Digital radio switchover in focus at IBC 2016

Patrick Hannon from World DAB updates us on digital radio events from the International Broadcasting Convention.

IBC this year saw over 55,000 people visit the RAI in Amsterdam, joining 1800 exhibitors and multiple conference speakers at one of the broadcast industry’s biggest events.

At the show, there was significant interest in digital radio – both from countries interested in setting up DAB+ trials (for example, in Eastern Europe and the Middle East), and from more established markets looking to the world’s first digital radio switchover which starts in Norway in January next year.

The progress of DAB was the central topic of WorldDAB’s conference session on the Monday afternoon. The event brought together representatives from broadcasters and key stakeholder groups from across Europe.

The session started with Graham Dixon of the EBU outlining the need for digital radio – describing FM as a beautiful prison; while we can appreciate its beauty, it’s too crowded and too constrained.

Against this background, Norway is set to make history by switching off FM next year, converting all its national public and commercial stations to digital-only. There are now 25 national stations on DAB+ compared to just five on FM and 60% of listening is digital.

As Jørn Jensen from NRK Norway explained, there is still much to do ahead of next year, particularly in providing information on what’s happening, when it’s happening and what listeners need to do.

Converting existing cars to digital is another area of focus, with many drivers saying they plan to wait until the switchover starts before upgrading.

So if Norway is first, who’s next?

Switzerland has announced it will start digital switchover in 2020, with Thomas Saner from SRG SSR detailing the Swiss plan to improve coverage across all regions in the next few years, particularly in tunnels where DAB can be used to inform drivers in an emergency. The Swiss government will decide later this year how quickly the switchover will happen, having already set a timeframe of 2020-2024.

Carsten Zorger from Digitalradio Büro Deutschland and Jurre Bosman of NPO in The Netherlands explained that their markets might not be far behind, the latter setting out an ambition for 70% of listening to be digital by 2023 and German digital radio going from strength to strength.

Laurence Harrison of Digital Radio UK talked about this growth in digital stations in the UK, including stations launched in the last month such as Union Jack, which plays music from British artists with the listeners picking the playlist. Coverage in the UK continues to improve and Digital Radio UK hope that next year digital listening will reach 50%, up from 45.3% today.

Paul Sylvester of Absolute Radio in the UK described an outstanding case study of how an existing brand can exploit the opportunities provided by DAB. In 2009, Absolute launched

Absolute 80s – exclusively on digital. Absolute 80s now boasts almost two million listeners and Absolute have also launched Absolute 60s, 70s, 90s, 00s and Classic Rock – all thanks to digital radio, using presenters across stations and engaging with listeners to build the brand on a minimal budget.

To drive innovation and new stations a plan for digital switchover is key. It provides clarity on the future and allows broadcasters and radio manufacturers to plan and invest accordingly. We’ll all be watching Norway closely in the coming months, but the message from IBC is that other countries are not far behind.

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