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OfCom confirms its new definition of ‘new music’

By | Published on Wednesday 28 March 2018


UK media regulator OfCom has confirmed its new definition of ‘new music’ as applied when assessing whether BBC stations Radio 1 and Radio 2 are fulfilling their new music obligations. The new definition is twice as long as the old one, so that’s progress, right?

As part of its new regulatory remit over the BBC, OfCom is now responsible for setting each station’s ‘operating licence’, which sets out public service requirements. The respective operating licences of Radio 1 and Radio 2 include an obligation to ensure a “significant proportion” of music output is ‘new music’.

When the two stations’ new operating licences went into effect last year the question was raised as to what exactly it was about ‘new music’ that made it ‘new’. In this context, new music had previously been defined to include both tracks that were unreleased and those which had been available in physical form for less than a month.

However, that definition seemed increasingly out-dated, partly because it was linked to physical releases, and partly because the shift to streaming has seen label marketing campaigns grow in length.

Also, some labels now put whole EPs or albums online in one go, but then subsequently put the spotlight on certain tracks as if releasing them as a singles. Streaming being a sustained listening game, labels need to encourage fans to keep revisiting tracks, so that overtime sufficient royalties are earned.

All of which sounded like a fine excuse for OfCom to have a consultation. That consultation has now consulted, and OfCom has confirmed its super new definition: “A music track is to be considered ‘new music’ for a period of either: (a) twelve months from first release (whether by physical, radio, download or streaming means), or (b) six weeks from the date it first enters the Top 20 of the UK Official Singles Chart, whichever is sooner”.

Commercial radio stations that inputted into OfCom’s consultation argued that that definition gave Radio 1 and Radio 2 far too much flexibility to keep tracks in rotation for a year and still count them as ‘new music’. Meanwhile, record industry trade group the BPI said that some labels continue to market new releases for up to eighteen months, so there should actually be some flexibility on the twelve month restriction.

OfCom rejected the proposal from the commercial radio sector to cut the ‘new music’ window to six months, reckoning that doing so would “limit the ability of the BBC to discover and support emerging UK artists and of the artists to build audience familiarity with airplay over a more extended period”.

Meanwhile, on the BPI’s point, it said that – while some new tracks maybe marketed for eighteen months – it felt that most commercially successful recordings would have gained momentum within twelve. Plus Radio 1 and Radio 2 could still play slightly older ‘new’ tracks, it’s just that doing so wouldn’t count towards the respective station’s new music quota.

OfCom also discussed the chart element of the new definition, which is designed to ensure that massive hits from ten months ago are not being counted as new music. Commercial stations welcomed this addition but suggested a ‘one month in the Top 40’ limitation rather than six weeks in the Top 20, but OfCom stuck with the latter. Either way, at least this extra element gives the chart another reason for existing, so that’s nice.

Finally, beyond all this new defining of the newness of new, OfCom has also increased Radio 1’s new music quota from 45% to 50% in key time slots. Radio 2’s quota is 20%.