The head of Digital Radio UK has told RadioToday that the DAB switchover could be many years away still so that listeners and broadcast companies have more time to prepare.
Speaking on this week’s RadioToday Programme, Ford Ennals said that the row this week between smaller commercial radio operators and industry bodies boils down to a difference of opinion about the pace of change.
He said: “We absolutely respect the views of everyone in the industry about the future of radio. We’ve had five years of debating this – meanwhile the world moves on. What I think – and what the broadcasters representing 95% of listeners think – is that we now want some certainty. We want government to make a clear decision. That will allow us to invest in the future, to innovate and to plan. We don’t dismiss this small station lobby group – we want to understand what they’re saying. We recognise they do represent 1.5% of listening if you exclude talkSPORT. So while it’s small it’s important and I think their views have to be heard.”
Mr Ennals went on to say that larger stations moving over to a digital-only strategy could still be several years away. Previously the plan had been for switchover to happen in 2015. The culture and communications minister, Ed Vaizey is due to make a statement at an event in London next month. “The transition is going to take a lot longer than people think – it’s many years away,” said Mr Ennals. “And that means both listeners and operators have more time to prepare.I expect the minister to say it’s the right policy and strategy, but that the industry and the consumers just aren’t ready yet. Government will make sure the industry has the time it needs to make this transition effectively.”
The Digital Radio UK CEO added that he believes in a strong future for FM post-switchover, dismissing worries from the coalition of local operators that some stations will be ‘left stranded’ on analogue. “Government has said they’re going to sustain FM as the home of ultra local commercial radio and community radio,” said Ford. “I know the people who represent the 228 community stations think this is a great opportunity to enrich the diversity of local radio. For small stations below the threshold of 40% of TSA (where DAB doesn’t adequately cover their area), what DCMS are minded to do is to provide them an option to go to digital through small-scale DAB transmissions. I absolutely call on government and Ofcom to communicate effectively with these smaller 80 stations and be clear about what their future is and what their future options are.”
Also on this week’s RadioToday Programme, speaking on behalf of the coalition group of smaller operators is Jimmy Buckland, Director of Strategy at UTV Media. He tells Trevor Dann that the time was right for going public with the views of the companies involved. “Over the last few months there have been a lot of discussions taking place behind closed doors about the future of radio,” he said. “There are very significant questions about how stations will be transmitted in the future, about which areas those stations will be able to cover and how listeners will access radio. We feel maybe it’s time for some of that debate to move out from behind closed doors so that listeners can participate more fully in the debate, so that policy makers in parliament and elsewhere are aware of what’s coming with potential government announcements on digital radio. And so that some of the stations who perhaps aren’t necessarily represented at the top tables in the policy discussions can also have their say.”
He added: “We’ll be sharing our document with local MPs to draw to their attention the implications for their constituents – radio listeners in their local areas – and their local radio stations. Everyone in the radio industry sees the benefits of digital technologies – we’re all huge investors in digital. But that support does not have to come at the expense of platforms which deliver significant benefits to listeners.”
Listen to more of the debate via the Radio Today Programme with Audioboo.