Tuesday, 10 November 2009

SAVE OUR SOUND - www.saveoursounduk.com


Today, 21 major organisations representing the breadth and depth of the British Entertainment Industry launched a campaign calling on the Government to act to secure the future of live music, newsgathering, musical theatre, film making, television production, sports events, concerts, conferences (including party conferences) and church, school and community events in the UK.

All of these activities, that benefit everyone either directly or indirectly, are under threat. This is because Ofcom, supported by Government, has decided to clear out and sell the radio frequencies that the industry relies on, and move those evicted elsewhere. The precise location of this new much smaller ‘home’ remains for the most part undetermined. Meanwhile, all proceeds from the sale of the old ‘home’ will go to the Government.

As a consequence of the enforced ‘migration’, the vast majority of the UK’s valuable stocks of wireless microphones, which are essential tools for content production in the creative industries and beyond, will become unusable. If the activities and events listed above are to continue, then all affected equipment will need to be replaced at a stroke. This will cost tens of millions of pounds.

If the Government does not provide adequate funding to cover the costs, then live music, newsgathering, musical theatre and other events including those listed above are likely to become impossible to stage. There is little doubt that companies will go bust, individuals will go bankrupt, employees will be made redundant, and charitable and community organisations will have to divert funds from core services.

The impact will be so severe due to the fact that the UK’s pool of equipment for professional use is generally owned by small specialist firms and individuals that supply to end users when required. These businesses work to very tight margins and either cannot, or will struggle to cover the cost of replacing entire inventories. If they are forced out of business, which is likely under current proposals, then all productions that depend on their equipment and expertise will be under threat.

Inadequate redress
The funding scheme that Ofcom has put forward is totally inadequate. It is analogous to a compulsory purchase order with little or no compensation. This might be because the regulator is constrained by legislation. Under their proposed terms (1) only equipment that tunes to 8MHz out of the total 120MHz due to be sold would be eligible and (2) amounts provided would be based on an estimate of ‘residual value’ of equipment rather than what it will cost to replace. If Ofcom’s proposals are implemented, many will only receive a fraction of what it will cost to replace their equipment, and the rest will receive nothing at all.

What needs to be done?
The Government must act, if and where Ofcom cannot, to provide what the industry needs. The Government must ensure that (a) the funding package covers all affected equipment, not just some and (b) that funding is based on what it will cost to replace equipment with like-for-like alternatives.

Harvey Goldsmith CBE, legendary music promoter and organiser of Live Aid, said, ‘Yesterday SAVE OUR SOUND UK wrote to Lord Mandelson to raise these crucial issues and urge the Government to intervene. The valuable real estate we are talking about will be sold-off very soon, and there will be no second chance to secure the future of those affected. The time to act is now’.

Louise de Winter, National Campaign for the Arts (NCA) Director, said, ‘We see this as a matter of moral obligation as well as public policy. It would not be right for those affected, which includes charitable organisations, to effectively pay for their own eviction. As this process will generate very significant sums for the Government in auction revenues, it must put aside a fraction of those proceeds to fully compensate those forced to move’.

Media Enquiries: Alun Rees, 020 7828 1603/ 020 7932 0110, alun@ranelagh.info

Notes to Editors
1. SAVE OUR SOUND UK is a joint initiative launched by the following organisations
a. ABTT – Association of British Theatre Technicians
b. AMPS – Association of Motion Picture Sound
c. APRS – Association of Professional Recording Services
d. BECTU – Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union
e. BEIRG – British Entertainment Industry Radio Group
f. CPA – Concert Promoters Association
g. Equity – the Actors and Artists Union
h. FEU – Federation of Entertainment Unions
i. IBS – Institute of Broadcast Sound
j. MIA – Music Industries Association
k. MU – Musicians Union
l. NCA – National Campaign for the Arts
m. NUJ – National Union of Journalists
n. PFA – Professional Footballers Association
o. PLASA – Professional Lighting and Sound Association
p. PSA – Production Services Association
q. RSC – Royal Shakespeare Company
r. SOLT – Society of London Theatre
s. TMA – Theatrical Management Association
t. The Writers Guild of Great Britain
u. Unite – Britain’s biggest union

2. The Programme Making and Special Events (PMSE) sector is responsible for both content production and content delivery for live and recorded entertainment. It plays a critical role in the ongoing success of the UK’s creative industries that, according to the Government, contribute £60 billion a year, employ over two million people and grow at twice the rate of the wider economy.

3. The PMSE sector consists of a wide and diverse community, both professional and amateur, including broadcasters, theatres, large event organisers, freelance engineers, rental companies, schools and houses of worship, all of which use spectrum to relay sound and/or picture data across relatively short distances. This allows, for example, wireless microphones to be used on stage in musical theatre, and at events such as Live 8 and the Olympics.

4. Radio microphones, in-ear monitor systems and talkback applications operate within the frequency bands reserved UK-wide for analogue television broadcasts. Analogue terrestrial television signals in the UK are currently being ‘switched off’ and replaced with digital signals in a process known as ‘digital switchover’ (DSO). Digital broadcasting is more efficient than analogue so less frequency bands need to be reserved UK-wide for digital television broadcasts than was the case for analogue. Those frequencies that were used for analogue television broadcasts but will not be used for digital television broadcasts are said to be ‘freed up’ by DSO and are referred to as the ‘digital dividend’.

5. Ofcom, the independent regulator, has decided to sell the fifteen 8MHz frequency bands being ‘freed up’ by DSO, namely ultra-high frequency (UHF) channels 31-37 and 61-69, for new services. The vast majority of the UK’s stocks of radio microphones operate in these channels. Ofcom’s consultants have estimated that 95% of these microphones tune to channel 69 . All equipment that operates in the frequencies due to be sold will be rendered unusable because of interference from new services. They will also become illegal to use. These stocks will need to be replaced with equipment that can operate in new replacement frequencies awarded to a band manager with obligations to PMSE.

6. The auctions for channels 61-69, known as the ‘800 MHz band’ are being specifically designed by the Government so the channels in question will be acquired by the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) for next generation mobile services, as per the open consultation on the Wireless Spectrum Modernisation Programme . These auctions are expected to take place next year.

7. The Government stated in the Digital Britain Report that it ‘is committed to the timely release of 800 MHz spectrum and will work with Ofcom to understand and meet the technical challenges. It has already endorsed Ofcom’s proposal setting out plans to clear channels 61, 62 and 69. The Government will facilitate this re-planning and will meet the costs incurred by broadcasters and PMSE users as a result of these changes’ . However, significant numbers of professional wireless microphone systems operate outside of these frequency bands and so, under current proposals, will be ineligible for funding (yet they will be still be rendered redundant).

8. In the context of its powers to make ‘spectrum efficiency grants’ under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 2006, Ofcom has recently consulted on the basis on which it proposes to provide funding. Under Ofcom’s proposed eligibility criteria, only equipment that tunes to channel 69 (8MHz of 120 MHz due to be sold) will be eligible, and funding will be calculated on ‘residual value’ rather than what it will cost to replace. Responses are here http://www.ofcom.org.uk/consult/condocs/pmse_funding/responses/

9. Wireless microphone systems have a fixed limited ‘tuning range’, commonly 24 MHz. Therefore, if a wireless microphone that tuned across UHF channels 67-69 (838 MHz -862 MHz) and these channels were subsequently sold for new uses, the wireless microphone would no longer be useable.

10. UHF channels 21-69 (470 MHz – 862 MHz) make up the UK’s digital dividend. Under current proposals, channels 31-37 and 61-69 will be cleared of television broadcasting and PMSE and awarded for new services. Channels 21-30 and 39-60 will be retained for digital television, with the available interleaved frequencies in-between awarded to a band manager with obligations to PMSE. These frequencies have still not been specified.

11. The PMSE sector works on the basis that 8 wireless microphones can ‘fit’ into 8 MHz of spectrum, with a maximum of 12. Large events such as musicals and pop concerts need to use up to 100 radio microphones, thus requiring up to 100 MHz of interference-free spectrum access. Ofcom has estimated that 350 wireless microphones and a further 100 in-ear monitors (IEMs) will need to be accommodated in the Olympic Stadium during the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games .

1 comment:

  1. It seems to me that the Government in general, and Ofcom in this case, is becoming increasingly arrogant and contemptuous of public opinion. What gives it the right to sell off spectrum anyway? Who decided that the government owns the spectrum? Nobody disputes that someone needs to co-ordinate use of it, but flogging it off to raise money is surely unacceptable.
    It is now taking about shutting down FM radio as well for heaven's sake - a total waste of millions of perfectly serviceable radios.
    It is about time the public stood up to this arrogance and told the government that this endless meddling about with frequencies and expecting people to pay for the inconvenience themselves is unacceptable.