Government to consider next steps for digital radio

The minister responsible for radio has told the radio industry it should continue to work together as the government reviews the future for digital radio.

Margot James MP was speaking on a video shown at the Drive to Digital 2018 conference held at the British Museum in London.

The Minister for Digital and Creative Industries at the DCMS told the 300 delegates representing broadcasters, car manufacturers and retailers that “outstanding collaboration” would support a successful digital radio transition.

But she stopped short of making an announcement concerning a date for digital switchover, saying that she hoped to be in a position “shortly” to announce how the government plans to take the situation forward.

She said: “Radio’s transition to digital has helped the medium stay robust and relevant in a digital age, and I’m passionate about ensuring the industry continues to grow and succeed. Now is the time for a strong commitment to a collective vision for the future from the many organisations involved in getting digital radio this far.”

Head of Radio at the DCMS, Ian O’Neill, appeared on stage and confirmed that there had been “a couple of hundred” responses to the Ofcom call for expressions of interest for SSDAB, which closed last week. He also said that the SSDAB trials that have been running over the last three years have been “very successful” to test both technology and demand from the market.

Margot James’ message was welcomed by broadcasters and the supply chain, and in a conference panel, senior executives from the UK’s leading radio broadcasters, BBC, Global and Bauer, said that they were fully committed to delivering radio’s digital future.

Ford Ennals, CEO, Digital Radio UK, said: “Today we’ve heard how the success of digital radio has helped transform UK radio enabling it to be a more robust, relevant and competitive medium than ever. The completion of UK radio’s transition to digital will bring significant benefits for listeners, broadcasters and industry and we welcome the opportunity to collaborate with Government and stakeholders to continue to accelerate digital progress.”

Tom Wrathmell, Head of Radio & Education Strategy, BBC, said: “The move towards digital has allowed radio to thrive and it’s crucial that we continue to innovate to ensure that radio remains accessible and robust. We are committed to a digital future for radio, and in the immediate term we continue to support hybrid delivery of DAB and FM running alongside new IP innovations such as BBC Sounds which brings together live and on-demand radio, music and podcasts into a single personalised app.”

Will Harding, Chief Strategy Officer, Global: “Global continues to invest heavily in digital. We spear-headed the investment to improve coverage of local DAB networks and in the last 5 years we have launched 7 stations onto national digital radio including new digital-only stations such as Heart 80s, Smooth Extra and Heart extra as well as taking LBC, Radio X and Capital XTRA national. DAX, the digital audio exchange we launched in 2014, now gives advertisers access to an audience of 160 million worldwide. Last year we launched the innovative new Global Player, home to all Global’s stations on mobile and connected devices.”

Travis Baxter, Content and External Affairs Consultant, Bauer, said: “As we celebrate ten years of Absolute Radio in the same year as also launching the UK’s newest national digital station, Hits Radio, Bauer Media has consistently been a pioneering and innovative force in digital radio content and delivery. We welcome the Government review of next steps and look forward to completing the transition to digital.”

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  1. Mr Boltar says

    Will Harding, Chief Strategy Officer, Global: “….we have launched 7 stations onto national digital radio”

    And closed (sorry – rebranded and become a dumb relay) how many local ones pal? Your company along with Bauer has all but destroyed local commercial radio in the UK. I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

    1. Martin Spencer says

      To be fair, the ad revenue being eaten by tech giants via interactive IP platforms is the problem. You are blaming the response to the problem. Not sure how it would have gone if all those legacy ILR stations had remained local, but I do know that those who have tried to keep going as commercial independents are few, and they have not had an easy or especially lucrative time of it.

    2. Adrian says

      One could even say that these ‘extra’ stations don’t really count as new ones even if they are DAB only as they are basically more of the same,non-stop music with the same playlist or a relay of the London output in areas which have an alternative local presenter.For instance Smooth extra is presenterless from 10-7 but is otherwise the same as the main channel in London.

      1. mb23 says

        That’s true for Heart & Smooth, but Capital Xtra is a different station (it used to be Choice FM).

  2. Alanh says

    Why was there no mention of converting to DAB+ prior to FM switchoff?
    I’m from Australia who has been high powered broadcasting in DAB+ since 2009. This has enabled virtually all broadcast to be in stereo with dropouts, which is not the case for DAB used in the UK.

    1. Martin Spencer says

      Did you mean “without dropouts”? Obviously true, but the UK radio industry haven’t felt able to admit it for a long while after persuading so many companies to invest early in conventional DAB. Maybe that’ll change one day, maybe even soon. I think obsessing over radios sold 5-10 and more years ago is taking it a bit far bearing in mind how consumers have been happy to replace numerous other gadgets within that period of time, but maybe the good old radio companion is different and has earned more loyalty! There’s certainly a segment who remain very vociferous about being forced to throw “perfectly good analogue radios” away, and with (big-)DAB audio quality you can see why. Maybe if they decided to throw them away of their own accord it would be different though :o) … a good argument for DAB+ with its better fidelity and choice (and 50% lower costs to industry).

      Has DAB+ in Oz actually been popular with listeners? Seems like they have still to really embrace DAB+ from what I’ve heard… or is that out of date?

  3. Lee Beddow says

    Maybe having a complete digital system would help? Maybe it other parts of the country it’s fine but where I live in the Midlands, there are complete flat spots where I get little or no reception for stations, such as Radio X – and it’s not like a live in the middle of nowhere.

    1. mb23 says

      Digital 1 (which includes Radio X) covers about 91% of the population. If you’re in the other 9% it’s unlucky but there are other ways of listening.

      To get to 97% of the population (like the BBC) you need about 400 transmitters, and it’s too expensive for a commercial operator.

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