom concluded that the launch of the dance channel did not constitute a “material change” to the BBC’s output.

That’s important because if Radio 1 Dance was deemed a new service – and its launch a “material change” – then more scrutiny and a so called ‘public interest test’ would have been required. Radiocentre argues that that higher level of scrutiny should have been undertaken by the BBC, including a consultation with the commercial sector.

However, although OfCom did tell the Beeb to ensure there was “effective engagement” with its commercial rivals before launching Radio 1 Dance, it didn’t insist on a full on public interest test, as a result of its decision that the new channel was not a “material change”.

As a result, although the Beeb did inform Radiocentre about the planned new dance music service and invited feedback, there was no full consultation with the commercial sector.

According to Law360, after Radiocentre objected to OfCom’s conclusions regarding the new dance service it was “granted permission to mount a legal review” of said conclusions.

Meanwhile, in court yesterday, its legal reps argued that that review should be expanded to examine whether there was “procedural fairness” in the way the BBC went about interacting with the commercial radio sector when preparing for the launch of Radio 1 Dance.

For their part, the BBC and OfCom continue to insist that Radio 1 Dance was not a new service and therefore the process the former went through ahead of its launch – and the way the latter oversaw that process – was valid and fair.