This document is offered compliments ofBSP Media Group. www.bspmediagroup.com All rights reserved.
Digital Radio Switchover Willie CurrieIndependent Communications Authority Of South Africa (ICASA) 22 February 2012
Time to upgrade to Digital Radio in Africa?• With all the focus on the digital TV switchover, there is a danger that radio will be neglected.• Radio in Africa is the pre-eminent medium of communication and is consumed more widely than TV or mobile phones.• The FM radio network is aging and it is time to upgrade to digital radio platforms.
Problem Statement• The radio industry in Africa has been shaped more by the scarcity of analogue spectrum than by market demand.• Brands are built on the occupation of frequencies as much as their content.• In a recent licensing process in South Africa, more than 40 applicants competed for three frequencies in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.
Thought Experiment• Let’s transcribe the thinking on digital radio in the Digital Britain report and see what happens.• Radio’s diverse and flexible nature places it at the heart of platform and device convergence.• Digital audio content occupies relatively small amounts of capacity and can be delivered through a range of digital technologies, such as digital TV and mobile broadband platforms.
Radio as an ambient medium• Radio’s appeal to the listener is that is more than a stream of audio.• Radio is an intimate, portable and ambient medium.• To remain true to this appeal, radio needs it’s own dedicated digital platform such as DAB+ alongside the other digital paths over which it can be carried.• The costs of such a digital upgrade are not huge as radio is a small scale medium compared to TV or mobile broadband.
Limits to analogue growth• Commercial radio revenues are limited to local markets, delivered by on-air advertising and sponsorship.• This combined with the shortage of frequency in major markets limit the growth potential for radio in an increasingly competitive multi- media market.
Potential for digital growth• Radio needs to have greater flexibility to grow, innovate and engage with its audience through the delivery of new content and functionality such as scrolling text, one-to-one traffic information and listen again.• These innovations can connect listeners and radio in new ways, provide gateways to online businesses and open up new revenue streams to the commercial market.• Digital radio can increase choice and diversity of services, as is the case with digital TV.
What would a Digital Radio Switchover look like?• A period of dual `audibility’ would need to take place similar to the dual illumination period required for TV in which national and local DAB multiplexes are established while services continue on FM and MW analogue transmission.• Once 50% of listening is on digital and national DAB coverage is comparable to FM coverage and local DAB reaches 90% of the population and all major roads, then digital radio switchover can take place.
Digital Radio Switchover• On the date set for Digital Radio Switchover, all services carried on national and local DAB multiplexes will stop broadcasting on analogue.• At the same time, a new tier of ultra-local radio, consisting of small local commercial stations and community stations will occupy the vacated FM spectrum.• Radio services on MW will either upgrade to DAB or if they are within the ultra-local tier to FM.
Digital Radio PolicyDigital Radio Policy could have a number ofaims:1. to provide greater choice and functionality forlisteners.2. To ensure that those listeners who cancurrently access radio should continue to do soafter the switchover.3. Local electronics manufacturers could makeDAB radio sets.
Benefits of digital radio platforms• Radio is a portable medium and a digital radio platform is the best way to deliver mobile digital radio, especially to cars.• It’s free at the point of access to all listeners.• Digital radio would support a local radio broadcasting sector providing content, including independent content producers.
Just a Thought• ICASA has set aside a number of channels for DAB multiplexes in the VHF band.• Should ICASA, the Department of Communications and more broadly CRASA be thinking about a Digital Radio Switchover?• Should Digital Radio be on the agenda for Africa?