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THE ROUTE TO SECURE LOCAL
RADIO’S DIGITAL FUTURE
GRANT GODDARD
March 2011
1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
“Digital radio is not now, nor should it be in the future, a single platform
medium. The Internet, mobile broadband, in particular, will have a role
in radio’s future”.1
Although this quote from 'Digital Britain' had acknowledged that the future of
digital radio will be multi-platform, the report’s recommendations were focused
predominantly on the DAB broadcast platform. Consequently, the Digital
Economy Act 2010 enabled regulatory changes related to DAB transmission.
These changes have undoubtedly improved the potential of the DAB platform
at the national level by extending the content offering. For the largest
commercial radio groups, the ability to merge neighbouring local operations
has produced economies of scale.
However, for the remaining genuinely local stations, who are either
independently owned or in smaller groups, neither 'Digital Britain' nor the
Digital Economy Act 2010 has provided economic benefits or a practical route
to the DAB platform. (The previous government had admitted that no
assessment was made of the impact of the Act’s provisions on small, local
commercial radio stations.)
In the two years since 'Digital Britain', financial challenges facing both
commercial radio and the BBC have stymied development of the DAB
platform at the local level. Commercial radio revenues declined a further 10%
in real terms, while the Licence Fee settlement has required the BBC to re-
evaluate its digital radio strategy.2
Previous expectations that much of local commercial radio would migrate to
the DAB platform have quickly proven to be unrealistic, given resource
constraints that had not been anticipated at the time of 'Digital Britain'. As a
result, government policy needs to be adjusted to ensure that those local
commercial radio stations which deliver the highest proportion of local content
can be offered a realistic digital future in the multi-platform world.
It is proposed that:
 Existing policies for digital migration to the DAB platform are maintained
for national radio stations
 A re-statement of the digital future for local radio stations is made
which clarifies that, in the light of resource constraints having hindered
the upgrade and completion of the local DAB transmission
infrastructure:
o The digital future of local commercial radio stations will be
secured through distribution via a mix of digital platforms that
includes DAB and the internet, using whichever is deemed
appropriate by a station to connect with its audience
o Compulsion for local commercial radio stations to simulcast
their output on DAB will be relaxed through a directive to
Ofcom.
2. FULL REPORT
“Radio’s diverse and flexible nature has placed it at the heart of
platform and device convergence”.3
This opening sentence of the 'Digital Britain' report for radio encapsulated the
exciting opportunities available to radio broadcasters to extend their relevance
and value to consumers and advertisers in a multi-platform world. However,
whilst 'Digital Britain’s recommendations focused almost exclusively on the
DAB broadcast platform as ‘the future of radio,’ it has been demonstrated that
a ‘one size fits all’ solution has not proven beneficial for all parts of the radio
sector, particularly for genuinely local commercial stations.
The path to digital for national radio stations that was set out in 'Digital Britain'
two years ago has been implemented with some degree of success:
 In 2008, the national commercial DAB radio multiplex offered
consumers only one digital-only radio service (in addition to simulcasts
of the three national analogue stations). By 2011, the offering has been
expanded to nine digital-only services.
 The BBC continues to extend the coverage of its national DAB radio
multiplex with the addition of nine new transmitters so far this year.
Coverage will have reached 92% of the population by year-end 2011.
 The coverage of commercial radio’s national DAB radio multiplex has
already surpassed 90%. Four additional transmitters were added in
2009.
 Several commercial radio brands ('Smooth', 'Kiss', 'Jazz FM') have
been transformed from local services into national or quasi-national
stations, developments that were enabled by the DAB platform and the
Digital Economy Act.
At the same time, the pathway to the DAB platform for many local radio
stations, both BBC and commercial, has not been so straightforward. This is
not surprising, given that the DAB transmission system had always been
envisaged as more technically suited to national, rather than local, radio
services.4
Additionally, DAB reception problems at the local level have continued to
impact the consumer take-up of DAB, another issue anticipated by the
European Broadcasting Union two decades ago:
“The establishment of DAB services has to be approached by service
planners in a pragmatic way since, if service coverage is lacking in any
way, the take-up of the system may be slow and the Eureka 147
system will not realise its full potential”.5
To combat such problems, 'Digital Britain' had proposed an action plan for
“building a DAB infrastructure which meets the needs of broadcasters,
multiplex operators and listeners”. At the local level, that plan had required:
 “Further investment … if local DAB is ever to compare with existing
local FM coverage”
 “A significant contribution from the commercial operators”
 “A contribution from the BBC”
 “DAB should deliver new niche services”.6
However, the ability of the BBC and commercial radio sectors to implement
the 'Digital Britain' DAB action plan at a local level has been constrained by:
 The impact of the recession on commercial radio sector revenues
 The BBC Licence Fee settlement
 The continuing lack of profitability in the commercial radio sector
 The failure to launch of 13 local DAB multiplex licences licensed by
Ofcom in 2007 and 2008.
The regulatory changes for commercial radio included in the Digital Economy
Act 2010 have enabled local stations owned by larger radio groups to
consolidate their neighbouring analogue local station operations and thus
reduce their overheads. However, for smaller local stations, the benefits have
proven to be negligible or non-existent. In January 2010, the then
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport had
admitted:
“No specific assessment has been made of the impact of the radio
provisions set out in the draft Digital Economy Bill on local commercial
stations remaining on FM after the digital radio switchover”.7
The outcome is that larger group owners have reaped economic benefits from
having been permitted to reduce local content broadcast by their consolidated
local stations. Meanwhile, the remaining genuinely local commercial stations
have received little or no economic benefit, even though they fulfil the promise
made in 'Digital Britain' that the government:
“will continue to ensure that locally made content, relevant to local
listeners, is an essential characteristic of UK commercial radio”.8
Failure to implement the action plan for DAB at a local level has resulted in
there still being no access to the DAB platform for:
 14 BBC local radio stations
 An unknown quantity of local commercial radio stations.
Although there still exists no opportunity for these stations to migrate to the
DAB platform, they (and many other stations) have seized the opportunity to
connect with audiences via the internet. While 36% of UK adults are reported
to have access to a DAB radio, 71% now have broadband access to the
internet.9
PENETRATION (% UK adults) 71
36
0
10
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
broadband DAB radio
[source: Ofcom]
Usage of the internet as a platform for radio listening has grown considerably
as a result of increased broadband penetration, particularly amongst young
people. BBC research found that only 55% of audio consumption by 15-18
year olds was ‘live radio,’ the remainder being accessed online and from mp3-
type data files.10
ALL AUDIO (% share of listening by source and age)
55
60
76
81 82 85 82
38
34
20
16 14 12
11
6 5 4 2 4 3 7
0
25
50
75
100
15-18 15-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+
live radio non-radio catch-up radio podcasts unclassified radio
[source: BBC]
As 'Digital Britain' had noted, ‘radio’ is an ideal medium for delivery by the
internet:
“One of the advantages of digital audio content is that it occupies
comparatively small amounts of capacity and can easily be delivered
through a wide range of digital technologies”.11
Local radio has seized the available opportunities to connect to its audiences
via the internet, particularly in the absence of an accessible route to the DAB
platform for many stations. The addition of on-demand programmes and
podcasts has added further consumer value to a local station’s internet
presence, offerings that are not technically feasible on the DAB platform.
In an unprecedented collaboration between the BBC and the commercial
radio sector, UK Radioplayer has provided even the smallest local radio
stations with access to online users, and on a level playing field with the
largest national radio networks. Its launch in March 2011, at minimal cost to
the stations involved, has enhanced their internet presence greatly and is
expected to stimulate digital listening to a much wider range of radio content.
Although such initiatives were not anticipated by 'Digital Britain', nonetheless
they have succeeded in precipitating precisely the transformation of radio from
an analogue to a digital medium that the report was seeking. Furthermore, the
scalability of distribution via the internet platform makes it more economically
viable for local radio stations than does the DAB platform’s fixed cost
structure.
In order for the government’s digital radio policy to maintain relevance in the
UK’s fast changing business environment, it will prove essential to re-state the
potential routes for local radio to achieve the objective of creating a 'Digital
Britain'. Instead of continuing to focus narrowly on the DAB platform as the
platform by which digitalisation of all radio will be achieved, it is more realistic
for policy to accommodate citizens’ growing appetite for local radio delivered
by the internet.
The formal launch of UK Radioplayer on 31 March 2011 provides a perfect
opportunity to reiterate the government’s commitment to securing a digital
future for radio broadcasting, whilst acknowledging that the online platform is
an acceptable option for local radio stations, particularly those that have no
access to a local DAB multiplex.
It is proposed that:
 Existing policies for digital migration to the DAB platform are maintained
for national radio stations
 A re-statement of the digital future for local radio stations is made
which clarifies that, in the light of resource constraints having hindered
the upgrade and completion of the local DAB transmission
infrastructure:
o The digital future of local commercial radio stations will be
secured through distribution via a mix of digital platforms that
includes DAB and the internet, using whichever is deemed
appropriate by a station to connect with its audience
o Compulsion for local commercial radio stations to simulcast
their output on DAB will be relaxed through a directive to
Ofcom.
© 2011 Grant Goddard
Published by Radio Books
http://www.radiobooks.org
http://www.grantgoddard.co.uk
1
Digital Britain, p.94, para.14
2
Radio Advertising Bureau, commercialradio revenues, 2008 & 2010 (using RPI)
3
Digital Britain, p.91, para.1
4
Brian O’Neill, “Digital Radio In Europe,” Intellect, 2010, p.33
5
A. Lau & W.F. Williams, “Service Planning For TerrestrialDigital Audio Broadcasting,” European Broadcasting
Union TechnicalReview , Summer 1992, p.25, section 8
6
Digital Britain, p.96, 97, 98, paras.21, 22, 24, 29
7
House Of Commons, Written AnswersTo Questions, 21 January 2010
8
Digital Britain, p.100, para.36
9
RAJAR, Q4 2010
Ofcom, Communications Market 2010, August 2010
10
BBC Audio & Music, “Is radio dead? Share of ear research,” 2009
11
Digital Britain, p.91, para.1

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'The Route To Secure Local Radio's Digital Future' by Grant Goddard

  • 1. THE ROUTE TO SECURE LOCAL RADIO’S DIGITAL FUTURE GRANT GODDARD March 2011
  • 2. 1. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY “Digital radio is not now, nor should it be in the future, a single platform medium. The Internet, mobile broadband, in particular, will have a role in radio’s future”.1 Although this quote from 'Digital Britain' had acknowledged that the future of digital radio will be multi-platform, the report’s recommendations were focused predominantly on the DAB broadcast platform. Consequently, the Digital Economy Act 2010 enabled regulatory changes related to DAB transmission. These changes have undoubtedly improved the potential of the DAB platform at the national level by extending the content offering. For the largest commercial radio groups, the ability to merge neighbouring local operations has produced economies of scale. However, for the remaining genuinely local stations, who are either independently owned or in smaller groups, neither 'Digital Britain' nor the Digital Economy Act 2010 has provided economic benefits or a practical route to the DAB platform. (The previous government had admitted that no assessment was made of the impact of the Act’s provisions on small, local commercial radio stations.) In the two years since 'Digital Britain', financial challenges facing both commercial radio and the BBC have stymied development of the DAB platform at the local level. Commercial radio revenues declined a further 10% in real terms, while the Licence Fee settlement has required the BBC to re- evaluate its digital radio strategy.2 Previous expectations that much of local commercial radio would migrate to the DAB platform have quickly proven to be unrealistic, given resource constraints that had not been anticipated at the time of 'Digital Britain'. As a result, government policy needs to be adjusted to ensure that those local commercial radio stations which deliver the highest proportion of local content can be offered a realistic digital future in the multi-platform world. It is proposed that:  Existing policies for digital migration to the DAB platform are maintained for national radio stations  A re-statement of the digital future for local radio stations is made which clarifies that, in the light of resource constraints having hindered the upgrade and completion of the local DAB transmission infrastructure: o The digital future of local commercial radio stations will be secured through distribution via a mix of digital platforms that includes DAB and the internet, using whichever is deemed appropriate by a station to connect with its audience
  • 3. o Compulsion for local commercial radio stations to simulcast their output on DAB will be relaxed through a directive to Ofcom. 2. FULL REPORT “Radio’s diverse and flexible nature has placed it at the heart of platform and device convergence”.3 This opening sentence of the 'Digital Britain' report for radio encapsulated the exciting opportunities available to radio broadcasters to extend their relevance and value to consumers and advertisers in a multi-platform world. However, whilst 'Digital Britain’s recommendations focused almost exclusively on the DAB broadcast platform as ‘the future of radio,’ it has been demonstrated that a ‘one size fits all’ solution has not proven beneficial for all parts of the radio sector, particularly for genuinely local commercial stations. The path to digital for national radio stations that was set out in 'Digital Britain' two years ago has been implemented with some degree of success:  In 2008, the national commercial DAB radio multiplex offered consumers only one digital-only radio service (in addition to simulcasts of the three national analogue stations). By 2011, the offering has been expanded to nine digital-only services.  The BBC continues to extend the coverage of its national DAB radio multiplex with the addition of nine new transmitters so far this year. Coverage will have reached 92% of the population by year-end 2011.  The coverage of commercial radio’s national DAB radio multiplex has already surpassed 90%. Four additional transmitters were added in 2009.  Several commercial radio brands ('Smooth', 'Kiss', 'Jazz FM') have been transformed from local services into national or quasi-national stations, developments that were enabled by the DAB platform and the Digital Economy Act. At the same time, the pathway to the DAB platform for many local radio stations, both BBC and commercial, has not been so straightforward. This is not surprising, given that the DAB transmission system had always been envisaged as more technically suited to national, rather than local, radio services.4 Additionally, DAB reception problems at the local level have continued to impact the consumer take-up of DAB, another issue anticipated by the European Broadcasting Union two decades ago: “The establishment of DAB services has to be approached by service planners in a pragmatic way since, if service coverage is lacking in any
  • 4. way, the take-up of the system may be slow and the Eureka 147 system will not realise its full potential”.5 To combat such problems, 'Digital Britain' had proposed an action plan for “building a DAB infrastructure which meets the needs of broadcasters, multiplex operators and listeners”. At the local level, that plan had required:  “Further investment … if local DAB is ever to compare with existing local FM coverage”  “A significant contribution from the commercial operators”  “A contribution from the BBC”  “DAB should deliver new niche services”.6 However, the ability of the BBC and commercial radio sectors to implement the 'Digital Britain' DAB action plan at a local level has been constrained by:  The impact of the recession on commercial radio sector revenues  The BBC Licence Fee settlement  The continuing lack of profitability in the commercial radio sector  The failure to launch of 13 local DAB multiplex licences licensed by Ofcom in 2007 and 2008. The regulatory changes for commercial radio included in the Digital Economy Act 2010 have enabled local stations owned by larger radio groups to consolidate their neighbouring analogue local station operations and thus reduce their overheads. However, for smaller local stations, the benefits have proven to be negligible or non-existent. In January 2010, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media & Sport had admitted: “No specific assessment has been made of the impact of the radio provisions set out in the draft Digital Economy Bill on local commercial stations remaining on FM after the digital radio switchover”.7 The outcome is that larger group owners have reaped economic benefits from having been permitted to reduce local content broadcast by their consolidated local stations. Meanwhile, the remaining genuinely local commercial stations have received little or no economic benefit, even though they fulfil the promise made in 'Digital Britain' that the government: “will continue to ensure that locally made content, relevant to local listeners, is an essential characteristic of UK commercial radio”.8 Failure to implement the action plan for DAB at a local level has resulted in there still being no access to the DAB platform for:  14 BBC local radio stations  An unknown quantity of local commercial radio stations. Although there still exists no opportunity for these stations to migrate to the DAB platform, they (and many other stations) have seized the opportunity to connect with audiences via the internet. While 36% of UK adults are reported
  • 5. to have access to a DAB radio, 71% now have broadband access to the internet.9 PENETRATION (% UK adults) 71 36 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 broadband DAB radio [source: Ofcom] Usage of the internet as a platform for radio listening has grown considerably as a result of increased broadband penetration, particularly amongst young people. BBC research found that only 55% of audio consumption by 15-18 year olds was ‘live radio,’ the remainder being accessed online and from mp3- type data files.10 ALL AUDIO (% share of listening by source and age) 55 60 76 81 82 85 82 38 34 20 16 14 12 11 6 5 4 2 4 3 7 0 25 50 75 100 15-18 15-24 25-34 35-44 45-54 55-64 65+ live radio non-radio catch-up radio podcasts unclassified radio [source: BBC] As 'Digital Britain' had noted, ‘radio’ is an ideal medium for delivery by the internet:
  • 6. “One of the advantages of digital audio content is that it occupies comparatively small amounts of capacity and can easily be delivered through a wide range of digital technologies”.11 Local radio has seized the available opportunities to connect to its audiences via the internet, particularly in the absence of an accessible route to the DAB platform for many stations. The addition of on-demand programmes and podcasts has added further consumer value to a local station’s internet presence, offerings that are not technically feasible on the DAB platform. In an unprecedented collaboration between the BBC and the commercial radio sector, UK Radioplayer has provided even the smallest local radio stations with access to online users, and on a level playing field with the largest national radio networks. Its launch in March 2011, at minimal cost to the stations involved, has enhanced their internet presence greatly and is expected to stimulate digital listening to a much wider range of radio content. Although such initiatives were not anticipated by 'Digital Britain', nonetheless they have succeeded in precipitating precisely the transformation of radio from an analogue to a digital medium that the report was seeking. Furthermore, the scalability of distribution via the internet platform makes it more economically viable for local radio stations than does the DAB platform’s fixed cost structure. In order for the government’s digital radio policy to maintain relevance in the UK’s fast changing business environment, it will prove essential to re-state the potential routes for local radio to achieve the objective of creating a 'Digital Britain'. Instead of continuing to focus narrowly on the DAB platform as the platform by which digitalisation of all radio will be achieved, it is more realistic for policy to accommodate citizens’ growing appetite for local radio delivered by the internet. The formal launch of UK Radioplayer on 31 March 2011 provides a perfect opportunity to reiterate the government’s commitment to securing a digital future for radio broadcasting, whilst acknowledging that the online platform is an acceptable option for local radio stations, particularly those that have no access to a local DAB multiplex. It is proposed that:  Existing policies for digital migration to the DAB platform are maintained for national radio stations  A re-statement of the digital future for local radio stations is made which clarifies that, in the light of resource constraints having hindered the upgrade and completion of the local DAB transmission infrastructure: o The digital future of local commercial radio stations will be secured through distribution via a mix of digital platforms that includes DAB and the internet, using whichever is deemed appropriate by a station to connect with its audience
  • 7. o Compulsion for local commercial radio stations to simulcast their output on DAB will be relaxed through a directive to Ofcom. © 2011 Grant Goddard Published by Radio Books http://www.radiobooks.org http://www.grantgoddard.co.uk 1 Digital Britain, p.94, para.14 2 Radio Advertising Bureau, commercialradio revenues, 2008 & 2010 (using RPI) 3 Digital Britain, p.91, para.1 4 Brian O’Neill, “Digital Radio In Europe,” Intellect, 2010, p.33 5 A. Lau & W.F. Williams, “Service Planning For TerrestrialDigital Audio Broadcasting,” European Broadcasting Union TechnicalReview , Summer 1992, p.25, section 8 6 Digital Britain, p.96, 97, 98, paras.21, 22, 24, 29 7 House Of Commons, Written AnswersTo Questions, 21 January 2010 8 Digital Britain, p.100, para.36 9 RAJAR, Q4 2010 Ofcom, Communications Market 2010, August 2010 10 BBC Audio & Music, “Is radio dead? Share of ear research,” 2009 11 Digital Britain, p.91, para.1