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OfCom says no public interest test required for Radio 1 Relax, mainly because of a lack of public interest

By | Published on Wednesday 4 August 2021

BBC Sounds

Media regulator OfCom has said that it will not require the BBC to conduct a public interest test for its recently launched Radio 1 Relax service because, you know, nobody’s really listening to it anyway, so what’s the point? Those stressing out about the latest extension of the BBC Sounds app should just, well, you know, relax a bit. And I can recommend a radio channel that can help with that!

The commercial radio sector has expressed concern about the BBC adding new thematic channels to its Sounds app – even when those channels simply re-aggregate existing content – reckoning that those additions are basically the publicly funded broadcaster going into competition with commercial players in a way that goes beyond its public service remit. And some reckon BBC Sounds needs to be more tightly regulated to ensure these additions comply with the Beeb’s charter.

This all previously came up when the BBC launched its Radio 1 Dance channel on Sounds last year, with the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group On Commercial Radio in the UK Parliament – Andy Carter – kicking up a fuss on behalf of the commercial radio sector. But OfCom ultimately said that Radio 1 Dance didn’t pose a threat to commercial dance stations. However, it did say that BBC Sounds at large probably did need a bit more scrutiny.

Radio 1 Relax arguably competes with some chill out stations run by commercial broadcasters, although it also features some “wellbeing-centred editorial” as well as a playlist of chilled out tunes. However, again OfCom has concluded that the new service is unlikely to have too big an impact on those commercial services.

According to Radio Today, in a letter to the BBC and commercial radio trade group Radiocentre, OfCom says that since its launch in April usage of Radio 1 Relax has been lower than expected, despite decent numbers of people subscribing to the channel.

The letter explains: “The stream’s average weekly listening hours are currently much smaller than the average weekly listening hours for the three largest commercial ‘chill’ stations for which we have listening data – Magic Chilled, Smooth Chill and Virgin Chilled – making up only around 1-2% of their total combined weekly listening hours”.

Therefore, the regulator adds, it agrees with the BBC that Radio 1 Relax “does not constitute a material change” to the broadcaster’s overall output. “We consider that the impact on competitors’ services is likely to be low, particularly given that the uptake of the Radio 1 Relax stream has been modest and that we do not consider it is likely to grow substantially in the future. We will not, therefore, require the BBC to conduct a public interest test”.

So, good news everybody, no stressful public interest test is going to interfere with the BBC’s efforts to relax us all. Which means you can all start tuning in to Radio 1 Relax. You know, providing you don’t all start tuning in to Radio 1 Relax.