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Oct 18, 2016
Analysis of a report by Which? on planned DAB digital radio switchover in the UK, written by Grant Goddard in April 2011 for Grant Goddard: Radio Blog.
WHICH? SAYS DAB DIGITAL
RADIO SWITCHOVER IN THE UK
MUST BE "CONSUMER LED OR
NOT AT ALL"
What would have to be done to make DAB radio successful?
“What there does need to be, as Freeview and digital satellite has shown in television,
is simply a sufficient combination of services, technology, simplicity and price or
discount to provide a value proposition for the consumer,” suggested Stephen Carter
in 2004, when he was chief executive of Ofcom.
“….. for the consumer” were the key words. They were also the words that became forgotten.
The consumer was ignored in the radio industry’s pursuit of the radio industry’s own agenda
for DAB radio. As a consequence, DAB radio has still not succeeded … with consumers. The
failings were acknowledged by Quentin Howard, one of the architects of DAB radio in the UK:
“The mistake by broadcasters was in not understanding that ‘build it and they will
come’ is no longer practical in this integrated technological age.”
Which?, the UK consumer advocacy, noted the radio industry’s lack of attention to the
consumer in a February 2011 briefing paper entitled ‘Digital Radio Switchover in 2015?
Consumer Led Or Not At All’:
“The transition to digital radio is currently industry led. The benefits of a transition to
digital radio over the current analogue service are not clear to consumers, and the
uptake of the technology over the past 10 years reflects this.”
Which? suggested that, before the government can announce a date for digital radio
switchover, the following criteria should be met:
“Uptake should be a minimum of 70% of all FM radio listening transferred to digital,
leaving 30% still listening on analogue (FM/LW/MW/SW) (the Government’s Digital
Radio Action Plan suggests 50%)
The transition to digital must not be announced until coverage, including a measure
of signal quality, is better than that of FM radio
DAB must have been fitted as standard in all new cars for at least two years and an
effective and affordable solution to in-car conversion must be available prior to the
announcement of a switchover (which costs no more than for in-home conversion)
Government must conduct a full cost-benefit analysis from a consumer perspective
as a priority because increasing consumer desire for DAB should not focus on cost
Minimum standards associated with a kite mark must be ambitious and future-
proofed and any incentive scheme to switch to DAB should offer only kite marked
Consumer group representatives must be involved in the development of an
information campaign independent from industry to raise awareness of the digital
switchover by consumers and ensure guidance and training tools are available to
Which? Says DAB Digital Radio Switchover In The UK Must Be "Consumer Led Or Not At All" page 2
©2011 Grant Goddard
Which? Says DAB Digital Radio Switchover In The UK Must Be "Consumer Led Or Not At All" page 3
©2011 Grant Goddard
In its assessment of the environmental impact of a switchover to digital radio, the
Government must tackle the full range of issues around recycling of analogue sets
and the energy impacts of DAB”
However, in some of these areas of concern, current policy on DAB radio appears to be
moving in the opposite direction to that advocated by Which?:
The 50% criterion (50% of radio listening via digital platforms before switchover
can be announced) is not mandatory because it was never included in the Digital
Economy Act [see Jan 2010 blog]
The latest plan for DAB is not to deliver reception even as good as FM, but to
make it worse than FM [see recent blog]
Only 1% of cars have DAB radios fitted and future take-up will inevitably be slow
[see recent blog]
Roberts Radio reported a 35-40% customer return rate for its in-car DAB radio
adaptors [see Nov 2010 blog]
The cost benefit analysis of DAB radio to be considered by the government will
also be authored by the government, rather than commissioned independently
[see Jan 2011 blog]
Roberts Radio admitted having had to pull the plug on several DAB receiver
projects, including the industry’s promised ‘£25 DAB radio’, because they could not
meet Roberts’ minimum quality standards.
In July 2010, after the formation of the new coalition government, culture minister Ed Vaizey
“If, and it is a big if, the consumer is ready, we will support a 2015 switchover date.
But, as I have already said, it is the consumer, through their listening habits and
purchasing decisions, who will ultimately determine the case for switchover.” [see Sep
So, it might appear that the Minister and Which? are, in fact, both lined up in agreement that
digital radio switchover can only happen if it is supported by consumers. So why has the
government not yet recognised that consumers already seem to have given the thumbs down
Because there are middle men (Ofcom, DCMS, Digital Radio UK, Arqiva, DAB multiplex
licence owners) who persist in keeping the DAB dream alive in Whitehall. Yet again,
consumers are being drowned out by the clamour of agencies eager to pursue their own
narrow objectives. And the mantra of the middle men is: 'DAB crisis, what crisis?'
[First published by Grant Goddard: Radio Blog as 'Which? Says: DAB Radio Switchover Must Be "Consumer Led Or
Not At All"', 16 April 2011.]
Grant Goddard is a media analyst / radio specialist / radio consultant with thirty years of
experience in the broadcasting industry, having held senior management and consultancy
roles within the commercial media sector in the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. Details at