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By John Plunkett: Global Radio has been censured by media regulator Ofcom for “gratuitous” plugging of Apple’s iTunes on its Sunday afternoon top 40 show.
The company’s Big Top 40 chart, which replaced Hit40UK earlier this year and broadcasts on more than 140 stations around the country, includes a top 10 based on the iTunes download chart.
Ofcom said on-air references to the “iTunes top 10” were editorially justified, but criticised the broadcaster for repeatedly encouraging listeners to download songs on the chart, which it said breached broadcasting regulations.
“Ofcom did not consider that the repeated references throughout the programme to iTunes … served any further purpose and therefore appeared gratuitous,” the regulator said in its findings published today.
The regulator added that there was “insufficient editorial justification for the sheer number and frequency of these references”.
Ofcom’s investigation followed a complaint from a listener to Global’s Galaxy 102 station in Manchester.
Global Radio told Ofcom there was no financial arrangement with iTunes concerning the production of the Big Top 40 show, adding that it retained “absolute editorial control of the programme”.
The company said it chose iTunes to provide data for its chart because the service dominates music downloads in the UK.
Global added that calls to influence the chart by downloading songs “remind listeners to interact with the programme and impact the chart itself, on an instantaneous basis” and were “no different to someone encouraging listeners to influence the traditional format chart by buying records throughout the week”.
But Ofcom said it was different because the encouragement was “directly solicited… as opposed to being implied or referred to in passing” and because it involved a service from one provider, iTunes, rather than all retail outlets selling records.
The regulator said the programme breached broadcasting regulations barring the promotion of products and services which are not related to a programme, and those which prevent undue prominence being given to a product or service.
The Big Top 40 was introduced by Global Radio on 14 June this year, replacing the Hit40UK which had lasted six years and more than 300 top 40 rundowns.
It airs on Global’s Heart and Galaxy networks, the Hit Music Network of local stations, also owned by Global, as well as Bauer’s Big City network and GMG Radio’s Real Radio. GMG Radio is part of Guardian Media Group, which publishes MediaGuardian.co.uk.
The top 10 is based entirely on the iTunes chart with airplay statistics used to calculate chart placings from 11 downwards. At the time of its launch, Global’s director of broadcasting, Richard Park, described the tie-up with iTunes as a “historic move” and described it as the “first ever totally interactive chart where the listener decides”.
Today’s Ofcom report includes a transcript of excerpts from the show, including: “The Big Top 40 Show … the chart you can change … you decide in real time … the Big Top 40 is the only chart powered by iTunes … this is the Big Top 40 – the only chart you can influence as we count it down. Get online right now to bigtop40.com. When you download from our website, it directly affects the top 10 … let’s check out the chart. This is the iTunes top 10 … Download now at the bigtop40.com.”
Global said the Big Top 40 website included programme-related material and the references to it were editorially justified. But Ofcom said the website allowed users to buy songs via direct links to the iTunes store.
“It was Ofcom’s view that, ultimately, bigtop40.com effectively appeared to be a ‘portal’ for the purchase of iTunes downloads,” added the regulator.
Global Radio clashed with Ofcom in March this year after it rejected the regulator’s “yellow card” punishment imposed on one of its local stations for playing the wrong kind of music.
Ofcom issued the warning to Global-owned GWR in Bristol – which is required to operate as a “contemporary and chart music and information station” – for operating outside the music requirements of its format. Global criticised what it described as the regulator’s “extraordinary” behaviour and said it was “considering its position”.
Robert adds: Re: “Global Radio told Ofcom there was no financial arrangement with iTunes.” In fact, the Global Radio is an iTunes Store affiliate partner, as the “iTunes” clickthrough links on Bigtop40.com pages (and others in Global’s portfolio) show (example). iTunes affiliates get four percent of revenue they drive to iTunes Store, so it’s in Global’s interests to provide as many on-ramps as possible.
This article originally appeared in Â© Guardian News & Media Ltd..