The BCI has just announced the results of its DTT licensing process. It had three applicants for three multiplex contracts, and decided to award all three contracts to the one applicant (each applicant had applied for all three of the contracts on an ‘all or nothing’ basis). That applicant is listed in the BCI press release as ‘Boxer DTT Limited’ which really tells the reader nothing.
The Broadcasting Commission of Ireland has today (Monday, July 21st) announced its decision with regard to the award of the three national Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) multiplex contracts. The contracts were advertised by the Commission on the 7th of March last.
The Commission considered the applications received from three consortia and has awarded the contracts in principle to Boxer DTT Limited.
The award of the contracts is subject to clarifications and the successful outcome of contract negotiations, which will take place in the coming months.
Going to boxer.ie, however, it becomes clear that Denis O’Brien – who already owns 4 of Ireland’s 26 local commercial radio stations, the sole national commercial station, and the sole quasi-national commercial station (there are also 3 regional commercial stations) – has just become the monopoly operator of commercial digital television multiplexes in Ireland:
Communicorp Group is a radio holding company founded in 1989 with media and broadcast related interests in Ireland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia and Ukraine. It operates 48 radio stations under a variety of genres and has a history of innovations in programming based on escalating listener interaction. In addition, Communicorp has played on-going role in the DTT pilot.
In Ireland, Communicorp has interests in 6 commercial radio stations operating under sound broadcasting contracts with the BCI. Those businesses are operated by Radio Ireland Limited (Today FM) Maypril Limited (Spin 103.8) Radio Two Thousand Limited(98FM), News 106 Limited( Newstalk 106-108) Donegal Highland Radio Limited (Highland Radio) and Spin South West Limited (Spin South West).
Communicorp’s sole shareholder is Mr. Denis O’Brien, who is one of Ireland’s leading entrepreneurs, with extensive international interests in telecommunication, radio, property, aircraft leasing, golf and other leisure activities. He has an abiding interest in technology driven consumer facing markets, and a track record of successfully introducing new digital technologies in a number of countries. Over the years, Mr O’Brien has invested very heavily in supporting the indigenous Irish broadcasting sector.
As a reminder of the BCI’s stated intentions in entering the DTT process:
Under the 2007 Act, the BCI is required to licence commercial DTT in the State. In the first instance, the BCI will seek to licence three DTT multiplex operators for the establishment, maintenance and roll-out of commercial DTT in Ireland.
Thus, the award of all three multiplexes seems contrary to the BCI’s opening position. In some part, their hand was forced by the fact that:
In the case of each consortium, the applications submitted are conditional upon all three contracts being awarded to the applicant group. (BCI Press release 2 May, 2008)
It is questionable whether the BCI should have allowed its intended policy implementation to have been thwarted in this way – particularly when it results in increased oligopolistic control of the Irish airwaves.
As an aside, RTÉ, the state operator, has already been awarded a fourth multiplex to ensure “continued availability of the four existing free-to-air services in Ireland.” This indicates the presumption that O’Brien’s new multiplexes will not be available on a free-to-air basis. Coupled with the monopoly control of commercial DTT by O’Brien, it is clear to whom the benefits of digitization will accrue. The critique of spectrum licensing – made most prominently in the US by McChesney – that licensing amounts to a gift of public resources to private monopolies, seems particularly appropriate here.