Andrew Lloyd Webber has raised the terrifying prospect of the UK's song and dance folk being stripped of their wireless mikes by theatre-hating killjoys at Ofcom.
The man who brought us both Jesus Christ Superstar and Sarah Brightman told the Standard that Ofcom's plan to auction off spectrum could mean "the end of musicals". We presume he just means in the UK. As far as we know, the FCC has no plans to kill off Miss Saigon and Cats just yet.
When Ofcom auctions off the analogue TV frequencies between 2008 and 2012, the nearby frequencies used for wireless comms in theatres will form part of the sale, cutting off luvies across the country.
Currently spaces between the analogue TV channels are managed by the Joint Frequency Management Group, who license it at a low cost to various theatrical agencies for wireless microphones and intra-theatre communications.
A modern musical is awash with wireless connectivity: a popular show such as Lord of the Rings uses over 50 separate wireless microphones, has radio controls for lighting and uses an assortment of Wi-Fi networks to manage everything from ticket sales to automations and stage safety. Shows on tour frequently have to employ an RF specialist just to manage their own usage, especially when performing near the military who sometimes have a cavalier attitude towards frequency usage.
Ofcom are claiming that they can’t make an exception for one industry, but even if the theatrical agencies could afford to pay a full market value for their frequencies, it isn’t clear who would manage allocations which may be needed for a day, a month or several years; depending on the kind of show being staged.
There are some digital technologies which have the potential to reduce the frequency requirement, but none are yet considered high enough quality for theatre. So unless something changes we’ll certainly see a lot less wireless being used in theatres across the country theatres across the country, with an associated limit on what playwrights and their luvvies can do on stage, though if Lord of the Rings is the best they can manage then the loss might be bearable.®