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Parliamentary committee concerns on digital radio adoption

The House of Lords’ Communications Committee has warned about “public confusion and industry uncertainty” regarding the forthcoming digital radio switchover,

The House of Lords’ Communications Committee has warned about “public confusion and industry uncertainty” regarding the forthcoming digital radio switchover, writes David Davies. While the Committee endorses the ongoing transition from analogue and supports the target digital switchover (DSO) date of 2015, it is urging the UK Government to provide more advice to retailers and consumers, and address the predicted redundancy of 50-100 million analogue devices.

Under plans revealed last June, the UK Government set a target date for analogue radio switch-off and announced that this would not take place until digital accounts for 50% of all radio listening. High-profile publicity campaigns have encouraged consumers to explore digital radio, and with no little success: RAJAR figures for Q4 2009, issued last month, indicated that DAB listening now commands a 13.7% share of all radio listening, up 20% year-on-year.

But now, in its Digital Switchover of Television and Radio in the UK report, the House of Lords Communication Committee has expressed concerns about public readiness for the switchover. In addition to calling for more consumer advice, the report suggests a ‘sensible’ radio scrappage scheme and questions the message sent out to consumers by the BBC’s recent announcement of its plan to close digital-only stations 6Music and the Asian Network by the end of 2011.

Digital Radio UK – the company tasked with establishing digital as the leading radio format in the UK – welcomed the report and highlighted its agreement with points including the need to provide a help scheme for disadvantaged users and enable the long-term use of FM for small local and community stations.

Ford Ennals (pictured), chief executive of Digital Radio UK, commented: “We very much share the Committee’s view that radio and its listeners deserve a digital future and are pleased that it has given its support not only to this digital future, but also to DAB and the target date of 2015. We note that the Committee has recognised that the key elements to delivering this digital future, namely improved coverage of the digital signal across the UK, richer content and digital radio in cars, are already underway. We also note the Committee’s significant and healthy progress report on television switchover, given the high degree of public concern it faced at the equivalent point in the process. The Committee’s recommendations underline that public communication is essential learning from the success of the digital television switchover campaigns.”

Speaking to PSNE, Paul Eaton, head of broadcast radio at transmission company Arqiva – which owns UK DAB digital radio network operator Digital One – underlined the momentum behind digital transition. “Arqiva believes that the future of radio is digital and we support the industry consensus to migrate to digital platforms in a realistic timeframe,” he says. “There’s little doubt that DAB will be the long-term broadcast technology for most radio services and Arqiva will do all it can to facilitate further network roll-out. Receivers should cope with multiple platforms seamlessly so that simulcasting of analogue and digital becomes a thing of the past.”

However, HHB Communications’ sales director, Steve Angel, wonders if the impending radio changes have “lost out” in terms of attention and focus to the TV switchover. “I am a bit confused as to what the Government’s message actually is,” he tells PSNE. “Whilst the switchover is a positive move, making 100m or so analogue radios in this country redundant doesn’t seem very Green to me. Ultimately, the switch (to digital) will offer more choice and a better experience for the listener, but I expect it won’t happen in the [intended] timescale.”