with RCS

Why radio must go digital

The radio industry needs a common vision and ambition if it is to survive in a digital world, says Digital Radio UK campaign director Lisa Kerr.

Speaking about the digital upgrade, Lisa told delegates at the Radio At The Edge conference in London that upgrading to Digital Radio will require investment, time and commitment from all stakeholders.

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Lisa started her presentation by quoting the recent Digital Britain report: "If radio is to compete in a Digital Britain then it must have the flexibility to grow, innovate and engage with its audience, and in this, the limits of analogue, as the primary distribution platform for radio, are now all too visible".

"Radio has to change, because doing nothing is not an option, " she continued.

It has been widely agreed that switching to digital radio is inevitable, but what kind of digital radio is still the subject of many debates. Lisa argues a broadcast platform rather than listening online or via TV is the most efficient way of delivering content to as many people as possible, at the same time, using the least amount of spectrum.

"IP (Internet) would be hopeless. It simply can’t cope with the simultaneous levels of listening that radio demands. For example, at 8 o’clock on a typical morning, there are about 17m people listening to the radio. But the entire UK broadband infrastructure could only support simultaneous listening for about 4m of them – even if no-one was using the internet for anything else, anywhere in the country. And the costs would be enormous – hundreds of millions of pounds a year for the radio industry – and more for the ISPs. Any kind of IP technology that we either have today or even have sight of today, just can’t match up to broadcast radio."

Lisa praised Digital Britain's report for its honesty, and not pretending to have all the answers. The report says its clear that coverage isn’t good enough yet, there aren’t enough digital radios in cars – not nearly enough, there isn’t enough unique content or interactivity offered on digital radio yet, sets are still a wee bit too pricey, there needs to be some work to make the local multiplex network fit for long-term purpose and there needs to be more clarity about the future for those stations who, for the medium.

"Let’s get real: legislation and fixing infrastructure first; content and services next; followed by promoting-like-crazy, then uptake and then upgrade. That’s how it’s going to work. And that’s how, in a few years from now, we’ll have a radio industry spending more money on content and less on transmission, and therefore an audience that has more choice, more interactivity, and cracking, not crackling, reception."

The upgrade to digital has been planned for 2015 but will only happen if at least half of all listening is to digital, and until listeners can receive digital radio, they won’t stop being able to get analogue radio.

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