U.K. still won't commit to digital radio switchover date


The UK Government has decided not to commit a digital radio switchover date, originally set for 2015, saying the decision to move away from analog is still two years away. Ed Vaizey, the Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries, has refused to commit to a digital radio switchover date, saying the decision will not be made until 2013.

Speaking at the annual Intellect technology conference in London 7/5, where he first announced the digital radio switchover action plan a year ago, he said: “We will make the decision [about digital radio switchover] in 2013 whether we will go ahead in 2015 or delay…I don’t think it [the date] affects the consumer because obviously the consumer is free now to buy digital radios, and also all digital radios have FM capabilities as well.”

The digital radio switchover will see all major radio stations transfer away from analog AM and FM to DAB only. The FM signals will not be switched off but used by smaller stations and community radio groups.

The UK Telegraph says Vaizey denied that switchover, hampered by the need to have Eureka-147 DAB radios “fitted” in all vehicles, both old and new, was behind schedule, but stopped short of committing the Government to pressing ahead with it in 2015, the switchover date set by the Brown administration: “We want to get into the position where we can be certain about the date for switchover. We have said that 2013 is the right time to take that decision to give you [the radio industry] time if you [the radio industry] do go for a 2015 switchover to make that happen.”

A huge problem is seen in getting digital into automobiles – it is said that it could easily cost 300 pounds to fit an older model vehicle with a new receiver and antenna.

Currently 26.5% of all radio listening is conducted digitally through mix of the web, DAB and digital TV. The Government has said that 50% of all listening must be conducted digitally before switchover can begin to happen. Experts and radio industry executives think it could take as long as 20 years for full digital radio switchover to occur, said the Telegraph.

Owen Watters, sales and marketing director of Roberts Radio in the UK, told The Telegraph: “Digital is no doubt the future of radio and we support this fully and completely, but we still strongly feel, as we have from the beginning, that we should not try to force the issue onto the consumer and that we should look at ways of getting our industry into a ‘digital ready state’, responsibly and honestly, regardless of how long it takes. We would do well to remember that following the launch of FM, it took over 20 years to become the mainstream format that we know and love today.”

Vaizey said that there had been some progress is moving towards the digital radio switchover, with 14% of new cars now having a DAB radio installed as standard: “I think we have achieved a lot against our ambitions for radio but obviously there is still a lot more to do. We are still on course for a decision on switchover in 2013…Hopefully [by then] every radio sold by major retailers will have digital radio capability and the content proposition will continue to improve.”

RBR-TVBR observation: When you dig a little deeper, you can see that the growth curve is not good for DAB Radio in the U.K. to reach that 50% number. DAB radio in the UK saw its share of listening drop to 15.3% from 15.8% in Q2 2010, according to official Rajar figures published there. But note that the 50% target includes all digital listening. There has been a 10% jump in people listening via their mobile phones, Rajar said 5/11—that’s inclusive of digital listening. So the move to digital is there, but not so much on the radio side. Meanwhile, in Q2 ‘10 the popularity of analog AM and FM continued to grow there, with a 67.6% share, up from 67% in the previous quarter and 66.1% a year ago. Like here in the U.S., they may end up having to let the market decide rather than legislate a switch to digital for radio.