Even with the current rollout of DAB and the growth in DAB+, radio continues to lag behind television and new media in embracing digital transmission. With FM still seen as the most universal platform for the medium, the EBU is putting a big push behind digits with Digital Radio Toolkit, designed to highlight “good practices” and encourage countries to follow the lead of Norway, Switzerland and the UK in establishing infrastructures based on newer technologies.
The report was prepared on behalf of the EBU Radio Unit by the European broadcasting organisation’s Media Intelligence Service. The Toolkit project is intended to move on from the EBU’s Recommendation on Digital Radio Distribution in Europe (EBU R138). This proposes that the principal form of digital radio implementation should be DAB+, the enhanced and higher capacity version of the original DAB format. If, and only if, it is not possible to achieve coverage through DAB, the AM digital equivalent DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) is suggested as an option.
The Digital Radio Toolkit document was based on 34 “semi-structured personal interviews” with EBU members and other “relevant radio industry stakeholders” that took place between May and July 2014. The subjects included “top and middle managers in public service media organisations, commercial broadcasters, network operators, government departments dealing with radio issues, regulatory authorities, industry trade bodies and car manufacturers.”
Divided into eight sections, the report looks at what are seen as the primary aspects involved in moving radio more fully into the digital domain: the institutional structure, policy and regulation, content and offer, technology, the switchover procedure, getting the message to the public, consumer electronic and increasing the take-up of the technology by the auto industry.
More specifically the EBU has created a “Five Cs” formula that it sees as important to the success of digital radio: Coverage, especially in not offering listeners something less than existing analogue services; Content, ensuring that the programming is not only strong but is also diverse and appeals to people not currently catered for; Costs, with higher investment kept to a minimum through careful planning; Collaboration, ensuring that all those involved work together; and Communication, to make people aware of emerging platforms.
The Toolkit highlights the experiences of three countries in what can help in establishing digital radio services. In both Norway and the UK the involvement of all “stakeholders” has been a key factor, involving both public and commercial broadcasters. Both countries, the report claims, have seen existing commercial broadcasters in particular compete against streaming and internet radio by expanding their digital presence and offering more variety. Another boost has come from forming an industry organisation to promote the technology and provide information, as with Digital Radio UK. In Switzerland the radio industry set up the Digital Migration group (DigiMig) so it could speak with a single voice to government and the regulators.
While there is still some cynicism and doubt within the radio market as to the future and potential of digital radio, the roll-out continues, with further DAB+ services going on air in Germany, growing audience figures in Norway and the UK government announcing plans for 182 additional DAB transmitters to spread local digital radio in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.