Margot James confirms Digital Radio review to begin

A new review of digital radio has been announced by Margot James, MP, Minister for Digital and Creative Industries at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

The minister has confirmed the Government’s support for the radio sector and announced that the DCMS will collaborate with radio broadcasters and the supply chain on a review and programme of work to ‘ensure a healthy and vibrant digital future for UK radio’.

She also confirmed that the Order setting out the new licence structure for Small-Scale DAB would be laid in Parliament in June, subject to the Parliamentary timetable.

Speaking at the Radio Academy’s Radio Festival, Margot reinforced the importance of digital radio and the progress made towards digital migration with over 52% of radio listening now being on a digital platform.

The Minister commented that the expansion of digital radio has been good for radio listeners, highlighting an ever-increasing number of new digital stations offering an increasing range of music genres, sports and the spoken word.

The review will look at all aspects of radio, delivery and regulation.

Earlier, this year RadioToday’s own research highlighted that as many as 250 presenters could be made redundant as a result of the changes to Ofcom localness guidelines. After her session at the Radio Festival, we asked Margot James whether she had any sympathy for those losing their jobs as a result of deregulation.

“Well of course I do,” she said. “If that’s the case, of course I’ve got sympathy. I think that we all fear the advance of technology from that point of view, and there is no doubt that you can point to examples where technological advance displaces people in their former employment. But I do want to assure people that overall – and I’ve looked at the evidence for this – technology does create more jobs than it displaces.”

She also said she was confident that people affected will have other opportunities to pursue the media career that’s right for them. “We can’t stand in the way of the march of technology,” she said. “But we can make sure that the regulation allows for people to get the skills they need to join the next wave of technology wherever that takes us.”

Hear Margot James talking to RadioToday on this week’s RadioToday Programme podcast, out on Wednesday, and hear a clip below.

Ms James said that the forthcoming review would take into account the growing importance of listening across all digital platforms to ensure that radio is well-placed to compete and thrive.

She confirmed that DCMS would be moving forward on a programme of work that will begin in a few weeks and conclude by the middle of next year.

Talking to delegates at the Radio Festival, Margot said: “A consideration about the future of radio can no longer be seen as just a binary decision about a switch from an analogue to a digital broadcast platform.

“A review must have a much broader focus to reflect the growing challenges arising from IP based audio content delivery and how this affects future decisions on radio distribution.

“But there is also an opportunity here. For broadcasters and other stakeholders to collectively develop a shared vision for a sustainable vibrant digital audio sector for the UK. And to come up with some tangible steps to achieve the vision.

“So I can confirm that we will now commence a review of digital radio. We will move forward on a programme of work that will begin in a few weeks and conclude by the middle of next year.

“But in order to be successful it will have to be a collaborative effort.

“I look forward to working closely with the BBC and the commercial sector and with manufacturers, the car industry and others in the radio supply chain over the coming months.”

The Minister emphasised the robust success of radio’s efforts to position itself for the digital age with the medium maintaining its ubiquitous position but highlighted that the radio industry has entered a new audio age with increasing listener interest in on demand content and a new set of global IP-based competitors.

In parallel, the Minister hailed the importance of small-scale DAB in order to widen opportunities for small local commercial and community broadcasters and confirmed that the Order setting out the new licence structure would be laid in Parliament in June.

Ms James said that small-scale DAB could be a significant boost for local radio and would enable new and existing ultra-local commercial and community radio stations to have an affordable path to digital.

Ford Ennals, CEO, Digital Radio UK, said: “Along with radio broadcasters and the supply chain, we welcome the Minster’s decision to instigate a review of how we can work together to ensure that UK radio has a long term, healthy digital future.

“So much progress has been made in digital radio take-up, coverage and choice but there is still much to be done as UK radio faces a new set of global competitors across a range of digital devices and platforms. We look forward to collaborating to sustain radio’s digital migration and momentum.”

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4 Comments
  1. Willie Bone says

    Living through the pop pirate era & modern day commercial radio, the one crazy statistic is, BBC Radio 2 and BBC Radio 4 are still the most listened to radio stations in the UK! In essence, that is the old BBC Light programme & the BBC Home Service of yesteryear! Whatever happened to radicalism with the onslaught of DAB digital radio?
    Geographic signal coverage north of the border is not brilliant for DAB digital radio! The DAB version of BBC Radio Scotland cannot be received in the Scottish Borders with Dumfries & Galloway, along with the Highlands and Islands of Scotland!
    We don’t need another review to inform the listening public what they already know, some regions are not yet ready for a digital radio migration..

  2. Phillip Waterman says

    Good news that a review is coming. I agree with the above that some areas of the country are in need of coverage before any switchover or migration can take place. It’s also good news that the minister is supportive of Small Scale DAB. This is essentially the future of truly ‘local’ community radio delivered by enthusiastic volunteers supported by professional staff to fill schedules with hopefully a relaxed funding model, and small networks of real specialist stations. The only thing of note is where this leaves the existing local multiplexes. With Global and Bauer leaning towards a national commercial business model created from the remnants of the original ILR networks, these local multiplexes are going to emerge as either empty, with the local BBC station on, and a platform for the national stations to broadcast and still regionalise the ads, which is a shame as they were designed to be local. Hopefully, the industry will eventually also look to embrace DAB+ as seems to really be the future of free to use broadcast linear services. This needs to deliver good audio quality as in Europe as the current low bitrates really aren’t going to bring the large masses to support digital if it sounds inferior to an existing FM signal! I appreciate this is an old chestnut, but as a listener, we expect good sound out of the speakers! If the dive in quality is to continue, why bother with lovely expensive radio studios if you can’t hear it! Same goes for ad production.

    1. Dave says

      Realistically i cannot see there ever being any switch off of FM to DAB
      But AM Definitely.
      As for the new small scale multiplex for community radio,
      It will come down to the cost of going on to the multiplex.

  3. Dave G says

    I wonder how much attention she will give to increasing the quality of sound rather than just looking at content.

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