Digital Radio Working Group – Interim Report

If you’re at all interested in the future of radio in this country – then you might want to read this interim report which has just shown up on the DCMS website.
In summary there are two sets of key things to take from this:
– DAB should become the primary platform for all national, regional and large local services. So that’s all the BBC national, commercial national and major local and regional services going to DAB exclusively.
– Community and smaller local stations will need to remain on analogue as the most cost effective way of delivering radio. But a plan for migrating them to digital should be worked on.
– In places where DAB rollout is not economic (especially rural areas), listeners should not be disadvantaged, and restructuring the FM network should take place. People in those areas are not going to lose their current services.
– A concerted effort needs to be made to ensure that all future digital radio sets can receive and decode all variants of Eureka 147. That is to say, get manufacturers producing sets that will receive all forms of digital radio.
– All services will be migrated from MW onto either DAB or FM.
For this to happen a timetable will need to be set, but:
– A precise timetable cannot yet be set, but a set of circumstances for that to happen should be layed out including trigger criteria
– The criteria should include the amount of DAB listening. Determining exactly what level this should be will be examined by the Group in the second half of this year, although it’s likely to be around 50% (Currently it’s around 11%, so there’s a way to go).
– 2020 looks like the very latest date at which migration should have taken place.
– There must be “further consideration should be made of what mechanisms can encourage greater investment in new and high quality digital content. One such mechanism might be to allow greater economies of scale in the commercial sector by allowing for greater consolidation of ownership and coverage, particularly of local multiplexes, which in turn may free up investment for increasing coverage and more digital-only content.”
And today, the BBC has published its response to Ofcom’s Second Public Service Broadcasting Review. In a statement from Mark Thompson we get this:
“The challenges facing DAB: Some tough choices had to be made at the time of the BBC’s six year plan about the funding available for DAB. However, beyond its current commitments, the BBC could support a bold set of measures to develop DAB on behalf of the whole industry, including extending the coverage of the BBC’s national multiplex beyond 90% of the UK population; developing a plan for extending the coverage of the BBC’s Nations radio stations; and initiating a stronger marketing effort co-ordinated across the industry.”
I suggest you go away and read, in particular, pages 38 and 39 of the PDF. I found the following especially interesting:
“Initiate a strong marketing effort co-ordinated across the industry, including active industry coordination to rebrand digital radio and by developing a national coverage database based on a single planning model made available online to the public (as for DTT / Freeview).”
If there were some substansive changes to how DAB is formulated – and we may yet see that – then this mightn’t be a bad idea. Freeview has been very well marketed, and a similar pattern is now being adopted with Freesat.